The hockey roster continues to make the transition from competing at the club level to division I. Tommy Olczyk is the only remaining player that joined the team prior to the program making the jump to the highest level of college hockey. While Tommy and other former club players contributed greatly to the team this past season and in previous years, each incoming recruit has more talent than the club players that are leaving.
Olczyk's return to the team next season was not official until last month. He brings a list of qualities to the team that are hard to express in numbers. His play on the penalty kill is among the best in college hockey. His leadership is impossible to describe. Olczyk was a team leader and former team captain during the infancy of the program's transition to division I. Last year he ceded the captain role to other players but didn't give up his position as a leader. Olczyk will be a coach on the ice and a leader in the community as well.
Guy Gadowsky was forced to cobble together a roster with mostly transfers and club players when the program made the jump to division I. Now Gadowsky has his guys in place. The makeup of the team is now on par with other successful programs in division one hockey.
With the recent dismissal of Scott Conway the roster is left with just two sophomores. As a result, the Lions are bringing in a giant class of 11 new players, seven of which play forward or center. A few of the incoming players have higher expectations than Conway had coming in last year so all is not lost with his surprise exit from the team. The class of 11 includes four 21 year-old players and four 20 year-old players. Unlike other sports, where incoming players usually take a year or two for seasoning before they make a significant contribution, these players are ready to play immediately.
The Incoming Front-liners
Nikita Pavlychev- Center. 18 years-old. 6'7" 200 lbs. He's one of the more intriguing prospects of the incoming class. He just turned 18 so he may continue to grow upward and outward. He has had production at every level that he has played. Originally from Yaroslavl, Russia, Nikita got his first taste of organized hockey in the United States while playing for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton teams from ages 15-16. He made the jump to the USHL this year and his scoring production suffered (6 goals, 10 assists in 42 games played with 80 penalty minutes) but that is expected out of the young, giant recruit. Pavlychev is expected to play immediately for the team but his production should be compared to Zach Saar, PSU's other monster forward (6'5" 240 lbs), in that he is not expected to contribute big numbers early in his career.
Denis Smirnov- Left wing. 17 years-old. 5' 8" 190 lbs. Denis hails from the same town in Russia as Nikita Pavlychev. He made his competitive hockey debut in the U.S. while playing alongside Pavlychev in Wilkes-Barre during the 2012-13 season. That year, at age 15, Smirnov scored 23 goals and had 21 assists in just 20 games. He has scored 18 goals in each of the past two seasons and has emerged as the first true 'blue chip' recruit for coach Guy Gadowsky at PSU. There's a chance that Denis will be the first true sniper that the team has ever had on the roster. Casey Bailey has a great shot, a great NHL body, and is a few years older than Smirnov. The players are not similar in any way other than that they both score a lot. It wouldn't be a shocker to see Denis score 20 goals in a season during his tenure at PSU.
Nathan Sucese- Center. 19 years-old. 5'8" 170 lbs. He scored 12 goals and had 15 assists last year for Dubuque (USHL). Has had good production numbers at every level he has played. He's comparable to Eric Scheid. Sucese has high-end scoring talent and while not the largest guy, he will be a double-digit goal scorer before he leaves Hockey Valley. He has the type of motor on the ice that inspires the opposing players to get out of position, freeing up his linemates. Nate is a team player and as the below Instagram illustrates, he also loves his grandma. Sucese with honor has arrived for the Icers.
Andrew Sturtz- Right Wing. 21 years-old. 5'11" 190 lbs. Sturtz has been a scorer everywhere that he has played. His statistics are gaudy but it is unsure how his skills will translate to the NCAA game. During the past few seasons he has averaged a goal every couple of games while playing for Carleton Place (CCHL). There's a chance that Sturtz could be plugged into the lineup and become a consistent scorer immediately.
Chase Berger- Center. 21 years-old. 6' 0" 192 lbs. Averaged a goal every two games until advancing to the USHL level two years ago. His production has been solid for the past two years in the USHL, averaging a point every two games. Berger committed to the program in 2012 prior to PSU's first year in division I. Berger's upside isn't in the top of this recruiting class but his ability to provide depth immediately is a luxury that Guy Gadowsky hasn't had until now.
Alec Marsh- Center. He turns 20 in November. 5'10" 185 lbs. Marsh played with three different USHL teams this past season and his scoring production was down as a result. He had 8 goals and 20 assists in 49 games in '14-'15 after recording 16 goals and 17 assists the previous year. Like Chase Berger, Marsh committed to the program in 2012, long before the team made quantum leaps in expectations. He comes in as one of the least talented and touted players in the class. With a pair of years spent seasoning in the USHL, he should be ready to add depth to the team.
Matt Mendelson- Left Wing. 20 years-old. 5'10" 170 lbs. A Pittsburgh native. He has been a consistent scorer at the USHL level for the past two seasons, averaging a goal every three games. His upside may not be as high as Smirnov and Pavlychev's but he is as close to a 'can't miss' prospect as there is in the class. He should be a solid contributor early in his career and may become a team leader before his time in State College is over.
His sister Cara played hockey for PSU's women's team. She shared this tweet earlier this year when Matt took a puck to the face. He's a hockey player so you know he was just fine.
Good looks run in the family #pucksfordinner @mmendy21 pic.twitter.com/5C2BdVscE4— Cara Mendelson (@Cmen12) March 28, 2015
The most anticipated and perhaps talented players coming in are each originally from Yaroslavl, Russia. Nikita Pavlychev and Denis Smirnov will be the youngest players on the team. Each has played in the USHL for the past couple of years and have shown the ability to score. Smirnov teamed up with recently departed Scott Conway a year ago on the USHL's Indiana Ice as the team won the league championship. Smirnov is the brightest star of this recruiting class and is expected to be one of the best players on the team. He was named the most outstanding forward on the Fargo Force (USHL) following this season with the team. Pavlychev is a talented prospect but his size may limit his effectiveness early in this career.
The other front-liners coming in are all expected to be solid. Mendelson, Sturtz, and Sucese have tremendous upsides. Each has been very consistent in putting the puck in the net during their young careers. What we may see out of this incoming group of forwards is greater consistency in play than we have seen from our team in past years. While there may not be a twenty-goal scorer this year out of the group, it is likely that the production per player will be greater than it has been in past seasons.