Men’s Hockey Announces 2015-16 Recruiting Class
The hockey team announced its newest recruiting class today, consisting of four forwards and one defenseman. All five players currently play in the United States Hockey League (USHL). Two of the recruits are Pennsylvania natives, and one player hails from Russia. Here’s a breakdown of the five new additions to the roster:
Chase Berger, C
Berger, a four-year member of the Tri-City Storm, will look to add to Penn State’s gritty identity. The St. Louis native serves as an alternate captain for his team, where he’s notched eight points in 15 games this season. Before joining the USHL, Berger played for the St. Louis Blues’ Amateur U18 affiliate, where he averaged 1.12 points per game. His frame and style of play are reminiscent of David Glen, as both are talented two-way centers who act as face-off specialists for their respective teams.
Kevin Kerr, D
Berger’s teammate and classmate, Kevin Kerr, is the only defenseman of Penn State’s newest recruiting class. Kerr is also one of two Pennsylvania natives joining the Nittany Lions next season. He currently has nine assists in 15 games in the USHL this year.
In addition to his strong USHL career, Kerr represented the United States at the 2011-2012 Youth Olympic Games. Penn State freshman Erik Autio exhibits similarities to Kerr, as both have international experience and bring a “pass first” mentality to the blue line.
Alec Marsh, C
Hailing from Bridgewater, New Jersey, Alec Marsh will add even more depth at the center position. An offensively-inclined player, he has totaled 52 points in 111 games for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders over the last three years.
Ex-RoughRider David Goodwin plays a similar game, despite playing most of his minutes at left wing this season. Both players are smart, complementary additions to any line, and can be used in almost any situation. Marsh’s 105 PIMs in the USHL are evidence of his willingness to battle in the corners, an important trait that can’t be understated.
Matt Mendelson, LW
The Pittsburgh native and former member of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ U18 affiliate currently serves as an alternate captain of the Bloomington Thunder. Mendelson held a scoring rate of 0.47 PPG across two seasons with the Muskegon Lumberjacks, but is scoring at a 0.64 clip this season with the Thunder. The 5’10 winger only has 20 PIMs in his two-plus USHL seasons, so he’ll bring much-needed discipline to a Penn State squad that’s inclined to bad penalties. His build, skillset, and potential all compare to current Penn State winger Eric Scheid.
Denis Smirnov, LW
The 5’8 Russian-born Smirnov currently plays for the Fargo Force after having an amazing year with the Indiana Ice last season. He finished the season with 41 points and 22 PIMs, and was four spots behind former teammate and current Nittany Lion Scott Conway for the team’s scoring title. With one goal and 11 assists in 15 games for the Force this season, he will bring some serious offensive firepower next year. Look to current senior Taylor Holstrom for a comparison to Smirnov: a dynamic playmaker, albeit slightly undersized, who can play in any situation.
“Penn State is an excellent school with great history,” Smirnov told GoPSUSports. “[It] will help me develop not only as a player, but as a person, too.”
Smirnov was named to the USHL All-Rookie Team last season, and won the Clark Cup alongside Conway. In the offseason, he was drafted in the first round of the 2014 Kontinental Hockey League Draft by HK Sochi, but opted to sign with the Nittany Lions instead.
This year’s class is a great continuation of last year’s. Only two forwards and one defenseman signed last year, and although all three are solid contributors, larger draft classes will be the only way to keep up in the Big Ten Hockey Conference. All five players, especially Denis Smirnov and Kevin Kerr, should be able to step in and play as freshmen. Scott Conway is proving this year that freshmen can make an offensive impact right away, and Smirnov should be able to reaffirm that. Also, with three senior defensemen graduating after this season, Kerr will be counted on to play valuable minutes right away.
Penn State loses goalie PJ Musico to graduation after this season, so the lack of goalies in the recruiting class is a bit of a surprise. Still, with Matt Skoff and backup Eamon McAdam playing well early in the season, recruiting another netminder isn’t crucial yet.
The newest recruiting class offers more in quantity and projected quality than last year’s impressive class, which is absolutely crucial for the young D-1 program. An interesting aspect of the class is that it didn’t capitalize on the “European pipeline” coach Guy Gadowsky was hoping to create when he signed Erik Autio from Finland. Only one member of this year’s class was born outside of the United States, but all five members of the class have spent at least the last few years playing in the US.