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Why Clayton Phillips Skates (Way) Better Than Your Average Defenseman

Some of the most effective defensemen at any level of hockey can play at such a high level because of one simple tool: skating.

In recent years, blueliners like UMass-Amherst’s Cale Makar and Michigan’s Quinn Hughes have dazzled their opponents with their ability to move up and down the ice with speed, grace, and agility. Penn State got a first-hand glimpse of Hughes’ skating ability during his two seasons with the Wolverines, and he was particularly dominant in a 5-1 victory over the Nittany Lions in Ann Arbor last year.

It might be a bit unfair to compare Penn State hockey transfer Clayton Phillips’ overall game to those players right now, but Phillips is just as good of a skater as any defenseman who’s played college hockey in the past few seasons — including the sport’s very best.

“His skating is awesome,” sophomore forward Aarne Talvitie said, “and he’s really skillful. He fits perfectly here when it comes to how we play.”

“It’s amazing watching him move — just incredible,” head coach Guy Gadowsky added. “He is a very, very gifted skater. I’ve been really impressed with his defensive play because of that. When he’s moving his feet, he’s just impossible to get around.”

Penn State’s overall defensive play has tightened up for a number of reasons, but one of those is Phillips’ skating ability. Whether he’s lugging the puck up the ice on the power play, retrieving pucks that have been dumped into his own zone, or getting back into good defensive position, Phillips does it all with his legs. The Nittany Lions jumped through a lot of NCAA hoops in order to get Phillips a waiver to play this season, and all of that hard work from Penn State’s compliance department is paying off in a big way.

The team’s overall defensive play has tightened up quite a bit this year, and that was on full display against Wisconsin last weekend. Penn State conceded just three goals to the Badgers’ high-flying offense. A lot of that can be boiled down to excellent goaltending from Peyton Jones, who’s tied for second in the nation with a .947 save percentage, but Phillips was tremendous defensively all weekend.

Phillips said he played a lot of street and roller hockey growing up. That definitely helped him become the skater he is today, but he also puts a lot of work in at all times in order to move as well as he does.

Moving as well as Phillips, however, simply doesn’t happen without plenty of natural ability.

“It’s a little bit of both [talent and hard work],” he said. “You’re obviously putting in a lot of work in the offseason — and even during the season. But I think a lot of [my skating] is shown with the system we play here at Penn State. It’s been a perfect fit for me.”

The junior who transferred from Minnesota in the offseason said he works on his mobility and training his legs off the ice “along with a bunch of on-ice stuff” throughout the offseason. After the 2019-20 season began, Phillips started working on backskating and his gaps — the latter of which is a big point of emphasis for head coach Guy Gadowsky.

Phillips can also move the puck very well, and that’s earned him the “quarterback” role on Penn State’s top power play unit along with Alex Limoges, Evan Barratt, Liam Folkes, and Aarne Talvitie. His puck movement is excellent, but he wouldn’t have time to make those plays without his actual movement.

“Everyone knows [skating]’s his best asset. He moves around the ice beautifully,” alternate captain Kris Myllari said. “I think that really helps us break out pucks and transition quickly. When a guy dumps in, the quicker you get back, the more time you have to make plays. He’s been making so many good breakouts and not having to rim the puck, which is a tribute to his great skating.”

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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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