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A Look At The 2017-18 Penn State Hockey Roster

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The Lions are one season away from having a complete, balanced, D1 roster.

Photo by Heather Weikel

2017-18 Roster

Freshmen Sophomore Junior Senior
Freshmen Sophomore Junior Senior
Evan Barratt Kris Myllari Chris Funkey James Robinson
Sam Sternschein James Gobetz Alec Marsh Trevor Hamilton
Alex Stevens Brandon Biro Matt Mendelson Erik Autio
Cole Hults Nikita Pavlychev Derian Hamilton Matt Erlichman
Adam Pilewicz Nate Sucese Andrew Sturtz
Alex Limoges Sean Kohler Chase Berger
Brett Murray Kevin Kerr
Blake Gober
Denis Smirnov
Liam Folkes
Peyton Jones

This is the roster for the Penn State hockey team heading into next season. We will be breaking down the individual players later this week so for today we will keep our eyes on the big picture.

As you can see, there are only four seniors on the team. Matt Erlichman was added to the roster in 2016-17 off the Penn State club hockey team as a third goalie. This was done as insurance in case there was an injury to Peyton Jones or Chris Funkey. While the team could add a third division one-caliber goalie, it would put the program at a disadvantage. Any prospect would come to PSU knowing that Jones has the position locked down for two more seasons, and Funkey is a solid backup that could start if something happened to Jones. By waiting two years to bring in the next goalie, the team benefits by being able to select from a higher-quality of recruit; one that has his eyes on being a multiple-year starter. The prospective player also benefits by not being taken as an emergency-only, third option that would likely never see the ice.

Trevor Hamilton transferred to Penn State last season and has one more year of eligibility remaining. He is a top-notch defender and will be a leader in the locker room next season. James Robinson and Erik Autio are the only two remaining ‘traditional recruits’ from their freshman class. Scott Conway was the third member of the recruiting class, but he left the team after just one season. With Robinson missing the entire 2015-16 season due to injury, and having respectable but minimal production on the ice, it is Autio that is the only senior to have a four-year impact on the team.

We are reminded by the makeup of the senior class what the entire roster looked like just a few years ago; a patchwork group of guys that took drastically different routes in joining the team. The three recruits that joined in 2014 were from three different countries, Canada (Robinson), Sweden (Autio) and the UK (Conway). It was apparent that Guy Gadowsky was forced to search wide and far for players that were willing to take the risk of coming to a program that was expected to mire in the basement of the standings for their time on the ice.

The incoming junior class was the first full group of recruits to join the program. A couple of the players, Matt Mendelson and Derian Hamilton, were still on the outside looking in at possessing the skill needed to compete at the division one level. The rest of the class produced immediately. The incoming sophomore class came ready to play as a unit, and it carried Penn State to levels the program never could have expected entering the season. The incoming freshman class, and Brett Murray should be added to this group not in terms of eligibility but due to his not playing a full season, is stacked with players that are going to compete immediately for playing time.

The Lions had a deficiency in skill just three seasons ago. Two seasons ago the team had the skill and drive that it would take to compete on a national level, but not the numbers, skating with fewer players than is allowed nearly 13 of the time. Last season we saw what the team can do with a full compliment of players, and a combined skill level that is at least in the ballpark of the opponents it faced. This coming season will be the first with the team having 18 forwards and 6 defensemen that are talented enough to play at any program in the country.

It’s amazing to think what the coaching staff and team was able to do with a hodgepodge of players in recent years, and that the roster is still a season away from being complete. Many of the teams that PSU took on last season had NHL draft picks in each recruiting class, much less even numbers in all four classes. The Lions overcame the odds last year and there is no reason to believe that the roster composition will be a negative factor next season. At the same time, as amazing as this past season was, the team will have more talent next year. And more the year after that.

As Penn State hockey fans it may feel as though our cup runneth over and it does. In terms of our roster and talent filling out, our cup is just now above half-full. We still have room to improve simply by adding top-level recruits to replace the tiny senior class. It is expected that at least 2 or more juniors and sophomores will leave the program following next season, so that would make room for 5 or 6 additional new players. The result would be roughly an equal amount of players in all four classes, with the talent to play at the highest level of NCAA competition.

Projected Top Four Lines

(Shoots)(2016-17 Games, Goals-Assists-Points)

Left Wing Center Right Wing
Left Wing Center Right Wing
Brett Murray (L) (12, 0-1-1) Chase Berger (L) (39,13-23-36) Andrew Sturtz (R) (37, 22-15-37)
Denis Smirnov (L) (39, 19-28-47) Nate Sucese (L) (38, 17-19-36) Alec Marsh (R) (26, 6-4-10)
Brandon Biro (L) (39, 6-14-20) Nikita Pavlychev (L) (36, 6-7-13) Liam Folkes (R) (26, 6-7-13)
Alex Limoges (L) (FR) Evan Barratt (L) (FR) Sam Sternschein (R) (FR)

Reserves:

Matt Mendelson (R) (1, 0-0-0)

Sean Kohler (L) (2, 0-1-1)

Blake Gober (R) (16,1-5-6)

James Robinson (L) (26, 3-1-4)

There are many ways that the lines will be grouped next season, so we started with the guys that played together this year, plugged in a couple of holes with productive returning players, and added a line of freshmen that will likely break through next season. It’s hard to guess which players will play together, but the idea of putting the lines up is to show the amount of production that the team has returning. The Lions have had three consecutive winning seasons. Two years ago Casey Bailey left the team and we were left to think, how can we ever go on without him? The team followed that up by winning more than 20 games for the first time in program history, but lost a great deal of senior leadership and two starting goalies. It was thought that the program would need a season to regroup before making another push. Instead the team won the Big Ten championship and an NCAA tournament game.

This year there is no reason to think, looking at the roster and departures, that there will be a step back in terms of the talent on the team. If you look at the players that return, the team could have done well this year with that group. Adding seven additional players, with Murray having a full season of preparation, should cause a few sleepless nights for opposing coaches in the Big Ten.

Projected Defensive Pairings

(Shoots)(2016-17 Games, Goals-Assists-Points)

Left Defense Right Defense
Left Defense Right Defense
Erik Autio (L) (39, 3-15-18) Trevor Hamilton (R) (39, 6-20-26)
Kevin Kerr (L) (25, 2-13-15) Kris Myllari (R) (38, 8-9-17)
Cole Hults (L) (FR) Adam Pilewicz (R) (FR)

Reserves:

James Gobetz (R)- (21, 1-0-1)

Derian Hamilton (R)- (15, 0-3-3)

Alex Stevens (R)- (FR)

The loss of Vince Pedrie left a hole in the defense and the team needing a second blue-line scorer. The injury to Kevin Kerr late in the season forced the PSU defense to shuffle lines for the stretch run. Kris Myllari emerged as a scoring threat and as a result will be in position to fill the void left by Pedrie.

The top four returning defensemen make for two natural pairings. The scoring and checking of Myllari and Hamilton can be combined with the skill and overall awareness of Kerr and Autio. It is uncertain what the three incoming freshmen will contribute, but very likely that at least one, probably two, will see regular time. Add that to the solid performance this season by Gobetz and Derian Hamilton, and the team will have plenty of support from the blue line.

Looking at the returning players it is likely that the top-two lines will perform better next year than they did this season. The third defensive line, without a doubt, will be much more talented next season than the year before. It’s getting to the point that our third defensive line would have been our best pairing just a couple of seasons ago; the team is that deep.

Goalies

Matt Erlichman- As mentioned above, Erlichman played two seasons for the Icers prior to joining the divison 1 squad last year. His presence has allowed Bo Didur, Penn State’s franchise goalie-in-waiting, to mature before joining the team. There is still a chance that Didur could join the team for 2017, that was the assumption a year or so ago, but until it happens, Erlichman is expected to remain on the roster.

Chris Funkey- (4 games, 1.79 goals against average, .921 save percentage) Funkey is the heart and soul of the locker room. His antics and personality keep the team loose and he knows when to step in and also when to turn it down a notch. His ability on the ice is there, so if Jones needs a break, Funkey is ready to go.

Peyton Jones- (36 games, 2.60 goals against average, .904 save percentage) Jones came in as the heir-apparent in net, but was forced into action a year early when Eamon McAdam signed with the New York Islanders following the 2016-17 season. He played well, finishing with the longest winning streak and most total wins in a season for a Penn State goalie.

His save percentage suffered during a stretch of games that it was clear that he lost his confidence. Opponents found a soft spot just below Jones’ glove, and he was unable to fully close that gap, having to protect it, and it left him knowing that he was out there partially naked. Like a great baseball pitcher that knows he doesn’t have his best stuff but goes out there and plays anyway, it was admirable to watch Jones stick in there while knowing he isn’t at his best. He will correct that problem during the offseason. Even with the struggles Jones showed that he is one of the best, maybe the best, goalie in the Big Ten conference.