By Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Goalie is arguably the most important position on a hockey team. For the Penn State Nittany Lions they have had a brick wall in net, in the form of Celine Whitlinger.
Whitlinger is part of the original group of Nittany Lions who have been with the team since it first started playing, four years ago. Whitlinger has steadily climbed her way through the ranks and the last two seasons has been a prominent figure in the net for a Penn State team that has stifled teams defensively. Whitlinger has been, and continues to be, a big part of that team defensive effort.
"We are all growing, individually and as a team," said Whitlinger. "Personally, Courtney [Drennen] has helped a lot with her coaching perspective both on and off the ice."
Whitlinger hails from Garden Grove, California. She made the long journey to Penn State unsure of what the hockey program would hold, largely because there was still no program at the time she was being recruited, it was still an idea. Now, four years later, that same program and Whitlinger have grown leaps and bounds as they continue to assert themselves in the national spotlight.
When head coach Josh Brandwene recruited Whitlinger, he noticed the first thing that many people notice when they watch Whitlinger between the pipes for the Nittany Lions, how athletic she is, especially moving laterally.
"She has always been an incredibly athletic and thinking goaltender and you could see that in her ability back during her high school days," said Brandwene. "She is just tremendously successful, she always is competing for pucks and is very technically sound. If you put that combination together you are going to be very successful at the college level."
Whitlinger has indeed had success at the college level, but success can only come with growth at the higher levels of competition and growth is certainly something that Whitlinger has shown and exuded in her time at Penn State.
"She has grown tremendously," said Brandwene. "She has gotten better and better in her time here in every aspect of the game and it has helped her really succeed."
For Whitlinger, she credits a lot of her success to assistant coach Courtney Drennen.
"I think I have grown a lot," said Whitlinger. "Being a goalie, it is a very mental position and I think that Courtney has helped coach me and I have improved a lot in the mental aspect of the position."
This season, Whitlinger is poised to set career highs in both goals against average and save percentage. With the playoffs just two games away, Whitlinger has a 1.55 goals against average and a .945 save percentage. In other words, her numbers are remarkable when it comes to goaltending norms. Brandwene attributes this outstanding season to all the hard work that Whitlinger puts in.
"She puts in the hard work," said Brandwene. "She deserves credit for everything that she is doing in puck stopping and she has great support around her. The d-core and the shot blocking forwards have been fantastic and we just continue to get better overall."
For Whitlinger, the senior goaltender does not want the season or her time here at Penn State to end. However, when it inevitably does, she will not only be remembered as one of the pioneers of Penn State hockey, but also as a consistent presence between the pipes for the Nittany Lions.
"I think she will be remembered most for consistently competing and consistently improving," said Brandwene.
The Nittany Lions are set to square off against Mercyhurst in a two game road swing to close out the regular season slate. Game one is set for 6 p.m. on Friday and game two for 1 p.m. on Saturday.