Meet Penn State Hockey’s Freshman Class
Penn State hockey returns October 2, but nine familiar faces won’t. The 2016-17 season begins with an uncertain goaltender situation and the departure of a few key players.
This isn’t the Nittany Lions’ first rodeo with a high turnover, though — last season they found themselves in a similar situation and ended up fine. At first, folks were understandably anxious about Penn State’s identity — a new team was thrust into uncertainty with the loss of its star.
2015-16’s rookie class, full of nationally regarded players like Andrew Sturtz, Chase Berger, Kevin Kerr, and Vince Pedrie, shut down fear and perpetuated the Penn State hockey brand: functional chaos marked by a million shots per game and smart defense. Penn State even improved on its 18-15-4 record to 21-13-4. It’s almost impossible to top, but you should skip last year’s pre-season anxiety and opt straight for excitement — the newest class boasts record breakers, USHL champions, and a forward just two inches shorter than Zdeno Chara.
Before we dive in, it’s worth noting: Every junior hockey league has a different level of competitiveness. For example, Brandon Biro’s 57 points in the CJHL last season are no doubt impressive, but they don’t translate to 57 points in the CHL or USHL. (Kanye West voice: No disrespect to Brandon Biro.) For the uninitiated, the CJHL is Canada’s Junior A league, a step down from Major Junior CHL. Within the CJHL, there are a ton of mini-leagues for different Provinces, because Canada.
Without further ado, meet the freshmen:
Myllari, a defenseman from Kanata, Ont., comes to Penn State from the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms. The 6’2, 190 lbs freshman played in 57 games last season and racked up 23 points from 18 assists and five goals. If you care about plus/minus (which I generally don’t, but Corsi numbers are unavailable) his was somehow +28 last season, ranking 5 in the USHL. He’ll be wearing number 4 for the Nittany Lions, but unfortunately his uniform will never be as cool as it once was. I don’t want Elite Prospects to arrest me so just Google “Kris Myllari Phantoms” and see for yourself.
“I chose Penn State for the tremendous athletic, as well as academic opportunity, it will provide me. The facilities and coaches are some of the best the country has to offer,” Myllari told Penn State Athletics.
You might remember Pavlychev as the Penn State commit who was drafted to the Penguins in the seventh round at No. 197 overall. Well, he’s finally on campus and if you ever see a 6’7, 212 lbs human being walking around, it’s probably him. The Russian forward played in 58 games for the Des Moines Buccaneers last season, tallying nine goals and 13 assists. He tied for third in the USHL with 161 penalty minutes. I could see Pavlychev developing slowly but surely under Gadowsky. I envision a few big plays this season and a key role next season.
“The first thing you notice about Nikita is his size, but he is also very smart at both ends of the rink, is a tough competitor, and possesses very good hands for a big body,” Gadowsky said.
Biro, a 5’11, 160 lbs forward, comes to Hockey Valley from the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL)’s Spruce Grove Saints. He had 57 points on the 2015-16 season — 32 goals and 25 assists. He boasts AJHL’s Rookie of the Year award in 2014-15, when he led the Saints to a championship. His experience with success and leadership will likely bring a confidence imperative to Penn State’s particularly assertive style.
Gadowsky said Pegula will enjoy Biro’s “creativity and vision” — not only because the name “Brandon Biro” could be the next fun name for announcer Brian Tripp to yell.
Sucese is a 5’9, 175 lbs forward from Fairport, N.Y. He notched 59 points for the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints last season, 26 goals and 33 assists through 60 games. Not to get too technical, but that is very good — seventh in the USHL, to be exact. It’s even better when you consider he only (?) posted 27 points in the 2014-15 season across 51 games. Season-to-season improvement is a Penn State hockey theme.
Kohler, a 5’9 175 lbs forward, spent last season on the OJHL (Ontario Junior Hockey League)’s St. Michael’s Buzzers. Across 52 games, he collected 43 points off 22 goals and 21 assists. Gadowsky noted Kohler’s “responsibility” in the defensive zone as well as on offense.
Aside from hockey, he was named OJHL Humanitarian of the Year in 2015.
This 6’2, 210 lbs defenseman spent last season on the Des Moines Buccaneers (USHL) with Pavlychev. His 10 points on the season were an even five goals and five assists in 52 games. Back in the day he won three New England Prep championships with Salisbury School, and he was a team captain. With the loss of two starting goalies and defensemen like Luke Juha and Connor Varley, Penn State could use some leadership on defense.
Gober, a 5’8, 179 lbs forward served as an alternate captain for the USHL’s Bloomington Thunder last season. Through 47 games, his 11 goals and 11 assists add up to 22 points.
“Blake, a USHL Alternate Captain, will bring a veteran presence who can play in all situations and bring a high level of competitiveness day in and day and out,” Gadowsky said in a release. He also commended Gober’s work ethic, and if we make it through the season without confusing Gober and Gobetz, you should commend ours.
Here’s a fun fact: Smirnov, a 5’10, 185 lbs forward once played on the same line as former Penn State player Scott Conway. The two were 2014 USHL Champions on the Indiana Ice, but this barely scratches the surface of Smirnov’s accomplishments. The Russian left wing racked up 61 points (29 goals, 32 assists) in 60 games with the USHL’s Fargo Force last season. I’m no mathematician, but that’s an average of more than one point per game — a feat that landed him a spot on the USHL Second All-Star Team. He once netted four goals in one game to tie the USHL individual goal-scoring record.
Oh, and he loves Kendall Jenner:
Folks, get pumped to meet 5’8, 167 lbs forward Liam Folkes. The Ontario native tallied 46 points (26 goals, 20 assists) for the CCHL (of the CJHL)’s Brockville Braves last season. In the 2014-15 season, he managed 72 points in 60 games for a well-deserved team MVP award. He strikes me as a small-yet-speedy player.
“He has dynamic speed and he is more than willing to go to the dirty areas to score goals,” Gadowsky said.
Last but not least, we have starting goalie contender Jones. The 6’4, 210 lbs Philly area native spent 2014-16 with the USHL’s Lincoln Stars. He racked up 2030 minutes of playing time last season, in which his .922 save percentage spanned over 35 games (19 wins, 11 losses). By the end of the 2015-16 season, he ranked fourth in the USHL for save percentage and 22 on the NHL Central Scouting North American Goaltender List.
Bonus: Trevor Hamilton
While Hamilton isn’t technically a freshman, he spent two years of NCAA eligibility at Miami Ohio then one in the USHL (on three teams: Lumberjack, Steel, Stars) and now he’s here. The 6’0, 183 lbs defenseman played 149 games in the USHL and totaled 74 points off of 22 goals and 52 assists. He was named to the USHL Second All-Star Team in the 2015-16 season.
Penn State opens its season against Queen’s University of Kingston, Ontario at Pegula on October 2.