The theme of this offseason for Penn State hockey has been no news is good news. It has been very quiet in terms of players leaving the team for the pro ranks, which is great for fans. Coach Guy Gadowsky is set to return what looks like his most talented, most experienced team in program history.
Coming off a season that saw the Lions miss the NCAA tournament by just one spot after making the field for the previous two years, the returning upperclassmen are hungry to make a deep run in the tournament this season. The first game of the year is just a little over a month away, on October 6, an exhibition game with the University of Ottawa. A couple of weeks from now the Penguins and Sabres will face off in Hockey Valley.
That’s right Folkes, hockey season is right around the corner. It’s time to get primed and ready. Colin and I will begin feathering in hockey news around the torrent of football articles in the next month to get fans ready for what may be a very memorable season for Penn State hockey.
All of the players that coach Gadowsky brings in at this point have a role to play on what expects to be a top tier program. Some come with high expectations on the ice while others will help complete the roster. Of the eight players that join the team, six will see a lot of ice time, replacing the six seniors that left the team last year.
Kevin Wall (6’0, 187, shoots right)- Wall scored 64 points in 49 games with the Chilliwack Chiefs of the BCHL last season in Canada’s Junior A hockey league. His goals and assists have come in equal numbers throughout his career. He was drafted in the sixth round with the #181 pick overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2019 NHL Draft. From Rochester, NY, Wall played with the Buffalo Jr. Sabres before moving on to the Salisbury School. Wall is just one year out of high school so he won’t turn 20 until February. He’s a forward that should score in bunches, and has good size as well. He is the top-rated incoming player.
Here are some highlights from last season.
Mason Snell (6’0, 192, shoots left)- Snell has very good size for a defenseman coming in just a few months past his 19th birthday. He could continue to grow both upward and outward while at Penn State. Mason has scored a few goals and has shown the ability to get assists also, averaging about a half point per game from the blue line during his career. His father, Chris, played briefly in the NHL for the Los Angeles Kings and Toronto Maple Leafs before heading over to Germany for a solid pro career there, and is now an NHL scout for Winnipeg. Mason comes in with great experience in Canada’s top leagues, at a young age, with a solid family pedigree. The sky is the limit for him.
Kenny Johnson (6’3, 214, shoots left)- At age 21 and with his size, Johnson should be mature and ready to step into a major role for Penn State’s defense this season. Johnson played with fellow incoming defenseman Mason Snell last year at Penticton Vees in the BCHL. Originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Johnson went to Canada to hone his skills, and did so while gaining the experience that comes with 177 games played in one of the best amateur leagues in the world. He and Snell should provide instant improvement to the overall defense this year.
Tyler Gratton (6’1, 176, shoots left)- Younger brother Dylan, currently 16, committed to the Lions in August and plans to join Penn State for the 2021-22 season. Tyler was born in Pottstown, Pa., and committed to Penn State a few years ago. He scored 17 goals in 58 games with two different USHL teams last year. He is a solid forward that plays both sides of the ice well. Tyler is twenty years old so he is a mature new addition.
Connor McMenamin (6’1, 195, shoots left)- Another Pennsylvania product, from Collegeville, McMenamin is a similar player to Tyler Gratton. He scored 26 goals with the Tri-City Storm last year in the USHL and had 18 assists. It was the first season in the past five that McMenamin had more goals than assists, he has been primarily a set-up man. Another sizable forward, Connor is also 20 years old, so much like Gratton, he is plug-and-play ready for Division I hockey.
Connor MacEachern (5’9, 176, shoots left)- Like McMenanim, MacEachern is an experienced forward, at age 20, that typically has more assists than goals. That isn’t to say that MacEachern can’t put the puck in the net; he scored 26 goals to go with 30 assists last year in the USHL. He has produced roughly one point per game during his entire career to this point. Good news, he’s four inches shorter than fellow incoming “Connon M.” so it should be easier for announcers and fans to keep them sorted out. They should probably sit next to Blake Gober and James Gobetz in the locker room just to blend in.
Depth and Character
Bobby Hampton (5’11, 174, shoots right)- A transfer from Northeastern University, Hampton will have to sit out this season. He will turn 22 in November, so when he gets back on the ice he will be one of the older players on the team, with two years of eligibility remaining. It’s an interesting pickup for coach Gadowsky, considering that Hampton scored just 5 goals and 2 assists in two years with Northeastern while playing 47 games at center. Hampton is described as a “good skater who plays hard” by Gadowsky, and he is probably also a solid locker room player as well, since his only contribution this year will be off the ice.
Will Holtforster (5’11, 185, goalie)-Holtforster will make the jump from Penn State’s Ice Lion’s team, where he had a 23-2 record in net. He will be the third goalie, behind starting goalie Peyton Jones and backup Oskar Autio. He is a great addition to the team, making the ACHA all-league team for his play in net in 2017-18 and for academics last year. It is nice to be able to maintain a relationship between the two Penn State hockey programs and Holtforster provides the perfect skill set and demeanor for a player not expected to play very often.