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Penn State Hockey Media Notebook

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Cole Hults’ impressive freshman campaign highlights this week’s Penn State Hockey Media Notebook.

Photo by Heather Weikel

Cole Hults has had quite the freshman season. Shortly after arriving at Penn State, the Stoughton, Wisc. native stepped right into the hole left by the Nittany Lions most acclaimed defenseman, Vince Pedrie. The transition between the two has been almost seamless.

Hults has appeared in every game this season and ranks second among Nittany Lion defensemen in assists (13) and points (15). He has put up those impressive offensive numbers despite, by his own admission, not being a flashy player.

“I play a simple game, an effective game,” Hults said Monday. “My coach always told me, ‘If you’re not noticed as a defenseman, that’s a good thing.’”

Hults will seldom carry the puck end-to-end and may hesitate to join a rush at the expense of defensive reliability. That steadiness has kept Hults largely under the radar, but certainly not off it completely.

After being selected in the fifth round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, Hults was invited to be part of Team USA’s preliminary roster for the 2018 World Junior Championships. Hults was one of 10 defensemen vying for a spot on the defending gold medalist final roster, but was ultimately the first player cut from the selection camp, before the team played either of its pre-tournament games, which may have been a contributing factor for Hults being sent home so early.

“In practice, you’re not really going to see what I’m able to do,” he said. “I think it’s tough to judge me off a few practices rather than me playing a game.”

While his playing style may not result in much fame, he can find a success story in one of his role models: Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter.

“You don’t really notice him too much, but he’s always making All Star Games in the NHL,” Hults said.

Not only does Suter get the accolades for his steady play, he has an impressive bank account, aided largely by the 13-year, $98 million contract he signed with the Wild in 2012.

“He’s making decent money in the NHL and you think, ‘I can do that,’” Hults joked.

The Autio Family Tree

While defenseman Erik Autio is wrapping up his final season with Penn State, it won’t be long before the Autio nameplate finds its spot on another blue and white jersey. Erik’s younger brother, Oskar, is set to arrive at Penn State this coming fall, and will join the Nittany Lions for the 2018-19 season.

While Oskar won’t be filling Erik’s role as the steady defenseman on the top pairing, he will have one of the most important positions on the team, and in all of hockey. Since Oskar was six years old, Erik explained, he has played goalie.

“In Finland, you determine who the goalies are very early and you start coaching them very early,” Erik said.

Now with roughly 12 years of experience in net, the 18-year-old Oskar has become a force at stopping pucks, despite his relatively small stature for a netminder. At 5-foot-11 and hovering around 180 pounds, Autio has found other methods of keeping the puck out of the net.

“He’s incredibly athletic,” Erik said. “He’s not a big guy but he’s so athletic that he makes unbelievable saves.”

Oskar’s first experience as a goaltender manifested in a situation that has produced many goaltenders.

“I have an older brother who played hockey as well and we were both defensemen,” Erik explained. “We were saying, ‘We need a goalie,’ because we were playing in the streets, so we made the youngest one become the goalie.”

Drawing the short stick appears to have paid dividends for Oskar, who has put together an impressive mantle of awards. Oskar will look to continue his successful career when he joins the Nittany Lions, but will have to compete for playing time against incumbent starter Peyton Jones and backup Chris Funkey.

Injury Updates

As Gadowsky promised prior to Winter Break, the Nittany Lions first series of the new year saw the return of Erik Autio to the top defense pairing with Cole Hults. While the senior rearguard didn’t register a point, he looked like his usual self, effortlessly weaving through the neutral zone and making strong outlet passes.

He was even aggressive at times, charging the net on a 2-on-2 break that resulted in a nerve-wracking moment where he slid feet-first into the Wisconsin goaltender and goal post. Autio popped right back up, however, and didn’t miss a step over the weekend.

A fellow defenseman may also be close to making his return to the lineup. Kevin Kerr, is recovering from a pair of injuries after suffering a broken wrist December 2 versus Ohio State and re-aggravating a lower-body injury that kept him out of the lineup for the final 14 games of 2016-17. Gadowsky sounded hopeful over the weekend as he discussed Kerr’s time frame for returning, but said he will be out this weekend against Ohio State.