Taylor Holstrom, the Emblem of Penn State Hockey
In the same vein as Penn State hockey as a whole, Taylor Holstrom has taken a non-traditional, fast-paced rise to recognition. The Nittany Lions received their first-ever votes in the USCHO Poll this season and are currently ranked No. 26 in the nation with a record of 5-1-2, thanks in part to great early season efforts from Holstrom.
Flanked by David Goodwin and Casey Bailey, Holstrom has played a significant role on the team’s best line this season. The trio has combined for 35 percent of Penn State’s goals through the first eight games, but that level of production hasn’t always been there in Holstrom’s hockey career.
Hailing from Yorba Linda, California, Holstrom was born around the same time as the nearby Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Inspired by hockey’s popularity in the area, his parents started him on hockey at a young age.
“I was naturally good at [hockey]… for a Californian,” joked Holstrom. “Then I just kind of played on teams growing up, and after high school and it was time to leave, I wanted to play juniors, in the USHL.”
And play in the USHL he did. Tallying 19 goals and 52 points across two seasons (first with the Omaha Lancers, then the Youngstown Phantoms), Holstrom had a solid junior career before moving on to college. Holstrom was drawn in by the program at Mercyhurst College (now Mercyhurst University), and had a superb freshman campaign. With 33 points and a team-leading 24 assists in 36 games, Holstrom then took the opportunity to move on to a promising young Penn State program.
“Mercyhurst was a great place, I learned a lot there, and had a great experience. But, ultimately, I was just looking for more from a school in academics and the big-time competition, and I knew Penn State was gonna offer that,” he said. “Right when I heard the news coming out about the hockey program [joining the NCAA and moving to Pegula Ice Arena] and did a little research on the school, it was awesome.”
After redshirting a season, Holstrom’s career as a Nittany Lion began in 2012. In Penn State’s first season as an NCAA Division-1 program, the team went 13-14-0, and Holstrom was fourth on the team with 17 points.
The next year, Holstrom and Penn State hockey both took huge steps forward towards national recognition, joining the newly-formed Big Ten Hockey Conference. Against vastly improved competition compared to previous seasons’, the team went 8-26-2, with Holstrom again scoring 17 points.
Holstrom was named Academic All-Big Ten after the year as an energy, business, and finance major, to go along with his solid season.
And now, the team and Holstrom are both tearing up college hockey. In its first eight games, the team has lost one game in regulation, and Holstrom is well above the point-per-game clip, with his 11 points representing the second-highest total in the Big Ten.
When asked about the reasons behind his substantial growth in production, he had an immediate response: “Shooting, a lot. I prepared a lot harder [in the offseason] and shot a ton of pucks,” he said. “It was being on the ice a lot more than I usually am. It prepared me for game shape a lot quicker.”
Points, and statistics in general, obviously can only tell so much about a player. A player’s intangibles are where the distinction between “good” and “elite” is made.
“There is such a thing as the hockey gods. Holstrom was the best all-around yesterday, especially defensively,” head coach Guy Gadowsky said after the game. “Often, those players get rewarded.”
That sentiment has remained true for most of the season: Holstrom remains one of the team’s most consistent defensive forwards, but still has had no problem lighting up the scoring sheet with Goodwin and Bailey.
Still, Holstrom doesn’t think his high level of play is the most important facet of his role on the team.
“I think as an older guy, [the coaching staff] looks to me to just do everything they say so they can look to the younger guys and say, ‘Hey, he’s doing this, so follow along.’ It’s mainly to be a leader, not necessarily to get points,” he said. “It’s good when it’s coming, but I don’t think that’s my main role.”
He also gave credit to his incendiary start to the season to his linemates. “[Bailey and Goodwin] are both just incredibly smart hockey players,” Holstrom said. “You can look at both their games and dissect them, and they’re both very good at different things. Having prior experience playing with both Goodwin and Bailey at different points has allowed for an easier merging of all of our strengths.”
While the vast majority of the season remains to be played, Holstrom has already exhibited his dynamic abilities. Looking to pursue a hockey career in professional European leagues, his hot start should allow him to add to his quality résumé.
Until that future comes, however, the team still has work to do. With a weekend series against No. 4 UMass-Lowell looming and the beginning of the Big Ten schedule around the corner, the team is just starting to define itself.
No matter what happens the rest of the season, though, that young Californian Mighty Ducks fan from Mercyhurst College has been a key cog in the growth of the young Penn State hockey program. A very bright future awaits.