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Penn State Men’s Hockey’s 2020-21 Preview: Defense & Goalies

We are one week closer to the start of hockey season, folks!

The No. 9 Penn State Nittany Lions are coming off a Big Ten regular season title for the first time in program history. Before its season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the team stood at No. 7 in the country and had its eyes set on the NCAA Tournament.

To continue this year’s preview, let’s take a look at Penn State’s defense and goalies.

Notable Departures

Penn State’s defense will greatly miss the likes of notable defensemen Kris Myllari, James Gobetz, and Cole Hultz. Myllari ranks No. 1 all-time for Penn State defensemen with 19 goals, while Hultz ranks first on Penn State’s all-time points list for a defenseman with 78.

The Nittany Lions also saw the departure of starting goalie Peyton Jones, who ranks No. 1 all-time for Penn State goaltenders in games started (36), wins (23), saves (983), assists (4), and shutouts (2).

The Returning Leaders

Even though the Nittany Lions lost some key pieces to their defensive core, the team is still returning some key talent. Junior defenseman Paul DeNaples, along with senior defenseman Clayton Phillips and junior goalie Oskar Autio, highlight the key returners.

DeNaples, who’s an alternate captain, is going to be the biggest piece of Penn State’s defense this season. The defenseman was named an Academic All-Big Ten honoree last season and already ranks just outside the top 10 in all-time for points by a defenseman. The Pennsylvania native is coming off of a three-goal, 11-point season.

Phillips will play his second season at Penn State after transferring from Minnesota. The senior finished last season with two goals and nine points and will serve as one of the Nittany Lions’ most experienced defensemen.

Autio will likely get the starting job between the posts. The junior goalie is coming off a solid season with a 2-1-1 record, 1.87 GAA, and .930 save percentage. Autio’s experience playing in the Big Ten could help him adjust to the workload of a starting goalie.

Those Who Need To Step Up

Senior Evan Bell and sophomore Mason Snell should take on larger roles for Penn State’s defense this season. Bell is coming off of a solid season, finishing with one goal and seven points in 23 games. Snell, meanwhile, finished last season with two goals and four points. The sophomore will likely contribute more to the Nittany Lions’ defense this season following a strong showing as a freshman.

Alex Stevens, on the other hand, is coming off of a somewhat slow junior season. After having the best season of his collegiate career in the 2018-2019 season, the defenseman finished with just two goals and three points in 20 games played.

Notable Newcomers

Penn State will receive some help coming into the program to help fill some needs.

Freshman defensemen Christian Berger, the younger brother of former forward Chase Berger, and Jimmy Dowd are with the Nittany Lions after strong careers in the USHL. Berger scored five goals and 17 assists for the Omaha Lancers last season, while Dowd registered four goals and 22 assists in 48 games played for the Chicago Steel.

Most notably, freshman goalie Liam Soulière will have all eyes on him as a potential starter. Soulière was supposed to join the Nittany Lions last season but deferred his offer by a year after Peyton Jones returned for his senior year. Soulière went 26-8-0 and put up excellent goals-against average and save percentage marks of 2.13 and .930, respectively, for the CCHL’s Brockville Braves last season. Don’t count him out for the starting job. No matter who wins the starting job, the duo between Soulière and Autio could provide the perfect one-two punch at goal for the Nittany Lions.

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The Nittany Lions will open the season on November 19 on the road against Minnesota. The Big Ten released Phase I of the 2020-21 schedule on Tuesday.

The season will include a 24-game conference slate, four games against non-conference opponent Arizona State at home, and a modified Big Ten tournament at the end of the season.

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About the Author

Frankie Marzano

Frankie is a senior accounting and economics major from Long Island, NY. You can probably recognize him as the typical Italian-American with slicked back black hair. He is an avid fan of the New York Rangers and Mets, along with every Penn State Athletics team. Follow him on Twitter @frankiemarzano for obnoxious amounts of Rangers and Penn State content or email him at [email protected]

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