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Penn State men’s hockey reaps early rewards of 'natural leader' Paul DeNaples as captain

Men's Hockey vs. Wisconsin, Denaples (3) Defends

Defense, Paul Denaples (3) defends Wisconsin’s Mike Vorlicky (7) during the game at the Pegula Ice Arena on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. Penn State defeated Wisconsin 4-2.

During his time behind the bench for Penn State, Guy Gadowsky has seen a host of talented players and leaders.

However, the leaders he boasts for the current season may be among his best yet.

Back on Sept. 2, Paul DeNaples was announced as the ninth captain in program history just over a month before the team’s season opener, taking over for now-graduated forward Alex Limoges.

DeNaples was an alternate captain last season — a season unlike any other.

A more recognizable offseason has allowed for Penn State’s player-led leadership group to lead with a more effective hands-on approach.

This has proven to be a distinguished and noticeable difference in the eyes of Gadowsky.

Gadowsky said he was happy with his leadership group last year, but he recognizes the many challenges and restrictions they faced brought on by the pandemic.

“I thought they did a great job last year but in very difficult circumstances,” Gadowsky said. “They started the year without any interaction at all in the summer. Even prior to our first game, [there was] very little interaction between classes.

“Even when they were at the rink, they were in different locker rooms.”

The Nittany Lions sit at 3-1 so far on the young season — a stark difference from the harsh start in the previous campaign, which saw them lose each of their first five games.

While the competition is noticeably less stiff to start this year, Gadowsky said he has noticed a distinct uptick in the strength of his team’s identity, a priority to Penn State as a program.

“I can tell you that the culture within the team has already been a drastic improvement,” Gadowsky said.

One player leading the charge for Penn State and its improved culture is fifth-year senior Adam Pilewicz.

Pilewicz is listed on Penn State’s roster as a forward, but, as he noted, he’s also gotten minutes in a more defensive role for the Nittany Lions this season.

Penn State men's hockey vs Ohio State, Paul DeNaples (3)

Penn State defenseman Paul DeNaples (3) looks on during team introductions before the men’s hockey game against Ohio State at Pegula Ice Arena on Friday, Nov. 22, 2019.

The fifth-year is one of Penn State’s alternate captains for the 2021-22 season, along with fellow fifth-year defender Clayton Phillips and junior forward Connor McMenamin.

Pilewicz pointed to veteran status among the team’s leadership core as a reason why it has found success early.

“You got a lot of guys that have a lot of experience here,” Pilewicz said. “To have a big group like this is, it's awesome because he had a lot of different opinions and a lot of guys that have been around the game for a long time.”

The alternate captain mentioned five players, including himself, who have a combined 16 years of experience in college hockey heading into this year, including Phillips, DeNaples, McMenamin and senior goaltender Oskar Autio.

While Autio was not specifically selected to wear a letter on his jersey this season, he started the year as the team’s starting goaltender — arguably the sport’s most-vocal position.

While he was not in the crease for the second game against Canisius, Autio likely still carries an important leadership role with the team because of his established time with the program.

Sophomore forward Chase McLane had high praise for the leadership group as a whole this year so far.

“I think they’ve been awesome, honestly,” McLane said. “They've done really well honestly, like I have no complaints about them.”

McLane, who has registered a point in three of the team’s four games so far, is a player who, due to Gadowsky’s ability to develop players, has greatly matured from year one to year two.

“Paul just seems like a natural leader,” McLane said. “When his voice is going, you hear his presence, you sit and you listen and you take in everything he has to say.”

Penn State and its student-leaders will take on Niagara University on Thursday and Friday with its sights set on capturing wins four and five of the year.

“Paul and the other leaders on the team have done an excellent job,” Gadowsky said. “I’ve been extremely impressed.”

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