Penn State Hockey Reflects On ‘Heart And Soul’ Senior Class
No. 19 Penn State men’s hockey will finish off its home slate this weekend with a series against Wisconsin.
The series will mark the final home games for the Nittany Lions’ current senior class. Five players — Chase Berger, Kevin Kerr, Alec Marsh, Derian Hamilton, and Chris Funkey — will play their final regular season games at Pegula Ice Arena after four seasons in Hockey Valley, in addition to Ludvig Larsson, the team’s first-ever graduate transfer.
“It’s summed up great by [former Penn State captain James Robinson] last year,” head coach Guy Gadowsky said. “When talking about that class, he said they’ve been the heart and soul of this team from day one, and I really believe that.
“They’ve been the best academic class we’ve ever had, they certainly represent themselves great, and you can’t argue with the success they’ve had on the ice.”
Friday and Saturday will mark the end of an era for the entire senior class, but it’s especially significant for Berger and Kerr. On top of being teammates for four seasons at Penn State, the duo spent two full seasons together with Tri-City in the USHL.
Berger, the sixth captain in Penn State hockey history, took a more “thoughtful, intellectual” approach to leadership compared to past captains in program history, Gadowsky said. Everybody has their own way of being a leader, but it’s hard to argue with Berger’s output: He’s never missed a game for Penn State and has 49 goals and 64 assists.
Kerr’s collegiate career hasn’t been so straightforward. Injuries cost him a good chunk of games, but perseverance has been the prevailing theme of his career.
According to Gadowsky, the defenseman entered Penn State’s series against Ohio State on December 1 and 2, 2017 knowing he was set to undergo surgery on a previous lower-body injury that Monday. That wasn’t the only injury Kerr would deal with by the end of the weekend — he broke his arm while blocking a shot in the second period of game two.
“He played great. That says a lot about the kind of guy he is,” Gadowsky said. “He’s had a really rough go at it with injuries, but he hasn’t complained. To do something like that says a lot about the type of person he is.”
Alec Marsh may not have spent his junior career playing alongside Chase Berger, but the two have spent plenty of time on the ice together.
Marsh, a Bridgewater, NJ native and 123-game veteran of college hockey, is the consummate hard worker on the ice. He’s scored 21 goals and 31 assists for the Nittany Lions, but the most recognizable parts of his game are his simplicity and relentless work ethic in all areas.
“He kind of recognizes his strengths and weaknesses,” Berger said. “He’s really good on the forecheck, he moves his feet, and he just wants the team to win. He just goes out every night and does whatever he can to help the team. I love having him in the lineup.”
Another unmistakable part of Marsh’s time in Hockey Valley is his fun personality off the ice, but no one can match the personality of senior goalie Chris Funkey.
Funkey has been in a backup role for the vast majority of his college career, posting a 7-5-1 record and 2.83 goals-against average. Despite playing sparingly, he’s made his presence felt in other ways with his vocal personality and infectious energy.
“A lot of what he does means so much when [the coaching staff] leaves [the locker room],” Gadowsky said. “His personality, intelligence, big-picture thinking — he would be a great coach. I wish he would come out of the locker room [in between periods] and say, ‘hey coach, this is what you should say,’ so I could walk in and look pretty good.”
Like Funkey, defenseman Derian Hamilton hasn’t been a regular in the lineup for the Nittany Lions throughout his career. He’s played in 83 games, and his 24 appearances this year are the most of his career in a single season.
Hamilton’s career scoring output of a goal and 12 assists isn’t spectacular, but he’s an excellent skater and a mentor for some of Penn State’s younger defensemen.
“Derian was one of the first guys I met at Penn State,” freshman Paul DeNaples said. “He made me feel really welcomed here, and he helped me out a lot. He has a special place in my heart, for sure.”
Last, but definitely not least, Ludvig Larsson was a bit of an experiment for the Nittany Lions. He was the first player to use the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule to move to Penn State from another college program, and the move definitely paid off.
Larsson’s skill on faceoffs was well-documented before this season, and his 60 percent win rate on draws has helped propel Penn State to becoming the second-best team on faceoffs in all of college hockey. He’s also scored nine goals and 18 points this season.
Those are more tangible contributions, but he also brought something rarely seen from a new Penn State player: college experience.
“I think the outside perspective that he has is very valuable,” Marsh said. “He was at a program that obviously didn’t have the success we’ve had, so he got to bring an element in of being grateful to be here. I think that put things in perspective for a lot of guys.”
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