Big Ten Notebook: Hot goalie is helping Nittany Lions' unexpected start
After waiting his turn for two seasons, third-generation goaltender Liam Souliere is providing rock-solid goaltending for Penn State, which is playing unexpectedly good defense. Also: referees' in-house mics will keep fans and media informed, and Brodzinski is heating up for the Gophers.
Way back when it was literally on the drawing board, Pegula Ice Arena was designed to be a nightmare for people like Michigan’s Erik Portillo, Minnesota’s Justen Close and Ohio State’s Jakub Dobes. The Penn State rink’s student section is steep and goes all the way to the rafters, giving the illusion that the noisy co-eds actually hang over the opposing goalie for 40 minutes. From the other end of the rink in the first and third periods, the Nittany Lions goalie is grateful to be able to take in the wonder of it all.
“The Roar Zone is the single greatest thing I’ve ever experienced in hockey, no joke,” said Penn State junior puck-stopper Liam Souliere, who is the goalie of record for eight of the Lions 10 wins this season. “It is intimidating, even for me playing for them. So I can’t even imagine what it would be like playing against them.”
After waiting his turn behind Oskar Autio during his first two seasons in State College, Souliere has taken over the crease for a team that’s reputed for offense, but has played some fantastic defense on the way to a 10-2-0 start. Autio is now at Vermont, having entered the transfer portal even before the Lions’ 2021-22 season had concluded with a playoff loss at Minnesota. But Souliere’s coach makes it clear that the goaltending job was earned, not awarded.
“The reason everyone is so supportive of Liam is he wasn’t given anything, and he was so, so positive and supportive of Oskar and his teammates,” Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said last week, after Souliere’s 24 saves helped the Lions knock off the nation’s top-ranked team for the second week in a row. “He was just such a perfect teammate, never complained once, waited for his opportunities and then when he got them at the end of last year, he won the job. He wasn’t given it by any means. He’s just sort of continuing where he left off last year.”
His success has come on a team where everyone talks about the Lions’ propensity to shoot from anywhere and everywhere. But one of the keys to their hot start has been defense, where they have a veteran crew getting sticks in lanes and blocking shots in front of Souliere.
“We kind of figured that great teams play both sides of the ice and if we’re going to be great, we have to take the same energy we have on offense and put it into defense,” said Souliere, who is a third generation goalie, following in the skates of his father and his maternal grandfather, who was stopping pucks back in the days when a helmet was deemed an unnecessary piece of equipment for goaltenders.
Originally from Ontario, Souliere said that he could not resist the chance to live the American dream of playing college hockey at a big-name school when Gadowsky and his recruiters came calling. Add to that the opportunity to study at Penn State’s renowned business school and the decision was an easy one.
While Penn State was winning its first Big Ten title in 2020, Souliere was on the other side of the continent, playing for Victoria in the BCHL. He got in five games as a rookie in State College and 15 last season, before becoming the Lions’ mainstay this season. Souliere said that the team’s confidence in him only increases his comfort in the crease.
“Just getting into your groove, you build confidence from game in and game out,” he said. “And when you’re able to string some games together and really get comfortable out there, that’s the biggest difference from my first couple years.”
And with the Roar Zone at his back for 20 minutes when he plays at home, Souliere’s confidence seems certain to keep growing.
Keeping people informed
In the past, when officials went to the penalty box to review video, it wasn’t always clear what they were reviewing. With improvements in technology, the Big Ten’s supervisor of officials wants to make that uncertainty a thing of the past.
Meeting with reporters recently to go over rules changes in the conference and throughout college hockey for the next two seasons, Steve Piotrowski – a former college hockey player and long-time on-ice official – said that officials have been instructed to announce what they are reviewing before they go look at the video screens.
“All of our schools now have in-house mics for the referees, so that would be part of their pre-review announcement,” Piotrowski said. “As an example, they would say, ‘Minnesota is challenging the play to be offside. The play us under review.’ That would go in the in-house mic and inform the fans, media and television.”
In previous years, “The play is under review” was sometimes the only announcement, leaving fans and media to wonder what was being reviewed.
Brodzinski’s big weekend earned a star
A few weeks ago, when Minnesota Gophers senior forward Bryce Brodzinski seemed to be in an early season slump, his coach said that worrying about whether Brodzinski would score is like worrying whether you’re going to breathe – it’s a given.
After a dozen games, Brodzinski is scoring, and breathing to boot. After the former Minnesota Mr. Hockey winner had three goals (and very nearly a fourth) in the two-game split with Penn State, he was named the Big Ten’s third star of the week.
“That whole line just got confidence right now. I always say they’re riding high in the saddle right now, and feeling good,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said of the trio of Brodzinski, Mason Nevers and Jaxon Nelson. “As coaches we wish we could bottle that (confidence) up and give it to players, but once they earn it, it’s awesome to see it happen. And it comes at a good time for us.”
The Gophers play their next six games on the road – their longest stretch without a home game of this regular season.