For the fifth time in as many seasons, Penn State will have a new player wearing the captain’s “C” on the front of his jersey, but for the second straight season, that role will be occupied by someone who has already worn an extra letter on his sweater.
As the summer was coming to a close, the team announced that Chase Berger would serve as captain for the 2018-19 season, with Kevin Kerr and Brandon Biro as his alternates.
Berger wore an “A” last season under captain James Robinson, so the leadership role will be a familiar one for the senior center. The St. Louis native is embracing an opportunity he won’t take for granted.
“It’s a huge honor,” he said at the team’s season opening media day on Thursday. “If you look at the guys who have worn the ‘C’ before me, they’re all unbelievable guys that I’ve played with.”
Berger, who hasn’t missed a game during his time at Penn State, has become one of the most effective two-way centers in the NCAA. He has posted double-digit goals and had at least 26 points in each of his first three seasons while being one of the team’s top penalty killers and a reliable faceoff man.
While the one-ice accolades are impressive in their own right, coach Guy Gadowsky has been even more impressed by what Berger has done off the ice.
“Chase, right now, is such a good student,” he said. “He’s so committed academically, and he’s such a hard-working, good player.”
Berger has twice been named Big Ten Distinguished Scholar, Academic All-Big Ten and Penn State Top Student-Athlete. It’s not just the captain who has put in a commendable effort in the classroom.
Kerr has also been honored as a two-time Big Ten Distinguished Scholar and Academic All-Big Ten. The senior defenseman has dealt with injuries in the past two seasons, playing just 45 games in that span. Much like the Nittany Lions saw with James Robinson two seasons ago, that time out of the lineup didn’t affect his standing in the locker room.
“He’s such a good player,” Gadowsky said of Kerr. “People know how good he is and how important he is to our success on the ice, but he’s a great student and teammate.”
Young Stars Shining Early
With a number of important departures over the offseason, Gadowsky will be looking to fill some key holes in his lineup. The most glaring hole is that of former top line winger Andrew Sturtz, who signed a professional deal with the Ottawa Senators shortly after the 2017-18 season ended.
Gadowsky would like to see Sturtz’s production — 54 career goals to top the program’s all-time chart — replaced by committee. He certainly has the committee to accomplish the task, as the likes of Denis Smirnov and Nate Sucese rapidly ascend the all-time scoring list.
Perhaps the most likely candidate to replace Sturtz’s production, however, will lace up the skates for the first time as a Nittany Lion this Saturday.
Aarne Talvitie produced at a high clip with his junior team back home and will be looking to carry that production into the North American game. Gadowsky even described the former Finnish national junior team captain in an eerily similar manner that he used to describe Sturtz.
“The educated hockey fans here are going to love this guy,” he said. “I think he’s a bit of a throwback, he’s extremely powerful, he loves the defensive part of the game. It’ll be interesting to see how he transitions to the North American game.”
The praise for Talvitie wasn’t reserved just for Gadowsky. The New Jersey Devils’ draft pick has also impressed his new teammates with how powerful he is despite his size, with Cole Hults calling him a “freak of nature.”
Talvitie should have ample opportunity to show his worth early this season. In the team’s most recent practices, he has lined up alongside captain Chase Berger and the dynamic Smirnov.
Berger’s knack for causing chaos in front of opposing team’s goals could open up space for Talvitie on his right wing position, while Smirnov, with his exceptional puck skills and passing ability, should have no trouble feeding the puck to Talvitie.
Nittany Lions fans won’t soon forget the impact Sturtz could have on a game, but they could have a new game breaker to embrace this season.
The offseason did not come without its share of ailments. After missing much of the previous two seasons, Kevin Kerr will be out of the lineup on Saturday with a lower-body injury.
The senior defenseman has played just 45 games the past two seasons after sliding feet-first into the boards midway through the 2016-17 season. Gadowsky said Kerr is day-to-day with the injury.