Experience in hockey juniors key to Chase Berger's Penn State success
While all that certainly has something to do with it, Berger has been making things happen for himself early in a season in which he leads all Division I freshmen with nine goals. His 14 points (13 games) are also tied for the Big Ten scoring lead with two other players, not coincidentally linemates Curtis Loik and Kenny Brooks. His plus-11 is tied with Brooks for the conference lead.
“A lot of it has to do with my linemates,” said Berger following the Nittany Lions’ 4-0 win over Vermont in Philadelphia on Sunday. “They are real good and the coaching staff likes playing it simple, go to the net. That is kind of my game. I think my game goes well with the way we play, which is getting pucks deep, working pucks low and shooting a lot. I love playing here and I love the system.”
Berger spent the last two seasons in Kearney, Neb,. playing for the Tri-City Storm of the United States Hockey League, a developmental circuit that helps prepare players for the collegiate ranks. In 122 games he totaled 27 goals and 34 assists. Most importantly, the two seasons in the USHL helped with the 21-year-old’s transition to college.
“I think juniors taught me a lot about not getting too high or too low,” said the St. Louis native. “Sometimes when all you are doing is playing hockey it is easy to overthink stuff and maybe get too worried when things are not going well. Here at Penn State the guys are awesome, there is a real supportive coaching staff and I feel at home and comfortable whether I am doing real well or real bad. So I am able to be confident at all times.”
Berger certainly has not yet experienced the “real bad” part of the equation. He wasted no time in making his presence known as he scored in the season opener at Canisius. Three games later he had a two-goal, two-assist outing against American International and has not gone more than one game without registering a point.
While Berger has had a large hand in putting plenty of roar in the Nittany Lions (8-2-3) so far with his offensive exploits, what might be getting overlooked is his overall play. Whether it is on the attack, taking faceoffs in the defensive zone or his diligence on the penalty kill, his play in all three zones has been exceptional.
“He is a tremendous team player and I feel that is really his greatest strength,” said Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky. “He always plays from behind the puck, does not make risky plays and is somebody that you can rely on. Because he has been scoring so many goals I almost think all of that is getting overlooked. He does a lot of things that help you win besides putting the puck in the net.”
Such responsible play is pretty much how Berger’s oldest brother, Jack, went about things during his four-year career at Princeton. Jack spent his freshman season with the Tigers playing under Gadowsky, who left the Ivy League school to take over at Penn State in the spring of 2011 and transition the Nittany Lions from the American Collegiate Hockey Association to the NCAA.
The things his older brother told about playing for Gadowski had much influence on Berger’s decision to attend Penn State.
“He loved coach Gadowski and the whole coaching staff,” said Berger, the middle of five brothers. “Coach is really big into character and my brother really loved how the staff wanted the team to act off the ice. He felt that really helped him become more of a man both on and off the ice. That really appealed to me and I wanted to play for somebody like that, somebody that cares about who we are instead of just as hockey players.”
Chase looks up to Jack, who is currently at Columbia University’s medical school, and values the lessons his oldest brother provides. It is such lessons of hard work and character that Chase imparts on his two younger brothers, both of whom are playing high school hockey in Missouri.
“Each of the older brothers tries to be good role models for my two younger brothers,” he said. “I try to be a good guy all around and try to work hard and be the best that I can be.”
Berger has been just that so far in Happy Valley.
Above: Time spent in juniors has helped Penn State's Chase Berger out to his great start. (Courtesy Mark Selders/Penn State Athletics)