Injuries Mount despite Lions Hockey Winning Streak
Any college hockey team is going to go through its fair share of bumps and bruises throughout the course of a season. The physicality, violence and speed of play is one of the things that defines the sport and makes it so exciting to watch.
Penn State, however, is in the midst of a brutal stretch where many key contributors have been bench-bound with injuries.
At the moment, it is the Nittany Lion defensive pairings that have players sidelined, with junior defenseman Kevin Kerr and senior defenseman Eric Autio both banged up. Kerr broke his wrist on Saturday in a 4-0 win against Ohio State. The injury occurred in the second period, but Kerr, in typical hockey player fashion, remained in the game playing all three periods exemplifying great toughness.
Kerr has struggled throughout his career as a Nittany Lion with injuries, missing the majority of the 2016-2017 season with a lower body injury. When in the game, Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky has raved about his ability to stabilize the defense. Kerr has been forced to miss all but six of the Nittany Lion’s 18 games so far this season.
Autio, on the other hand, has been extremely healthy in his time as a Nittany Lion. At this point, it is unknown how long the defenseman will miss time as he has been out of the lineup since the second game of the series against Arizona State. After losing his defensive partner in Vince Pedrie to the NHL following last season, Autio has been a part of the mixing and matching that Gadowsky has used to try to find proper pairings. Most recently, it appears as if Autio’s pairing with freshman defenseman Cole Hults was going to stick, especially with Hults’ strong attack which is comparable to Pedrie’s.
Once Kerr returned from injury, while it was short-lived, he and senior defenseman Trevor Hamilton were matched together. Having worked together before, the duo fit seamlessly into the Nittany Lion’s lineup solidifying a shaky defense that has left sophomore goalie Peyton Jones vulnerable.
Without Autio, there are once again questions on the defensive end in front of Jones. Should Gadowsky put Hults with sophomore defenseman Kris Myllari, who has mostly been with Hamilton before Kerr’s return? Who will fill in for Aution? Both freshman defenseman Alex Stevens and sophomore defenseman James Gobetz have split time on the third pairing next to junior defenseman Derian Hamilton, one of which will likely start there again this weekend against Robert Morris.
While the defensive end has been a mess due to injuries, the Nittany Lion offense has been spectacular, scoring 70 goals in just 18 games this season. Even when they were missing starting sophomore forward Denis Smirnov with a lower body injury, the offense has rolled as they have picked up unexpected contributions from freshmen like forward Sam Sternschein. The defensive injuries continue, but the Nittany Lion’s attack appears to be fully armed. Smirnov returned against Ohio State and wasted no time making an impact as the Nittany Lions scored five goals on Friday in a shootout win. They totaled four goals in a shut-out victory Saturday.
The Nittany Lions hope to get Autio back on the ice soon and keep the defense rolling as they are in the midst of a six-game streak. With a series coming up out of the Big Ten where the Nittany Lions have a great chance to sweep, they could keep the momentum rolling right back into the heart of Big Ten play.
Brian McLaughlin is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.