Hockey’s Freshman Star Chase Berger Credits Simplicity To Early Success
The preseason was loaded with question marks. Overnight, Penn State men’s hockey felt unrecognizable. Led by Casey Bailey, the class that established the developing program as a noteworthy team on the national scale was history. Its infrastructure of shots-on-goal, lit lamps, and glove saves turned into finalized stat-books and a nostalgic blueprint for future Nittany Lions.
Nine veterans out, eight freshmen in.
College athletes are ticking clocks on borrowed time. We knew that, but somehow prior knowledge didn’t ease transitional anxieties — even if I’d follow Head Coach Guy Gadowsky into battle.
The 2015-16 season is men’s hockey’s first real turning point as an NCAA Division I program. It will either thrive off of youthful vigor or crumble due to inexperience, but it won’t be the same. Although the Nittany Lions have yet to enter Big Ten play, their freshman class is already shutting down preseason doubts with a vengeance. So far in the 4-1-0 season, the youngest class accounts for 24 of the team’s 73 goals.
Last season, Gadowsky held firm that his “shoot first, ask later” coaching philosophy wasn’t just applicable to Bailey. Despite my own skepticisms, he was right. 2015-16 Penn State still crushes opponents in shots-on-goal, but it goes where last season’s Lions often could not. The unrelenting shots are deliberate. They count for something more tangible than potential. Penn State leads the nation in goals.
The transitional season feels familiar, even a little sharper, through its first few games. The Roar Zone even has a new C.B.-initialed winger to rely on. With seven points in five games, freshman Chase Berger (St.Louis, Mo.) sits at No. 2 in the Big Ten and No. 5 nationally.
A concise Berger credits simplicity for his success. The freshman told Onward State at least three times that he “just wants to win.”
Focused on the short-term, he operates best on a day-by-day mentality. “I don’t think that far ahead. I just want the team to win, and however I can help I will. I want to try to play in all the games, wherever coach sees fit for me there I’ll play. I want to create a role for myself here that I can build on for years to come,” Berger said.
He credits veteran linemates Curtis Loik and Kenny Brooks for setting him up and allowing him to focus on “going to the net and hammering home pucks.” The verb is an undersell — capitalizing on five of 20 shot attempts, Berger is hardly “hammering home pucks.” His shots have purpose, even if they aren’t meticulously planned.
Although his transition from the USHL’s Tri-City Storm to life as a Penn State athlete seems as smooth as his style of play, the platforms are undeniably different. I had a misguided notion that USHL play is preferable (with more time to focus on hockey), but Berger disagreed. His game is best untouched by second-guessing. Shoot first, ask later.
“Juniors [USHL] was hockey all the time. I like it [at Penn State] because you get to focus on hockey, but your life’s more balanced. You feel like a regular student again. If hockey’s going good, it’s good. If hockey’s going bad, it’s still good. Not all of your pressures and anxieties are hockey-related. You can’t be overthinking hockey too much, your mind is on other things too.”
Although his style of play hasn’t changed too much, he noted that “college hockey is a step faster, and guys are a lot stronger. Here, you score on dirtier goals.”
Berger cited the freshman class’ like-minded competitive nature for early success. “What makes us succeed the most is our similar attitudes. We all work hard, we’re not over-confident, we don’t ever get lackadaisical. We feed off each other.”
With three goals and four assists, fellow freshman Alec Marsh is tied with Berger in the Big Ten rankings. Healthy competition seems effective for Penn State in general, considering Loik, Berger, Marsh, Brooks, and David Goodwin lead the Big Ten respectively in scoring.
Penn State and its class of star freshmen are back in action Thursday and Friday night at home against No. 16 St. Lawrence. Berger and his peers have proven they can shine against lesser competition — now it’s time to see how that translates against one of the best goalies in the country.