Penn State Hockey: Nittany Lions Might Take Step Back And Forward In 2017
It's not a mark of anything but reality that Penn State hockey will eventually take a step backwards.
If not the Nittany Lions are --by the nature of their slow and steady progress-- two seasons from winning the national title.
Truthfully that's not entirely impossible.
But it is much more likely that Penn State will hit something of a learning curve speed bump in 2017 as six more new faces join a roster not short on youth to begin with. Add in Notre Dame to the Big Ten conference mix and a tough opening two weeks to the season and the Nittany Lions aren't facing an easy road the NCAA Tournament for a second straight time.
Sunday's scrimmage against Ottawa may have been a good sign of that. Penn State looked a confident team, and much like each season prior, peppered its opponent with shots and time in the offensive zone. Short of an extended power play that resulted in two goals, it was Denis Smirnov's pass to Cole Hults who finished with a beautiful one-timer that was the only real glimpse of the team's finishing talent.
So what to expect in 2017?
It seems likely that as far as talent is concerned the Nittany Lions will be a "better" team in 2017 than they were in 2016 by virtue of skill alone.
The challenge will be in the intangibles. It will be replacing the likes of David Goodwin and Ricky DeRosa, who will never go down as the most talented players the program has produced, but they are irreplaceable when it comes to veteran talent and poise.
As far as the future though, Penn State is looking at the brightest it has ever seen. Denis Smirnov, Andrew Sturtz and freshman Evan Barratt have make for a talent trio. That doesn't even includes the likes of Alec Marsh, Chase Berger, Brandon Biro and Kevin Kerr, who might be the team's best pound-for-pound player. Don't forget Peyton Jones, back and ready for an even better season in goal for the Nittany Lions.
So on paper, a tough schedule and a bit of inexperience might be this team's undoing for the bigger and better goals. But this team has the makings of something special far sooner than later. So while Penn State may not have a better season on paper than it did in 2016, the Nittany Lions might be closer to those national title dreams than they were before the season began.
Then again, Penn State hockey has made its reputation on doing things sooner, better, and faster than anyone might have expected, so one more season of just that might not be too much to ask.
Penn State opens the season this weekend at Clarkson and St Lawrence before heading to Minnesota. The Nittany Lions will then head back to State College to open the home slate against American International.