Aarne Talvitie was the exact player Penn State needed.
Alongside Nikita Pavlychev and Sam Sternschein, the Finnish winger was a playmaker who added an extra dimension to a line more known for its defensive ability.
But in January, that all ended.
While representing Finland in the gold medal game at the World Junior Championships, Talvitie suffered a lower-body injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season.
His absence cut short strong seasons for Sternschein and especially Pavlychev.
The Russian center was in the midst of a career season, recording 10 goals and 10 assists in the first 17 games. In the final 22 games, all played without Talvitie, Pavlychev had four goals and five assists.
With Talvitie in the lineup, Penn State had four dangerous, talented lines. Without him, they had three. That’s still good, but with the inconsistencies the other lines showed down the stretch, the issue became clearer.
Guys like Denis Smirnov, Ludvig Larsson and Alec Marsh were hit or miss throughout the season, making the loss of another offensive line more difficult. But coach Guy Gadowsky wasn’t ready to make excuses.
“Obviously you can’t blame that because there are other teams that have injuries and are able to overcome it,” Gadowsky said. “That being said, he’s a special athlete and a special team player. I’m really looking forward to have him all year next year and I feel he will get better and better. I thought he was really coming on and obviously the tournament he had, everyone could see how effective he is. The whole team is giddy to have him for a whole year… But I can’t attribute our lack of going to the tournament to one player.”
The Big Ten Championship was a good example of the affect his absence had on the team. The Fighting Irish made it their mission to shut down the line of Alex Limoges, Evan Barratt and Liam Folkes, far and away Penn State’s most productive line.
Because of that, secondary options had to step up.
They got goals from Marsh and Sternschein, but there wasn’t enough finish in Penn State’s game. Talvitie wouldn’t have automatically given them a win, but having another dynamic option in a game like that could have been huge.
With inconsistencies on other lines, his absence hurt the offense as a whole. It eliminates that line as a true offensive threat, so it affects the overall depth.
But Gadowsky knows playing in the World Junior Championships was a risk worth taking.
“I don’t want to speak for Aarne, but I think if you were to say ‘You get a chance to win a World Juniors gold medal that you would have to miss the rest of the season’ I think there would be a lot of guys that would take that right away,” Gadowsky said.
Many college players are invited to the World Juniors, so it’s a risk a lot of teams take, but Gadowsky knows that nothing will change to prevent these types of situations.
“I’m not the only coach asking this question… but I don’t think it could change,” Gadowsky said. “I think the opportunity for these student-athletes to go on to an experience like that, World Juniors, is a great opportunity.
Unfortunately, it could end up a negative for their college seasons, but it’s such a tremendous opportunity and experience and I don’t think we’ll look at it any differently.”
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