Christian Sarlo Drives the Puck

Penn State forward Christian Sarlo (10) drives the puck down the rink during the men’s ice hockey game against Arizona State University at Pegula Ice Arena on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020.

Penn State’s season was far from an ordinary one for a host of reasons.

From a coronavirus shutdown that cost the Nittany Lions a month of games to trying to replace a recently-graduated class that helped define the program, Guy Gadowsky’s team had a lot of challenges standing in its way of a successful season.

However, the team stepped up and answered many of those challenges and found some surprises while doing so.

Here are a few of the shocking revelations that stood out throughout the 2020-21 campaign.

Sarlo fits in well with top line

Penn State brought in a large recruiting class this season, headlined by highly-touted goaltender Liam Souliere and Predators draft pick Chase McLane.

The brightest freshman star, though, was Lynbrook, New York, native Chrisitan Sarlo.

Sarlo tallied 11 points in the 21 games he skated this year, but his biggest contribution to the team came roughly halfway through the season when he was inserted into the top line with Alex Limoges and Tim Doherty.

The duo of Limoges and Doherty had been searching for a third linemate, and the freshman stepped up and delivered.

After Sarlo was added to the line, the seamless addition of the 6-foot freshman helped some of the Nittany Lions’ best goal-scorers find their stride.

Despite not coming in as the top recruit in the class, Sarlo certainly played like he was and gave Penn State fans hope for what’s to come down the road.

Autio quickly claimed starting job

From the first puck drop, the competition between Souliere and junior Oskar Autio was on to see who would take over the starting goalie position for the season, but it seemed as though the battle could drag on all season because of how talented each netminder was.

Souliere came to Happy Valley after having put up solid numbers in various Canadian leagues and looked to be a future star.

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While the future for Souliere is still bright, Autio stole the show.

The Espoo, Finland, native struggled in his first three games, but flipped the script after a 32-save overtime win against Arizona State.

He followed up that performance with his first shutout of the season and rode that momentum into claiming the starting gig the following weekend.

Despite the rocky start, Autio still managed to finish the season with decent numbers, including a 3.13 goals against average.

Autio’s breakout year may not have been a huge surprise, but the fact that he quickly asserted himself as the No. 1 goaltender over Souliere surely was.

Wall proves to be excellent

Prior to even throwing on a blue-and-white jersey, Kevin Wall had already proved he could play hockey at a high level and was selected with the No. 181 overall pick by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2019 NHL Draft.

In his freshman campaign, Wall struggled to score, recording only two goals and five assists in 26 games.

The potential to breakout was there for the Penfield, New York, native due to the sheer amount of talent he possessed, but the level to which he broke out in the 2020-21 season was almost impossible to predict.

Wall found the back of the net eight times and helped out on 11 other goals en route to finishing second on the team in points with 19.

He also proved he is not afraid to shoot the puck, as despite not being in the top 50 in the country in goals scored, Wall fired 115 shots on net, which tied him for fifth in the entire country and was the most on the team by 47.

While expecting the sophomore to take a step forward from his freshman season was certainly not out of the question, the prosperous second season with the blue and white was hardly expected of the Hurricanes prospect, who will likely be Penn State’s go-to offensive force next year.

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