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Penn State Men’s Hockey’s 2022-23 Preview: Defense & Goalies

Hockey Valley is back, folks.

The Nittany Lions will hit the ice to open the 2022-23 season against Canisius on Friday, October 7, at Pegula Ice Arena.

A season ago, Penn State fell just one win short of a trip to the Big Ten title game thanks to the performance of its defense and breakout goaltender Liam Souliere. As puck drop nears, let’s continue our 2022-23 season preview with a look at how the Nittany Lions’ blue line and goaltending situation will shake out this year.

Notable Departures

Pittsburgh Penguins draftee Clayton Phillips is the only top-nine defenseman from a year ago that will not be returning this season. In just over 30 games played last season, Phillips scored five goals while tallying seven assists. The veteran blue liner was second on the team in +/- with a +11.

After losing the starting job to Souliere late last season, goaltender Oskar Autio announced his transfer to Vermont in April. Autio was inconsistent in his 23 appearances last season, registering a sub .900 save percentage with a goals-against-average north of 3.10.

The Returning Leaders

The Nittany Lions are fortunate enough to welcome back nearly every impact defenseman from a year ago. Captain Paul DeNaples will return for his fifth and final season in Happy Valley. DeNaples was a big part of Penn State’s defense and special teams a season ago. As the team’s best penalty killer, DeNaples led the team with 60 blocked shots and a +/- of +12. DeNaples’ biggest moment of the season came when he scored the game-winning goal in overtime to lift Penn State over Wisconsin 5-4.

Both Jimmy Dowd Jr. and Christian Berger are set to return for their junior seasons. The two combined for 36 points a year ago while playing in nearly every game.

Michigan native Kenny Johnson will return for his senior season. The younger brother of longtime NHL defenseman Jack Johnson scored just one goal last season. Johnson’s lone goal came in a game one loss to Ohio State in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament.

Perhaps the biggest returnee for the Nittany Lions this season is goaltender Liam Souliere. In 15 games a year ago, the Ontario native had a solid 2.88 goals against average. Once being named the starting goaltender in late February, Souliere took off, carrying Penn State to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.

Starting the final six games of the season, Souliere allowed just over two goals per game, including back-to-back dominant performances in games two and three to help Penn State complete the comeback to knock out Ohio State in the quarterfinals.

Pittsburgh native Doug Dorr will return this season to be the backup to Souliere. As the third goalie last season, Dorr appeared in just one game, making one save in just over five minutes of game action.

Those Who Need To Step Up

Returning blue liner Simon Mack enters his sophomore season after putting up pedestrian numbers a year ago. Highly regarded for his offensive skillset and speed in the neutral zone, Mack struggled to make much of an impact on offense last year, recording just seven assists. The Ontario native failed to find the back of the net on 71 shots in 37 games played.

Notable Newcomers

The Nittany Lions will welcome three new freshmen to the blue line this season — Carter Schade, Jarod Crespo, and Dylan Gratton. Gratton is the younger brother of current Penn State forward, Tyler Gratton.

Schade spent last year playing for the Lincoln Stars of the USHL where he tallied 47 points. In addition to being the first overall selection in the 2018 USHL Phase 1 Futures Draft, Schade led the Pittsburgh Penguins elite 16U team to a national championship in 2018-19.

Crespo also played in the USHL where he scored 36 points in two seasons with the Green Bay Gamblers. The Eastampton New Jersey, native was the recipient of the Salisbury leadership award in 2020 while playing for the Salisbury School in Connecticut.

The younger of the two Gratton brothers at Penn State, Dylan, arrives in Happy Valley after spending the last three years playing in the USHL. Gratton’s best season came in 2021-22 when the Pottstown native was a +19, tallying 18 points in 60 games.

Penn State will add one new goaltender to the fray this season. Freshman Noah Grannan is expected to be the team’s third goaltender.

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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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