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Penn State Men’s Hockey’s 2021-22 Preview: Defense & Goalies

It’s getting closer to that time of year, folks.

In under two weeks, Happy Valley will turn into Hockey Valley as Penn State gears up for the drop of the puck on its 2021-22 regular-season campaign. This year, the Nittany Lions will try to turn things around after a rough 2020-21 season that saw them finish a subpar 10-12 record.

As we near puck drop, let’s continue our 2021-22 season preview and take a look at what Penn State’s defense and goaltending could look like this upcoming season.

A year ago, the Nittany Lions allowed 3.68 goals per game, which was better than only one other team in the Big Ten. With some help returning on the blue line and in net, Penn State will aim to turn things around and improve its special teams, a unit that was the worst in the conference only a year ago.

Notable Departures

Penn State lost three of the eight defensemen to appear in a game last year. Alex Stevens and Evan Bell both graduated, and with that, the team lost only two goals and ten points worth of production.

Between the pipes, the Nittany Lions lost only one of their three goaltenders from a year ago in senior Will Holtforster. Holtforster appeared in just two of 22 games and registered only 6:39 of total ice time.

The Returning Leaders

Nearly all of the important players on both defense and in net will return to the ice for the Nittany Lions this season. The defensive unit is led by sophomore and New Jersey native Jimmy Dowd Jr., who led the blue line with ten points a year ago. Clayton Phillips will return to the lineup this season in his final year of eligibility. Phillips tallied seven points in 20 games.

Along with Dowd Jr. and Phillips, Kenny Johnson, Mason Snell, and Paul DeNaples will all return to the ice this year for the Nittany Lions. Sophomore Christian Berger hopes to add more offensive production to the blue line, too.

Both of the two goalies that registered significant playing time a year ago will return this season with the starter expected to be senior Oskar Autio. During the 2020-21 season, Autio appeared in 18 games and finished with a save percentage of just .894. The other four games were started by now sophomore Liam Souliere. In just over 24 minutes of ice time, Souliere managed just a 4.60 goals-against average with a win/loss record of 1-3.

Those Who Need To Step Up

After the lack of offensive production from the defense last year, there are many Nittany Lion defensemen that are expected to have bigger years. A year ago, Penn State finished with a penalty kill percentage of .762, the lowest in the Big Ten. If Penn State wants to have a chance of competing in the Big Ten, the special teams numbers need to get better, and there’s nowhere better to look at than the veterans along the blue line.

Of the seven defensemen on this year’s roster, four are upperclassmen and two are sophomores. While the penalty kill numbers may hurt to look at, the even-strength numbers are not much better. Out of the seven teams in the Big Ten, Penn State finished toward the bottom in almost every major defensive category, as 3.68 goals allowed per game and 81 goals allowed are both numbers that the defensemen and goalies have to improve on if the Nittany Lions want to be competitive this season.

Notable Newcomers

Only one freshman will likely suit up for the Nittany Lions’ defense this year. Simon Mack, from Brockville, Ontario, is expected to bring a lot of speed and hockey IQ to the Penn State blue line this season. Head coach Guy Gadowsky had positive things to say about his newest defenseman.

“Simon is a smooth-skating defenseman who is also very smart with the puck,” Gadowsky said. “Those natural abilities allow him to be effective with minimal risk.”

While Autio and Souliere are the only two goalies on the roster expected to see any playing time this season, the addition of Doug Dorr should help bring much-needed depth to the goalie position. Dorr, who is expected to be the No. 3 goalie this season, appeared in five games for the Boston Jr. Bandits a year ago when he posted a 2-1-1 record with a .907 save percentage.

The Nittany Lions will open the season at home on October 3 against the Long Island University Sharks.

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About the Author

Devon Craley

Devon is a junior studying sports journalism. He has the genuine misfortune of being a Philadelphia sports fan...IYKYK. Send your hot takes and preferably your freezing cold takes on Twitter to @devon3134. Devon is also your friendly, neighborhood State College movie nerd.

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