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Penn State Hockey: 2015 Season Report Card

By CJ Doon (CJ), Doug Leeson (DL), and Sara Civian (SC)

Penn State hockey wrapped up its best season in program history, finishing with an 18-15-4 record while flirting with Top-20 rankings and a chance to compete in the NCAA Tournament. Though the season ended in disappointment with a loss to Ohio State in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, the Lions finished with the nation’s best attendance and sent their first player to the NHL. In just its third year at the Division I level, its clear that Terry Pegula’s investment is paying off.

Here at Onward State, we’re trying our best to deal with hockey withdrawal by reflecting on the historic season —  the ups and downs, strengths and weaknesses, and unforgettable moments. While Hockey Valley counts down the days until October, our writers decided to grade each of the team’s units. Here are the results:

Ice Hockey_Michigan State_Morton Lin-6764
Image: Morton Lin/Onward State

Offense

Grade: A

After scoring nine goals and 13 points last season, Casey Bailey shot and scored his way directly into the NHL this year. His elevated performance was indicative of his team as a whole, as Penn State increased its goal total from 80 to 119. Taylor Holstrom and David Goodwin anchored the top line alongside Bailey, as the top trio led Penn State in almost every offensive category.

Behind the top line, Eric Scheid and Dylan Richard all performed at a higher level than the year before. Their linemate, freshman Scott Conway, was named to the Big Ten’s All-Freshman Team for his efforts this season. Scheid led last year’s squad with 20 points, while this season six players surpassed that mark.

Bailey was tied for ninth nationally in goals and Holstrom was tied for 17th in assists. As a team, Penn State’s 3.22 goals per game was the eleventh-highest mark in the country. Not bad for a third-year program. — DL

PSU Hockey vs. Bentley -17
Image: Morton Lin/Onward State

Defense

Grade: B-

As good as Penn State’s offense was this season, the defense ranked near the bottom of the NCAA based on multiple defensive categories. The Lions ranked 42nd in the country in goals allowed per game (3.05) while also allowing the 46th-most shots on goal per game (32.57), a lethal combination. The Nittany Lions three-headed monster at goaltender held strong as the last line of defense (more on that below), but if it wasn’t for a high-powered offense, the Lions’ would barely have kept their head above water, finishing with a paltry +6 goal margin. However, the blue-line pairing of Luke Juha and Erik Autio proved to be a spark for the offense, finishing eight and tenth on the team in points, respectively.

With captain Patrick Koudys, Nate Jensen, and Peter Sweetland set to leave the program, the pressure will fall on Juha, Autio, Connor Varley, David Thompson, and Mike Williamson, as well as incoming freshman Kevin Kerr, to build a stifling defense that will look to meet the high expectations set by the burgeoning program. The departure of Bailey and Holstrom will no doubt hamper Penn State’s incredible offense, meaning it will be crucial next season for the defense to step up and provide more help for whomever emerges as the number one goaltender. — CJ

Ice Hockey_Northern Michigan_THON_Morton Lin-7553
Image: Morton Lin/Onward State

Penalty Kill

Grade: B+

Penn State finished the 2014-15 season ranked 41st in the nation with 104-of-129 (80.6 percent) total penalties killed. The Nittany Lions further proved their short-handed skill by tallying an impressive four short-handed goals, ranking 24th in NCAA Division I. — SC

Ice Hockey_Northern Michigan_THON_Morton Lin-7200
Image: Morton Lin/Onward State

Powerplay

Grade: A

Finishing sixth in the country with 28-of-128 (21.88 percent) powerplay goals scored, Penn State proved itself to be one of the nation’s most efficient scoring attacks with the man advantage. Unsurprisingly, Casey Bailey paced the team with five powerplay goals, but the Lions also saw big contributions from Scott Conway and Curtis Loik, each scoring four powerplay goals apiece. Penn State led the nation with 39.24 shots on goal per game, almost three full shots more than the second-best team, Boston University, which, by the way, has future top draft pick and NCAA leading scorer Jack Eichel. Though Penn State had the fewest powerplay chances among the ten school’s with the highest powerplay percentage, the Lions made the most of their limited opportunities, building a highly-skilled, dangerous attack that made life hell for opposing goaltenders. — CJ

Goalie - Zack Rickens
Image: Zack Rickens/Onward State

Goaltending

Grade: B+

Penn State entered the season with incumbent Matt Skoff as the primary goaltender, with Eamon McAdam as the talented, capable backup. Skoff was the goalie of note for the Lions’ first nine games, putting together an impressive 5-2-2 record, including four straight wins over Holy Cross and Bentley, allowing two goals or fewer in each of his first five wins. Then it was McAdam’s turn, making 25 saves in a 4-1 victory over then-No. 4 UMass-Lowell, the program’s first victory over a top-5 team. McAdam and Skoff would continue to trade places in net during the middle of the season, but still found a way to keep Penn State near the top of the Big Ten standings.

All of a sudden, senior P.J. Musico threw his hat in the ring, entering in relief of Skoff in Penn State’s near-epic four-goal third period comeback against Ohio State on Jan. 9. With Skoff ineffective, Musico kept the Nittany Lions in the game with seven saves in the third period before allowing the game-winner in overtime. He would earn his first start three games later, a 5-4 win over Northern Michigan that saw the California native record 30 saves. Musico would prove himself to be Penn State’s unsung hero, winning three of the next five games before sharing the reigns with Skoff and McAdam.

As a unit, Penn State’s goaltenders finished the season with a .906 save percentage (59th nationally, T-5th Big Ten) and 3.02 GAA (60th nationally, 4th Big Ten). However, part of that falls on the defense, as Penn State’s goaltenders faced the 14th-most shots per game of any team in the country (32.57), the second-worst figure in the Big Ten behind only Wisconsin. Luckily, Penn State had one of the nation’s best offenses to bail out its goaltenders, finishing with the nation’s 26th-best win percentage (.541). For the Nittany Lions to reach the next program goal of earning an NCAA Tournament bid, the the goaltending must improve. — CJ

roarzone
Image: Jack Lukow/Onward State

Fans

Grade: A+++

There were lots of high points during the season, and one of the most consistently incredible was the atmosphere of the Roar Zone and Pegula Ice Arena all season long. Pegula had the highest attendance in the NCAA in just its second season of existence.

The fans have a great time at home games, and it clearly affected the team. On the road and at neutral locations, the Nittany Lions had a middling record of 5-13-1, but in front of the Blue and White faithful, they were an astounding 13-2-3. While Penn State’s team has been climbing up the ranks as far as national recognition goes, the Roar Zone has already proven itself as the premier student section in college hockey. — DL

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Posts from the all-student staff of Onward State.

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