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Dec. 5, 2013
By Jackson Thibodeau, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Midway through her sophomore campaign, goaltender Celine Whitlinger continues to impress her coaches and deny goal-scorers with her poised presence in net.
Prior to each game, the Newport Beach, Calif. native warms up in front of her goal to Katy Perry's "California Gurls" as she mentally prepares to do what she does best on the ice--turn away puck after puck and keep opponents off the scoreboard.
"Celine is very calm and has a commanding presence about her on the ice," said head coach Josh Brandwene. "She is very methodical in terms of how she goes about her business of playing in goal and she is having a fabulous season."
Although Whitlinger isn't the most vocal member of the team, she adopts and embodies her role as a general or leader of the defense when she is in net.
"I try to help out our defenders as much as possible when I am on the ice," Whitlinger said. "I'll tell them if there's someone right on them or I'll try to call out what's open."
With a hockey-fanatic father from Minnesota, this Californian had somewhat of an unconventional introduction to the sport of hockey. Her playing days began when she was in second grade as a forward in a roller hockey league.
She made the transition from a roller hockey forward to an ice hockey goalie when she was twelve, and she has never looked back.
The sophomore has started and appeared in eight games so far this season and owns a 3-5-0 record behind her 3.01 goals against average. She has accumulated an astonishing 311 saves while only allowing 24 goals. She also owns a team-high .928 save percentage.
"I couldn't do it without my defense," Whitlinger said. "They have been great all season. They really work hard and I'm so thankful to have them out there with me. They make my job a little bit easier."
The 3-12-2 Nittany Lions have taken a bit of a different approach to goaltending this season, as Brandwene has opted to split time evenly between Whitinger and senior Nicole Paniccia.
"We have two fantastic goaltenders that are great teammates, especially to each other," Brandwene said. "They both add a lot of character to our team. They encourage each other, they push each other, and they genuinely root for one another."
The goaltending duo has a great relationship on and off the ice, and they both claim that their competitiveness with one another helps them flourish.
"Nicole is an awesome goalie and we are really great friends," said Whitlinger. "On the ice we push each other to make one another better as we compete, but at the end of the day we are still really good friends."
Paniccia, who will graduate in May, is pleased to pass the torch along to a player who embodies the talent and character that Whitlinger does.
Prior to Penn State, Whitlinger's playing career was highlighted by her dominant performance in net for Gilmour Academy in Ohio and on the Anaheim Ducks club team. Current teammate and fellow Californian Micayla Catanzariti also played on both of those squads with Whitlinger before becoming a Nittany Lion.
As a freshman, Whitlinger made an immediate impact and raised eyebrows on the coaching staff, making 377 saves in 10 appearances and earning CHA Rookie of the Week honors after making 45 saves against St. Lawrence on Dec. 7, 2012.
The puck-stopper would like to eventually return home to California after graduation, but for now, Penn State hockey is her home away from home.
"Hockey is like another family when I am away from my own family in California," Whitlinger said. "All of the girls on the team feel like my family. They are like my sisters."
Whitlinger will defend the net again this upcoming weekend when Penn State travels to Erie, Pa. to take on conference foe Mercyhurst on Friday at 3 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m.