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Penn State Hockey: Three Defensive Parings Key As Season Closes In

by on October 03, 2016 1:20 PM

There is just a little extra bit of swagger around the Pegula Ice Arena as the 2016 season inches closer. The Nittany Lions, coming off of a 21-13-4 record in 2015, are no longer newcomers in the college hockey world. The program is still awaiting its first NCAA tournament bid, but Penn State has more than proven that the Nittany Lions are here to make an impact on the growing college hockey world.

And the 2016 season is a chance to prove that. 10 freshman, two new goalies and returning talent that has years of hockey ahead of it. If the Nittany Lions are going to make a run in conference play and a run at a tournament bid it will come from balanced play. Penn State ended last season one of the most potent offenses in the nation but gave up more goals on average than most of the nation. 

The solution, an easier said than done mixture of a talented offensive attack complimented by stout defense that is anchored by reliable goaltending. Good team defense is the key to any successful season, but these three defensive pairings will ultimately be the key to the back end of the ice.

Vince Pedrie/Erik Autio

The sophomore/junior pairing is in theory the best returning grouping the Nittany Lions have to offer. Pedrie enters the 2016 season with 22 points to his name last year while Autio has been one of the more dependable puck-movers on the team with 24 assists. Interestingly enough this is the only paring that has two same-sided shots (left-handed shots). Each of the next two defensive groupings include and left and right shot. Certainly not mandatory and Pedrie's ability to move with the puck and Autio's ability to find his teammates, especially on the power play, more than makes up for perhaps the occasionally predictable shot location. Even so Pedrie's eight goals puts him just seven shy of tying the all-time goals record by a Penn State defenseman and he has three more years to do it.

All told this group is dependable, and with Luke Juha gone to graduation Autio's ability to move the puck will be crucial moving forward.

Kevin Kerr/Trevor Hamilton

Perhaps pound-for-pound the best player Penn State has to offer, Kevin Kerr is the key to the second pairing. Kerr doesn't always make it into the box score with just 17 points in 37 games last year but his skating ability and just general hockey IQ can make him the best player on the ice at any given moment. Kerr will work with the right-handed shot of Trevor Hamiton who made an appearance in 31 games last year with five assists to show for his efforts. This paring will be a fun one to watch even if it was't the most productive in 2015. To his credit, Hamilton led Penn State in shots with 10 on Sunday against Queen's University en route to an 8-0 victory.

Kris Myllari/David Thompson

This group couples the most experienced defenseman on the team with the least experienced as Thompson closes in on 100 games in the blue and white. Myllari on the other hand is the only freshman on the defensive corps but the 6-2, 190 pound Ontario native was +1 during Sunday's exhibition. Freshman in college hockey are probably more mentally and physically prepared to play from Day 1 than any other student athlete on campus but if anyone is going to get Myllari up to speed and comfortable at this level it's Thompson. Expect these two to work the penalty kill together as the top unit.

OVERALL:

This group is about as offensive as a defensive corps can get, which is by design, but it's what they do without the puck that will determine how valuable they are as a younger group. On paper this defense is young aside from Autio and Thompson but all told this group is fairly experienced. The goals will come, but it's preventing the goals that will be the real key. Perhaps and obvious statement, but often forgot in a program not short on offense.



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