Three Rivers Classic: Puck Moving Defensemen Key To Penn State Offense


(Editor’s Note: Penn State alumnus Ross Insana is assisting City of Champions in covering the upcoming Three Rivers Classic college hockey tournament.)

by Ross Insana

The trio of Casey Bailey, Taylor Holstrom and David Goodwin has gotten a lot of credit for the offensive outburst through Penn State’s first 15 games. When you have scored 38 percent of the team’s total goals, game planning and building a scouting report for the Nittany Lions normally begins with that line.

But more often than not, someone has to be able to skate up the ice and distribute the puck to the playmakers. From beginning breakouts in their own end, to dictating the power play, offensive-minded defensemen can go a long way to a team’s success.

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It could even be something as simple as maintaining possession in any of the three zones or the always vital entrances to begin a power play.

That’s where defensemen Luke Juha, Nate Jensen and Erik Autio come in to play become the underrated backbone on the nation’s sixth-ranked offense. Their ability to move pucks from the back end by way of their defensemen has been something that head coach Guy Gadowsky feels has not garnered enough attention.

“It doesn’t always show up in assists, but it definitely in possession time in the offensive zone,” says Gadowsky about his defensemen.

Juha and Jensen have been doing this for the past two seasons, but their significance was not as evident and took a back seat due to the team’s overall success. The two of them have also played key roles in quarterback the country’s fifth best powerplay, an element that improved mightily towards the tail end of the 2013-2014 campaign.

Last season, Juha was among the best offensive defensemen in the Big Ten scoring a conference-best four power play goals. His plus-5 rating and six assists are not eye popping numbers, but he has also brought the shot-blocking element to his game with 24 on the season.

Jensen, a three-year alternate captain for the Nittany Lions, posted a career-high three goals last season including the first goal ever at Pegula Ice Arena. His mixture of leadership, reliability and two-way style of play has always been a constant, which is something the coaching staff always values.

In the case of the freshman Autio, he has brought a never before seen high-paced become another puck-moving defenseman into the Penn State blueline, but he European style of hockey to the program while also adding to the excess of puck-moving defensemen.

“We’re playing offense so much more than we did last year and the addition of him has been very important”, says Gadowsky about the Finnish defenseman.

If the team were to continue its success heading into a conference-heavy second half of the season, look for the three of them to remain a focal point.