Series Preview: Penn State vs. Sacred Heart
Youssef Nassar, Christopher Hess and Jordan Mansberger break down Penn State’s season opening series against the Sacred Heart Pioneers:
As the days progress and the leaves begin to change, autumn is upon us and that means college hockey season is in plain sight. The camaraderie and enthusiasm of fanbases around the country will all rejoice and celebrate the playing of a game on a sheet of ice.
Penn State will open its season against Sacred Heart in a two-game Big Ten and Atlantic Hockey duel at Pegula Ice Arena.
Penn State returns to the ice for the 2019-2020 season as legitimate contender for the Big Ten regular season and tournament championships alongside a strong contender for a berth in the Frozen Four. The B-F-L line of Evan Barratt, Liam Folkes and Alex Limoges will look to build off a season where the trio amassed a combined 135 points.
Aside from the B-F-L line, the Lions also return players such as Brandon Biro, Nate Sucese, Nikita Pavlychev, Denis Smirnov and Aarne Talvitie on the offensive side. Talvitie, a New Jersey Devils draft prospect, played in just 17 games a freshman after suffering a torn ACL while leading Finland to a gold medal in the World Junior Championships.
Freshman Kevin Wall is also a freshman that will make an impact almost immediately. The Carolina Hurricanes draft pick has an extremerly high ceiling.
On the back end, Paul DeNaples returns to the ice after an extremely successful freshman campaign that saw him gain a plus-minus rating of plus 31 in 39 games played. In addition to DeNaples, Penn State has James Gobetz, Cole Hults, Kris Myllari and Evan Bell returning on the back-end.
The addition of Minnesota transfer Clayton Phillips should also bode well for the Nittany Lions. Phillips, a Pittsburgh Penguins prospect, is a stay at home defenseman that has the ability to lock down anyone who has the puck.
Peyton Jones will be in net for his fourth straight season and he will look to rebound after a season that was bit bumpy. Jones gave up 104 goals in 32 games played along with a save percentage of .901.
While looking at the Pioneers, they already have one game under their belt. Sacred Heart and UConn ended in a 3-3 tie on Oct. 5. For a team with a small amount of roster turnover from last year’s squad that went 16-17-4, they showed some positive strides.
Matt Tugnutt recorded a hat-trick in that 3-3 tie and the Pioneers were able to rifle off 48 shots against the struggling UConn defense. The last goal to complete Tugnutt’s hat-trick came with just three seconds left in the final frame to send the game into overtime.
Aside from Tugnutt, Austin Magera, Jason Cotton, Marc Johnstone and Ryan Steele are other notable names on this Sacred Heart team that made a serious impact last season. Those four players were the only ones to have 20-plus points during the 2018-2019 season and they will definitely look build upon their respected performances.
Josh Benson played in a majority of the games last season and got the nod in the season opener. In all likelihood, Benson will be the netminder for the Pioneers when they take on the Nittany Lions.
All in all, Sacred Heart will put up a valiant effort in both games but the Penn State offensive attack will prove to be too much. The improved Nittany Lions defense will also get plenty of pressure on the Pioneer forwards and make life extremely miserable.
The glaring differences are on the offensive side. Penn State returned players that had well over 40 points last season and Sacred Heart’s top-four scorers from a year ago combined for just 93 points.
This series could get out-of-hand rather quickly and don’t be surprised if it does.
Prediction: Penn State sweeps Sacred Heart 2-0
Christopher Hess is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and minoring in history. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.