After last season’s unprecedented run to a Big Ten title and appearance in the NCAA Tournament, No. 10 Penn State men’s hockey returns to action Friday night when it takes on Clarkson in upstate New York.
Instead of playing a typical two-game series with the Golden Knights, the Nittany Lions will then travel to St. Lawrence University for the second matchup to face off against the Saints on Saturday.
Last season, Clarkson finished with a record of 18-16-5, failing to qualify for the NCAA tournament. Three of the Golden Knights’ four leading scorers, including 20-goal scorer Troy Josephs, all graduated last year and will not return to the team.
Sophomores Nico Sturm (no relation to ex-NHLer Marco Sturm) and Devin Brosseau both recorded 21 points last season, and the duo could build on that success this season in increased roles.
The Golden Knights’ goaltending situation is similar to Penn State’s. Jake Kielly established himself as Clarkson’s starting netminder as a freshman and he returns for his sophomore season. Kielly played 36 games last season, finishing with a 16-15-5 record, a 2.56 goals-against average, and a save percentage of .911.
As for St. Lawrence, it come into the season unranked, but did receive 18 votes in the first USCHO poll of the season. Last season, it entered as the No. 16 team in the country, but that was quickly ruined by a trip to Hockey Valley.
Last year, St. Lawrence finished with a record of 17-13-7. The Saints return most of last season’s roster, but four of the team’s six defensemen from last season graduated.
The most painful of these departures is Gavin Bayreuther, who led the team in scoring last year with 29 points. Additionally, starting goaltender Kyle Hayton transferred to Wisconsin, so the team’s back end is significantly weaker this season.
Up front, Mike Marnell, Joe Sullivan, and Jacob Pritchard all return after scoring more than 20 points each last season, and the team only lost three forwards who played regularly. The biggest question for the Saints will be whether or not they can stay healthy; only six players participated in all 37 of the team’s game’s last season.
Clarkson’s top line of Sturm, Brosseau, and fellow sophomore Sheldon Rempal will be the key to the Golden Knights’ offense on Friday night, and perhaps throughout this entire season.
Additionally, Jake Kielly had a solid season last year, but if he improves, he could prove to be tough for Penn State’s offense to solve on Friday night. The Clarkson defense is shaky, as it gave up 2.87 goals per game last season. If it hasn’t improved, Penn State could have a field day in Potsdam, NY.
As for St. Lawrence, its defense is significantly weaker than it was last season, but that’s because it had one of the better defenses in college hockey last season. Although they are unknown commodities, the Saints’ four new freshman defensemen — Dylan Woolf, Bo Hanson, Cade Gleekel, and Jake Stevens — do have potential.
There are lots of questions marks surrounding St. Lawrence hockey right now, including who will start in goal, but one constant on its squad is at forward. The Saints return five of its top scorers from last season, although two of them are defensemen.
Penn State has only faced off against Clarkson once in program history. In 2015, The Nittany Lions beat the Golden Knights 5-1 at what’s now the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh behind goals from five different players.
As for St. Lawrence, Penn State split its season series with the Saints last season at Pegula Ice Arena. They pulled off an upset in game one of that series, but fell in the second game for a split with the then-No. 16 team in the country.
Although these two teams have their bright spots, there are too many variables. Penn State will handily take each of these games, winning 5-2 against Clarkson and 6-1 against St. Lawrence.