Penn State Hockey’s Defense Ready To Step Up To Challenge Of Losing Erik Autio, Trevor Hamilton

Penn State men’s hockey’s defensive corps took a hit at the end of last season with the graduations of Erik Autio and Trevor Hamilton.

The two seniors ate up more minutes than any other blueliners on the team, but leave a gap in the Nittany Lions’ roster with their departures and subsequent beginnings of their pro career.

Despite the departures, Guy Gadowsky returns two of his better defensemen in senior alternate captain Kevin Kerr and sophomore Cole Hults. The story of Kerr’s Penn State career is his injury woes, but when healthy, he’s probably the defense’s most solid all-around player.

Cole Hults finished his freshman season with three goals and 17 assists, most of which came during the first half of the year.

Meanwhile, Hults stepped into the team’s top pair alongside Erik Autio and thrived in the role. He started the 2017-18 campaign on a scoring tear, but his production dropped off later in the season.

Offensive defensemen like Hults typically play a high-risk game, prone to mistakes that lead to goals against. However, Gadowsky doesn’t see this in the sophomore and expects him to have a big 2018-19 season.

“[Hults] is an interesting guy,” Gadowsky said. “His production and performance is very high, but his risk is very low. [Freshman defensemen] that perform well and have numbers are often very risky. With him, it’s different. His game is as mature as any defenseman in the Big Ten.”

Hults himself praised Hamilton’s and Autio’s talent throughout last year. However, he thinks some of the current defensemen’s simpler play styles will work out in Penn State’s favor moving forward.

“Our forwards are so good, it’ll make our job easier,” Hults said. “We just have to get them to puck, and we have a lot of great puck-moving defensemen here.”

Alternate captain Kevin Kerr knows that the state of Penn State’s defense without Hamilton and Autio is a potential issue entering this season, but seems confident in his position group.

“We obviously lost two key defensemen in Trevor and Erik. They’re both phenomenal players, and they were great guys in the locker room,” Kerr said. “We’re very confident in the players that we have. We have some proven guys and some new talented guys coming in this year. We’re up for the challenge, and we want to be better than we were last season.”

James Gobetz will likely have to step up into a bigger role following the departures of Erik Autio and Trevor Hamilton. (Photo: Mary Frances Pillon | Onward State)

Gadowsky added that the competition on the blue line is wide open in terms of who will step up this year. He named sophomore Adam Pilewicz, who can play both forward and defense, as an important piece before Merrimack transfer Evan Bell begins playing for the team after winter break.

Additionally, James Gobetz, Derian Hamilton (no relation to Trevor), Paul DeNaples, and Alex Stevens could be crucial pieces of the defensive puzzle, at least until Bell arrives. Gobetz and Hamilton are the most experienced right-shot defensemen, and DeNaples served as captain of the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede last season.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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