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Penn State Hockey: DeNaples Blocking Away In Defensive Zone

by on March 05, 2019 1:40 PM

Blocking shots is a curious business.

For one, it hurts, it appears, quite a lot. In fact most blocked shots involve some degree of limping around after the fact by whichever player most recently submitted his body to the cause. It's a weird sort of athletic self-flagellation to volunteer yourself to stand in front of 5.5 ounces of rubber traveling at a high rate of speed and use your leg, shin, arm, back or face to stop it.

But for freshman defenseman Paul DeNaples he has volunteered as tribute quite a lot this season. In fact his 72 blocked shots are the most in the Big Ten by a freshman, bettered by four players in the conference overall, and tied with Michael Bevilacqua for the most by a freshman in the nation.

"That's my game and that's why I'm in the lineup right now," DeNaples said on Tuesday morning, motioning towards teammate and forward Brandon Biro. "He's in the lineup to to score goals, I feel fine, I feel great, I've never felt better."

Fittingly, both DeNaples and Brio look their respective roles. The younger is midway into a playoff beard, haggard and cut from the cloth of someone who has spent the past several months getting hard objects shot at him. Conversely, it's entirely possible that Biro has never grown a beard, potentially unable to do so in the first place. He is youthful with a certain boyish charm that matches the kind of smooth style of play he has on the ice.

Biro has, unsurprisingly, blocked 57 fewer shots this season than his counterpart, noting "Basically any time I block a shot, [I] just regret it."

"It's awesome, it definitely a momentum shifter in any game, it makes it pretty easy for a guy like me to get out of the way and know that he's going to be there," Biro said of his teammate with a laugh. "When you get a big block the boys get pretty fired up on the bench. It's good to see the boys lay it on the line any way they can, that'll be pretty essentially to any team that wants to go far."

Meanwhile, DeNaples contemplates his bruises, all of them.

Does he have a favorite? 

"I don't think any of them are at this point of the season," DeNaples said with a laugh, going over the library of the in his head. "Honestly I'm feeling really good, nothing is really bothering me right now."

This still doesn't get the answer to the main question of why? It seems like it must require a certain amount of insanity to just jump in front of painful objects and volunteer to feel some degree of pain in the name of victory. Plenty of sports hand out physical discomfort in exchange for success, but few have it in such an obvious form. A wide receiver could go all game without getting hit hard. Blocking a puck is something you just shrug your shoulders and agree to.

Which seems like an interesting career choice, but then again, you work with what you've got.

"When you're growing up and realize that skill isn't your biggest asset you start to focus on something else," DeNaples added. "And honestly every team needs a defensive player like that, if I don't score a point this whole season and am there to contribute in that way that's fine with me. I'm not going out there to score a goal, I'm not going to change the game in that way, but if get out there defensively and on the penalty kill, getting pucks out of the zone which I take pride in, that's my goal."

Ultimately, it's hard to argue with the results, DeNaples is +26 while on the ice, just three behind the national lead. 

So sure, he isn't scoring, but he isn't giving up goals either.

Mission -painfully- accomplished.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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