Meet Liam Soulière, Penn State hockey's goaltender of the future
Goaltender Liam Soulière and his Brockville Braves were caught in an intense, early season game when their coach Jesse Winchester was first struck by Souliere’s brilliance.
A matchup with the Ottawa Junior Senators was the Braves’ third game in three days to open the season, and Winchester said his team was still figuring itself out defensively, while dealing with the fatigue that comes along with a demanding schedule.
But Soulière, a Penn State commit, made sure none of that mattered. He compiled 21 saves on 22 shots, leading the Braves to a 3-1 victory.
“He was lights-out to be honest with you,” Winchester said. “It was a hard fought game, a playoff-like atmosphere three games in. So you know there's a lot of chances given up both ways just because of the intensity and then the other side of it, the team not being super structured yet. At the back end of three games in three days he was brilliant.”
It would seem that brilliance has almost become routine for Soulière who leads the Central Canada Hockey League with his .936 save percentage and 1.97 goals against average.
The Braves are 19-3-1 with Souliere in net.
“I think my work ethic is a big part of my game, and that I'm extremely competitive,” Soulière said in a recent interview with BWI. “I definitely play the puck very well. I think my tracking is really good. All in all, I just try and work as hard as I can every time I step on the ice to make a difference.”
Winchester, a former NHL forward, raved about the mental aspect of Soulière's game.
“I think he prepares like a professional hockey player,” Winchester said. “I say that because of my own experience there. I love his demeanor around the rink. He's always looking to get better, and he's devoted to maximizing his potential.”
You won’t find many junior hockey goaltenders with that quality. Combine Soulière's traits with his gaudy numbers, and it certainly looks like the Nittany Lions have a stud on their hands for the future.
But it isn’t easy to be a goaltender at Penn State.
While playing a Division I schedule, no Nittany Lion goaltender has posted a save percentage higher than Eamon McAdam’s .913 mark in 2015-16.
For reference, McAdam’s .913 mark would be 37th in the country this season in a division with 60 teams. Most of that is probably a product of the Nittany Lions’ offensive style.
So how will Soulière handle that?
For his part, Winchester had confidence in the 19-year-old netminder.
“What I know about Liam is that he'll make the save you need to win the game,” Winchester said. “He's able to find a way to deliver when a team needs him. He relishes that big stage. It depends on how long it takes him to get accustomed to the level, obviously… I think the coaching staff will eventually have faith in him, and I think he'll be a key part of their future success.”
A number of things drew Souliere to Happy Valley, after he was “blown away” when he visited in late October.
His teammate with the Braves, defenseman Simon Mack, is verbally committed to the Nittany Lions. Current Penn Stater Liam Folkes is a former Brave. And the winning helps too. Soulière said he didn’t want to attend college simply for the sake of attending college. He wants to go somewhere he can win.
Ultimately, Soulière is still chasing the NHL dream. He said he thinks Penn State can help him get there.
“It's something I've believed in ever since I started playing hockey, and I'm never going to stop believing in it, especially now. Going to a program like Penn State that is a great spot to try to take that leap,” Soulière said. “But I'm taking my time. I've got four years over there… I think that all the resources over there with the coaching staff, if I work hard and I try to put in the time, I can definitely try and make a run at the pros.”
The Big Ten competition shouldn’t be too much of shock for Soulière The CCHL is a respectable junior league, certainly, and Souliere recently played for team Canada East at the World Junior A Challenge, a competition for the best players worldwide in his age group.
He’ll likely compete with current Penn State freshman Oskar Autio for playing time. Nittany Lion starter Peyton Jones had opportunities to jump to the pros after last season according to Guy Gadowsky, so it’s unclear if he’ll return for his senior season with Chris Funkey set to graduate.
Whether he starts or not, Soulière will likely remain measured, based on his own description of his “chill” mentality.
He’ll fit right in with Penn State’s culture, too.
“I’m a big football guy,” he said. “So especially with the team there and everything, that’s going to be fun to experience.”