With the ice melting across the country and spring beginning to emerge, we take one last look at the 2016-17 Penn State hockey team. Here are the grades for the returning upperclassmen.
James Robinson- C (26 games, 3 goals, 1 assist, 4 pts) Robinson does a lot of checking and usually mixes it up with the opposing team’s scoring line. Offensive production isn’t necessarily something that the team looks to get from him. However, entering his senior season, and as an assistant captain while a junior, it would be nice to get a few more goals, and many more assists from the large forward. What to work on: At this point in his career, his role is established. While it would be nice to gain additional production next season, it is likely that he will be surpassed for playing time by younger players. If Robinson can continue to be a leader during the offseason, and in the locker room during the season, he will be making a full contribution to the team.
Trevor Hamilton- B+ (39 games, 6 goals, 20 assists, 26 pts) Hamilton produced very well for the team, and adds a dimension of hitting that few other players bring. His 11 penalties put him in the middle of the pack on the team, but he did well to avoid them considering that he had many devastating, visible hits along the way this season. What to work on: With Vince Pedrie moving on, it will be important for Hamilton to step up on the offensive end. He has shown the ability to score goals and gain assists, if he can increase his numbers it will make the gaping hole left by Pedrie an afterthought.
Erik Autio- B+ (39 games, 3 goals, 15 assists, 18 pts) Autio does a lot of things that do not show up in the stat sheet. His team-leading +33 for the season is one number that does jump out. Autio is one of the best passers from the blue-line in the Big Ten, and his ability to safely matriculate the puck from the defensive zone to the offensive zone is invaluable to the team. What to work on: Entering his senior season, there won’t be a jump in his abilities, but he could focus a little bit more on scoring goals. His role is typically to cover for the other defender as he steps up to join the forwards in a scoring attempt. If Autio can pick and choose a little better, maybe have a couple more seeing-eye slap shots from the point, it would help the team’s overall production.
Matt Erlichman- Incomplete (DNP) Erlichman dressed for a few games but never set his skates on the ice during a game. As the third goalie, that is the plan for his senior season as well. What to work on: Be a good teammate. He is not expected to play, so his attitude off the ice is very important.
Chris Funkey- A+ (4 games, 3 starts, 2-2 record, 1.79 goals against average, .921 save percentage) Funkey entered a game versus St. Lawrence after Peyton Jones allowed 3 goals in fewer than 5 minutes. He played so well, allowing just one goal the remainder of the game, that PSU almost came back for the win. In the process Funkey got a statistical loss, saving Jones from his first setback and preserving his record win streak to begin the season. That is the role that Funkey fills as a capable backup. He could step in and play, the team wouldn’t miss a beat if he did, but it is likely that he will play fewer than 5 games next season. His role is to help Jones and his team stay prepared to win. Funkey was given credit by Andrew Sturtz, the likely captain of the team next season, following the final game.
"We don't get where we were without a guy like @Funks33 in the locker room." -Andrew Sturtz— Penn State Hockey (@PennStateMHKY) March 28, 2017
What to work on: If he could grow a couple of inches and maybe have longer arms as well, he could be a much better goalie. However, if he continues to be the locker room presence that he has been, and the team’s heart and clown-leader, he will contribute enough to enable this team to gain a national championship. He’s that important.
Alec Marsh C+ (26 games played, 6 goals, 4 assists, 10 points) Marsh had 7 goals and 14 assists as a freshman, so his production took a step back this year. That can be blamed partly on his playing 11 fewer games due to injuries. He contributed important points and skated shifts that were critical for the team. What to work on: Stay healthy but also get back to crashing the net for ugly goals a little more often. It is likely that he will be asked to play a more defensive role in the future, as younger, more skilled players continue to join the team. So getting his body ready for that type of abuse may be his focus area this summer.
Matt Mendelson A For Effort (One game played, no points) It’s not fair to give a guy that only played one game a grade. Mendelson committed to the Lions long before the team became a national contender. His expectations were to be a role player on a team that maybe would play .500 hockey. The influx of talent around him, and the raised level of expectations on the ice may have taken whatever chance Mendelson had to play significant minutes. What to work on: Keep being a great Penn Stater, represent the team and university as you have for the first two seasons.
Derian Hamilton C (15 games played, 0 goals, 3 assists) His production this season was similar to last year, when he scored 3 points in 22 games played. During his freshman season, the 175 pound defender looked out-matched. At the start of his sophomore season it appeared that not much had changed. As the season wore on, it became clear that Hamilton made a great deal of improvement from his first to second season. While he remains an under-sized defender, his knowledge and feel for the NCAA game is at the level that it needs to be in order for him to play regularly, or at the very least become a dependable backup. What to work on: Strength. He could take a page out of former Lion Connor Varley’s book, a small but sturdy blue-liner.
Andrew Sturtz A- (37 games played, 22 goals, 15 assists, 37 points) Sturtz has 40 goals through two seasons as a Lion. His production seems to come at times that the team really needs a play to be made. His motor never seems to slow down, and while his size isn’t an asset, it isn’t a liability at this level either. He is expected to be the captain next season, and with his age entering the season, he turns 23 just before the season starts, he may have just one more year in Hockey Valley. What to improve: Unfortunately he is not likely to add to his 5’8” frame, and at 185 pounds he is plenty strong, but he could continue to work on his endurance. It will be important for Sturtz to be healthy and at full-power as he will be the leader on the ice that others will look to for inspiration.
Chase Berger B+ (39 games played, 13 goals, 23 assists, 36 points) Only Denis Smirnov, the leading freshman scorer in the country, and David Goodwin, the all-time leading scorer in Penn State history, had more assists than Berger’s 23. He scored 13 goals for the second time as a Lion, which is the consistent production that the team needs, while also playing a complete game. If he can continue to tick his numbers upward slightly, he will grade out as an A player in the future. What to work on: He could continue to work on his speed, since his frame is adequate for the college game. It’s hard to wish your way to more than 13 goals, but if he could become the team’s second play-maker, along with Smirnov, the team would be better for it. Someone has to assist on all of the goals that Guy Gadowsky’s squad puts on the board.
Kevin Kerr C+ (25 games played, 2 goals, 13 assists, 15 pts) It hurts giving him a grade this low but it is only due to the fact that he had a bit of an off year. A lot of his problems were due to injuries. Kerr can be an A player, and likely will be next season. If he can continue to improve in the defensive zone, his game will become more complete. His passing and reliability with puck control is similar to Erik Autio, and if he can be the steady partner for Kris Myllari next season, allowing Myllari to focus on scoring, it could form a second formidable defensive pairing for the Lions. What to work on: Stay healthy. Kerr had a lower-leg injury that cost him the final weeks of the season, that is not something that he could have avoided. Otherwise, he needs to find a way to stay able to play close to 40 games next season. If he can, the team will have the best defense it has had in program history.