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Penn State Men’s Hockey Phase II Preview

Penn State men’s hockey will begin Phase II of its 2020-21 season against No. 5 Michigan State on Sunday, January 3. After posting a mediocre 3-5 record in Phase I, the Nittany Lions are determined to improve and become a contender in the second half of the season.

Penn State’s remaining schedule is anything but easy. The Nittany Lions face five teams ranked in the USCHO Division I Men’s Poll, including three teams ranked inside the top 10. Despite the tough schedule, the team is looking forward to carrying the momentum into Phase II and competing with Big Ten juggernauts.

Offense

The Nittany Lions are almost on their way to finding their offensive identity after winning their last three games. The offensive unit got off to a slow start this season while averaging only two goals scored over the first five games.

Sloppy play in the neutral zone and poor puck movement plagued the forwards until things began to click against the Michigan Wolverines, sparking a three-game win streak. During that span, Penn State has averaged more than five goals and two power-play goals per game. Captain Alex Limoges has been a big part of that success.

Penn State’s senior captain followed the rest of the team in having a slow start to the season while only registering one goal in his first five games. Limoges turned the tide along with the rest of the team and scored four goals in the last three games played to lead the team in points, including a crucial game-tying goal against Arizona State. It seems like Limoges has found his grove as a player and captain and will keep producing as one of Penn State’s top playmakers after the break.

Tim Doherty will be another key piece of Penn State’s offense moving forward. The graduate transfer from Maine hit his stride in his last three games as well while finding great chemistry with Limoges. Of those five points, three were shared with the Penn State captain. Limoges and Doherty may have just established themselves as Penn State’s most productive duo.

Kevin Wall is yet another player to watch on the offensive unit. The sophomore forward is following a productive freshman campaign with an impressive sophomore season and was Penn State’s most productive player during its opening stretch. With three goals and four assists in eight games played Wall will be a player that Penn State can consistently rely on to make plays on the ice against some of the most talented teams in the country in the coming weeks.

Sophomore forwards Connor McMenamin and Connor MacEachern both stepped up for the Nittany Lions with one overtime goal each against Arizona State at the end of Phase I and will be key to producing more scoring chances. MacEachern and McMenamin have six and four points, respectively, while McMenamin has the best plus/minus on the team. Watch out for both players to be at the top of Penn State’s scoresheet in Phase II.

Defense

Penn State’s defense also struggled early in the season but didn’t improve as much as the offense has. The Nittany Lions have given up over four goals per game over the first eight games of the season and have left goalies Oskar Autio and Liam Souliere out to dry in too many odd-man rushes.

Despite the struggle on the defensive side of the puck, freshman Jimmy Dowd has impressed coaches and players with promising talent throughout the season.

“The things he does extremely well you can’t really coach,” Gadowsky said after the team’s first win against Michigan. “He’s got a really unique talent of slowing the game down and making very effective plays rather than just throwing a guy a puck somewhere in his body, he’s going to put it exactly on your forehand.”

It is clear that Dowd is comfortable on the ice and is able to make plays as a lower line defenseman, which will be proven to be valuable against deep Big Ten teams in Phase II.

One of the biggest surprises this season has been alternate captain Paul DeNaples. The junior defenseman showed flashes of his natural ability but was never able to get anything going while scoring zero points. DeNaples has remained on Penn State’s top defensive pair with Clayton Phillips, who has also been struggling. Despite his recent struggles, DeNaples is still one of Penn State’s most experienced players and has had two great seasons in the past and has proven his talent. His experience will be a great asset for Penn State and all of its younger defensemen in Phase II.

Goalies

The Nittany Lions have found themselves in a tricky goalie situation heading into the bulk of their schedule as both Oskar Autio and Liam Souliere have been inconsistent. Despite strong performances during Penn State’s win streak, it is evident that there is still work that needs to be done.

“I think they’ve both had great games, but both had games where they had to be better, individually,” Gadowsky said in a press conference on Tuesday. “There has been some incoheision that has caused more grade-A chances than we like, but at the same time, they need to get better individually too. They know that and they are ready to prove that.”

Junior Oskar Autio has gotten most of the starts for Penn State over freshman Liam Souliere but has remained inconsistent with 3.80 GAA and .864 save percentage this season. Even though the stats don’t look pretty, Autio faced five teams last year while posting a 1.87 GAA and .930 save percentage, including a game against a top-ranked Michigan team.

Even though Gadowsky still has not elaborated on who will get the main starting job moving forward, Autio brings the most experience to the table and has already faced and beaten talented hockey teams. His experience will most likely give him the majority of starts in Phase II against some of the highest-scoring offenses in the country.

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Penn State will kick off Phase II against No. 5 Michigan State at 3 p.m. on Sunday, January 3 in East Lansing. The team will continue its road trip the following weekend against Ohio State before returning to Pegula Ice Arena against Michigan State on Friday, January 15.

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About the Author

Frankie Marzano

Frankie is a sophomore 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 Rangers, Jets, Mets, and any Penn State athletics team. Follow him on Twitter @frankiemarzano for obnoxious amounts of Penn State and Rangers content.

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