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Penn State Hockey’s 2020 Phase One Report Card

Penn State men’s hockey concluded phase one of its 2020-21 regular season with a 3-5 record.

The Nittany Lions came into the season with a lot of youth and got swept in two ugly series against No. 4 Minnesota and No. 12 Wisconsin. They then dropped the first game to No. 5 Michigan before putting nine past the Wolverines for their first victory on the season. Phase one concluded with back-to-back overtime wins over No. 20 Arizona State.

With lots to unpack after an eventful beginning, here are our grades for the team’s shaky start.

Forwards: B

The start of the season was not kind to the offense, which put up only a combined 10 goals through the first five games of the season. The big returners for the Nittany Lions, Alex Limoges and Aarne Talvitite, had one goal between them in the first four games of the season.

Sophomore Kevin Wall stepped up to the best of his ability, notching four points in that same span. True freshman Jared Westcott and sophomore Connor McMenamin did their best to supplement the offense with some depth scoring, but it didn’t make up for the lackluster start that the offense had. Coach Guy Gadowsky blamed the early struggles due to lack of chemistry considering only one line, Wall-Talvitie-McMenamin, had ever played together.

The forwards impressed in the second half of phase one. The standout line, or duo, was Limoges and Maine transfer Tim Doherty. Gadowsky wanted to see chemistry develop and the partnership between the two of them flourished, with both of them having multiple-point games starting in the Michigan series. It’s also easy to see with the eye how well the duo understands each other on the ice.

The Nittany Lions capped off phase one of the season with back-to-back overtime winners by Connor MacEachren in game one versus Arizona State and McMenamin in game two. Those helped end what was an average showing from the Penn State offense to start the season.

The current three-game win streak, which all came against ranked opposition, vaults the forward core to a respectable B grade.

Defense: C

Thirty-four goals allowed in eight games is not good. Even with Penn State’s recent success, the defense remains suspect at best, making the same defensive errors in wins and losses.

Similar to the offense, a large part of the struggle comes due to a lack of chemistry. Paul Denaples and Clayton Philips have been the first pairing all season. They’ve both shown flashes of their natural ability, but they are still trying how to complement each other when on the ice.

Underneath them, there has been a lot of rotation. Seniors Evan Bell and Alex Stevens have done a decent job defensively but have still made some avoidable mistakes, especially when breaking out into the neutral zone. Bell currently leads all defensemen in points with four.

Underclassmen Mason Snell, Jimmy Dowd Jr., and Christian Berger round out the defensive core. Dowd Jr. is the player that has stood out amongst them. The New Jersey native is second amongst defensemen with three points and has adjusted to the college game well.

It hasn’t been an ideal start for the defense, but patience is needed. It gets a C, but expect improvement from this group as chemistry grows and players develop with more experience.

Goalies: B-

Entering the season the goalie position was the biggest question mark. Oskar Autio and Liam Soulière have been tasked with replacing Penn State’s all-time wins leader, Peyton Jones. Both have done an admirable job between the pipes.

Autio has become Gadowsky’s clear number one guy after phase one. Autio has posted a 2-3 record with a 3.80 goals-against average and a .864 save percentage. Those numbers aren’t spectacular in the slightest, but numbers can be deceiving.

On multiple occasions, Autio has kept Penn State in games, giving them a chance to win. Especially in the Minnesota and Michigan series, he made saves he had no business making.

Soulière is Gadowsky’s number two guy. The freshman has posted a 1-2 record with a 4.36 goals-against average and .860 save percentage. Soulière has struggled in every single game he’s played for stretches then settled down in, excluding a brutal game versus Wisconsin.

His best game came against Arizona State. Soulière was blitzed for three goals in a short span to start the game before locking down and making some big saves en route to his first collegiate victory. Soulière’s talent is there, but he needs to show some consistency.

Both goalies have talent. Autio is beginning to show his true ability. Soulière still needs time but has the potential to be a game-changer. A solid B- grade is in order for the goalies.

Special Teams: C+

The start of the season to now has been like oil and water for the special teams’ units. After the first four games, Penn State sat at the bottom in the Big Ten in power-play success rate (7.1%) and penalty kill success rate (63.6%).

The power-play unit has come around. Penn State scored at least one goal on the man advantage in three of the last four games. This was highlighted by a four-goal output from the power play during its 9-5 drubbing of Michigan. There has been a lot more conviction with the man advantage in the second half of phase one. The power play now has a 25.9% success rate.

The penalty kills improved slightly but not amazingly. It still sits bottom of the conference with a 70.8% success rate. The Nittany Lions have also faced off against three teams in the top ten for power-play success rate in the nation so far this season, with the only exception being Arizona State.

The resurgence of the power play brings the grade to special teams up to a C+, but the penalty kill must improve if the Nittany Lions want to have success in the Big Ten this season.

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About the Author

Connor Donohue

Connor is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. He hails from the great state of New Jersey and is proud of it. Lover of the greatest city in the world, New York City, he strongly dislikes the city of Philadelphia and will not hesitate to tell you that. He's also been cursed as a Penn State fan since birth. If you want to call him a bum or maybe go out on a date with him, follow him on twitter @ConnorDonohue00 or email him at [email protected]

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