Penn State goaltender Josie Bothun is the 2020-21 USCHO Rookie of the Year.
Bothun was part of a nine-member freshmen class for the Nittany Lions that was as impactful as it was deep. She and classmate Annie Spring were the only goalies to see action for PSU, with Spring playing one period and Bothun playing all the rest. The other seven rookies were skaters, all posting five or more points, and all playing in at least 13 of the team’s 21 games. The freshmen combined for 88 of the squad’s 195 points and 34 of its 72 goals.
Foremost among the skaters was forward Kiara Zanon, who led all rookies with 30 points. That total also paced her team, and Zanon led Penn State in assists, shots on goal, and plus/minus as well. Zanon’s season earned her the honor of National Rookie of the Year, and she could easily have won USCHO’s rookie award and been a worthy recipient.
So why didn’t she? While what Zanon accomplished was impressive, the strides made by her team in this unusual season were even more so. A program that had only once managed a winning record, that by a single game in its third season of existence, managed a lofty 81 percent winning percentage.
Bothun earned all 16 wins, the most in a season by any Nittany Lions netminder, and only one shy of the team’s highwater mark for wins. That was accomplished in a full season, which this surely wasn’t.
Penn State had previously never finished higher than third in College Hockey America or reached double digits in league wins, but took this season’s CHA crown thanks to those 16 victories. As impressive as the campaign was, the Nittany Lions nearly rose to a whole other level. After clinching the title on February 26 with a convincing 5-2 triumph over Mercyhurst, they had only tasted defeat once through 19 contests.
Perhaps a young team got a bit complacent. They started slowly the next day and fell into an early two-goal hole, but rallied, only to lose in overtime. Six days later, another lackluster start against Syracuse in the conference semifinal doomed the Nittany Lions to a second straight defeat. When the NCAA Selection Committee chose to spurn the team that had the second-best record in the country, a dream season was quickly and shockingly over.
What better way to honor a historic Penn State team than to give a nod to the goaltender that was on the ice for all but 23:33 of it?
Individually, Bothun turned in a season that was statistically noteworthy. Her goals against average was second only to Aerin Frankel and the best in program history for any goaltender playing at least two games. Bothun ranked in the top five nationally in save percentage, winning percentage, and shutouts.
Due to the impact of Covid-19 on the sport, the entire hockey world had to adjust in 2020-21 – to games played without fans, with an uncertain schedule, and following unprecedented protocols. Bothun needed to acclimate to playing with and against females again, after a couple of seasons with the Forest Lake High School boys’ team.
Now that she’s at home in State College, surrounded by talented teammates, and having four years of eligibility remaining while already boasting 16 career wins, who knows what kind of assault she can wage on the record books. Bothun and her teammates may have missed out on this year’s NCAA Tournament, but it’s safe to predict that she will get to participate in it before her career is complete.
Until then, in recognition of what she and her Penn State teammates accomplished, Josie Bothun is this year’s USCHO Rookie of the Year.