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Best And Worst-Case Scenarios For Penn State Hockey’s 2019-20 Season

Penn State men’s hockey will return to the ice for regular-season action in just 16 days.

The Nittany Lions will take on Sacred Heart at Pegula Ice Arena on October 11 and 12 to officially kick off their 2019-20 season. Guy Gadowsky’s team won 22 games last season — the second-highest win total in program history — but missed out on the NCAA tournament by just one game. A victory over Notre Dame in the Big Ten title game would’ve sent Penn State to the Big Dance, but Cale Morris and the Fighting Irish shut the door on the high-flying Nittany Lion attack en route to a 3-2 victory.

With that in mind, here are the team’s best- and worst-case scenarios in terms of end results for the 2019-20 season.

Best-Case Scenario

Winning a conference and national championship is obviously the best-case scenario for any college sports team, but this couldn’t be truer for Guy Gadowsky and the Nittany Lions this season.

Penn State’s 2019-20 roster is loaded with talent in all three areas of the ice — especially up front. The Nittany Lions will return all but three of their key forwards from last season, including what very well may be the best line in college hockey.

Alex Limoges, Evan Barratt, and Liam Folkes are all back, and they’ll undoubtedly start the season as Gadowsky’s top forward trio. The three players combined for 135 points (57 goals, 78 assists) while teams consistently failed to neutralize them last year. Limoges became the first Penn State player to score 50 points in a single season — a remarkable feat considering he plays on a team known for offense — and led the NCAA in scoring. Barratt and Folkes are both supremely intelligent players who have high-end skill and speed to complement their hockey IQs.

Beyond the top line, Penn State will return one of the most intriguing forward prospects in hockey and tons of veterans. With 16 points in 17 games, Aarne Talvitie’s college career got off to a flying start, but his season abruptly ended after he tore his ACL while leading Finland to a gold medal at the U-20 World Junior Championship. He’s expected to be ready for the start of this regular season, and he’s poised to have a breakout year thanks to his rare combination of physicality and skill.

Team captain Brandon Biro is back for his final college season after posting career-highs in goals and assists last year. He scored 16 times and chipped in 24 assists for a career-best 40 points in 37 games played. Fellow senior Nate Sucese also had the best statistical season of his college career with 19 goals and 37 points. He needs to score 26 points to tie David Goodwin’s program-record mark of 128. That’s not to mention Denis Smirnov, another senior with high-end skill who will try to bounce back from a puzzlingly subpar 2018-19 season.

On defense, Penn State’s top pairing of Cole Hults and Paul DeNaples will be back to anchor the blue line. Evan Bell will also begin his first full season as a Nittany Lion after impressing in 21 games last season, and senior Kris Myllari is one of the steadier blueliners on the Nittany Lions’ back end. Senior goaltender Peyton Jones will be back for his fourth season as the starting netminder, so Penn State will also have plenty of stability in between the pipes.

Penn State’s offense has consistently been among the highest scorers in college hockey for the past few seasons, but the team’s defense has to step up and plug some of its holes in order for the team to turn its best-case scenario into reality. With five key contributors from last season’s defense returning and a fourth-year starting goalie, the blue line definitely has the tools to begin smothering teams.

Worst-Case Scenario

Again, this seems obvious, but missing the NCAA tournament or failing to win a postseason game would be a disastrous ending to Penn State’s 2019-20 season.

There are plenty of variables out of the Nittany Lions’ control that might derail their national championship hopes — including injuries. But Guy Gadowsky’s team needs to reach the NCAA tournament and, at a bare minimum, advance beyond the round of 16.

On paper, this team is simply too talented not to return to the Big Dance, but the games obviously aren’t played on paper. What might happen to stop the Nittany Lions from reaching their full, sky-high potential?

Penn State’s defense has had some obvious trouble keeping the puck out of its net, and that just might continue this year. Peyton Jones hasn’t been able to recapture his 2016-17 form in goal — who’s to say he continues to struggle behind an equally-leaky defensive unit? It doesn’t seem likely, but there’s always the off-chance of Cole Hults and Paul DeNaples regressing on the top defensive pairing, which would be disastrous for the entire unit.

Opposing teams may find the secret formula to stopping the seemingly-unstoppable Limoges-Barratt-Folkes forward trio. Aarne Talvitie may not be the same player he was before tearing his ACL, and Denis Smirnov’s scoring slump could continue into his senior year. Brandon Biro and Nate Sucese have been among the most consistent forwards in college hockey, but even they could take a step back.

One huge key to Penn State’s success last season was its prowess in the faceoff circle, but Ludvig Larsson and Chase Berger — two of the team’s leaders in faceoff percentage — are gone. Aarne Talvitie has played center in the past, but not at the college level. It’s entirely plausible that he struggles to win draws and give his team possession since this will be his first year playing down the middle at the collegiate level.

Though it doesn’t seem likely right now, Penn State failing to win an NCAA tournament game or missing the Big Dance entirely would be a catastrophic failure and a huge step back for the team.

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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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