For the first time in program history, a current Nittany Lion has a chance to skate in a Team USA jersey at the World Junior Championships.
Penn State freshman Cole Hults has been named to the preliminary roster for the U.S. National Junior Hockey Team.
“It’s an extreme honor to be going to a camp like this to represent not only your country but Penn State at a national level,” Hults said in a university release. “I wouldn’t be in the position without my teammates and my coaches so I’m very thankful for them.”
Hults is one of 10 defensemen and 28 players invited to the team’s camp Dec. 15-19 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Team USA will then play a pair of tune-up games, meeting Belarus in Jamestown, N.Y., on Dec. 20, and Sweden on Dec. 22 in Erie.
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The International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championships will run from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Buffalo, N.Y.
Hults, a fifth-round pick last June by the Los Angeles Kings, has played in all of the No. 18 Nittany Lions’ games this season, posting two goals and 10 assists. His 12 points ranks fifth among Big Ten defensemen and second among conference freshmen, and is third nationally among freshman defensemen.
“Cole plays a very mature game which has enabled him to have a quick transition to Division I hockey,” Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky said in the release. “He has really impressed the coaching staff with his unique ability to make plays and generate offense without taking risks.”
While Hults is the first current Nittany Lion given the opportunity to play at the worlds, one other teammate has been through the experience before. Fellow freshman Evan Barratt played on the U.S. Under-18 team and was a member of last year’s juniors squad that captured a second-straight gold medal.
With the Nittany Lions playing this weekend against Robert Morris, and then not hitting the ice again until Jan. 5-6 to host Wisconsin, Hults would figure to only miss that series against the Badgers if the U.S. plays all the way to the gold-medal game again. Wisconsin also has one player on the preliminary roster, as does Minnesota, and Michigan has three on the list.
During his weekly session with the media on Monday, Gadowsky was asked, in general terms, how he would feel about a player missing Nittany Lion games to play either at the junior worlds or in the Olympics, which will be held Feb. 9-25 in South Korea and will not include NHL players.
Gadowsky said he and the team would be “100 percent” behind the opportunity.
“I think that would be a wonderful thing for the individual, for sure,” Gadowsky said. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing for our program. That’s too special (of) an experience to do anything but be very supportive — and we would be.”