Q&A: Christian Sarlo

The senior forward prefers to think his way around the ice. 

Christian Sarlo on ice photo by Cardoni


Q: How did you get into hockey?

SARLO: I started playing organized hockey when I was 5. My dad (Tony) was a huge hockey nerd, but his dad didn’t know too much about hockey, so my dad didn’t start playing until he was about 13. And then he played growing up in high school and college. He was pretty good, but that’s a late age to start. He was behind the eight ball in that sense, but he loved it. I have an older brother (Josh) who’s four years older than me, and he played goalie. I followed him in the youth hockey thing. He played collegiately at Tufts. It was kind of like my dad got me into it and seeing my brother do it made me want to do it even more.


Q: Did you play other sports?

SARLO: I played basketball for a bit. I mostly played baseball. I played travel baseball in school up until seventh or eighth grade, and then once I went to high school, I was only playing hockey.


Q: What did you learn from your time in the USHL (with the Chicago Steel and Lincoln Stars)?

SARLO: I learned a lot. I went up to training camp and got cut. Then I went back to my youth team and then got called back up and then got traded at the end of that year. I was a senior in high school the year I got cut and traded, so you really get to see the business side of hockey. And then in youth hockey, you’re kind of a pretty normal kid, you’re still in school and the games are on Saturdays and Sundays at random times. Juniors was the first time where you’re at the rink all day, and I was doing online school—which I didn’t know was going to prepare me for college pretty well—but just being at the rink all day and just making hockey like a job, basically. It’s the workouts and the skates and the extra skates and the video. It’s your first taste where you really start to get hockey in a serious aspect and your day revolving around it.


Q: What made you decide on Penn State both from a hockey and a school standpoint?

SARLO: Basically everything. There are a lot of schools good at hockey and a lot of schools that have a lot to offer but I thought Penn State was kind of the best of everything. One of the premier teams in the Big Ten, cool facilities, you have the best of both worlds – a beautiful gym and a shooting and stick handling room, the locker room and the lounge and the training room, all that stuff is so nice, and then you have the rink itself and how beautiful it is, and the atmosphere at the games and everything. I liked Coach [Guy] Gadowsky, and the way he talked to me I thought really fit my brand of hockey. And then the school itself is a good school. There’s a lot of connections. When I visited there, it was the end of August, a beautiful sunny day, a lot of people out, so I got to see the atmosphere on campus. You get the feeling of how much everyone loved it. That’s where I understood why they call it Happy Valley because everyone seemed like they were in such a good mood and excited to be there.


Q: How did @TuneIntoHockey (the instructional account Sarlo created for Instagram and X) come to be?

SARLO: My love for the game and my IQ has always been my strong point, and I also really enjoy teaching. In the summer I teach hockey clinics to kids, and I do video sessions during the year for kids, too. I really enjoy the teaching aspect of it. That was a way to share my side of things, breaking down plays. I just enjoy doing it. Hockey’s such a fast-moving sport and so I think, especially for a casual fan, so many little things go unnoticed, that I like breaking down the little things that make a play. Maybe you didn’t even see it, but the way this guy skated across the ice to the far blue line opened up all the ice, but all everyone else sees is that this other guy made a beautiful one-on-one move. But why did he get into that position? What did the defensemen do and what did the other forwards do? Breaking down all the small parts, I thought, was pretty interesting and fun. When I had some free time toward the end of the year, I thought it was a way to make good use of my time.


Q: Any plans to keep building on that social media presence?

SARLO: I went a bit cold on it, I have to admit. Being a senior, I’ll probably have a lighter workload during the year. Once it gets a little bit cold and I’m locked inside all day, maybe that’s when I’ll make a nice comeback.


Q: How has your hockey IQ helped you as a player at Penn State specifically? Give one or two examples.

SARLO: My skating has grown a lot since earlier in my playing career, but I think I got my IQ from not being a very good skater; when you’re deficient in one thing, you’ve got to make up for it. When you can’t really skate in a sport that’s all about skating, you have to find a way to make an impact, so that’s where the IQ came into play. Once my skating got to a level where it really wasn’t a hindrance, the IQ doesn’t go away. Part of the inspiration for making @TuneIntoHockey is I’m a guy who really enjoys doing those little things that maybe go unnoticed but that helped out the play. Taking a guy’s stick away so that the other guy has more room to skate around him, or screening the goalie at this time knowing he won’t be able to see the puck. Especially in college, guys move fast, but they also think really fast. So the faster you can think and be on the same page and anticipate, the more chances you’ll have. The good players in college hockey will get chances, but you’re not getting that many, so you’re trying to find ways to get them. Anticipating plays on the forecheck, being able to read where the play is going, disrupting plays in the D zone, all that stuff, any little advantage you can get is huge.


Q: Who is someone you’ve admired in the sport?

SARLO: My dad played a while ago, and my brother has really inspired me. He’s really the reason I am where I am today, both he and my dad. My parents are the best. I’ve played in Long Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, and they drove me everywhere. They’d drive me an hour and a half to practice, three hours for one game. In the moment, I never really appreciated it, but looking back I realize how lucky I was. My dad pulled me aside and said, ‘If you want to do hockey for fun, I have no problem with that, we’ll keep it local and save some money and some time, but if you really want to do this, we’ll give our all, we’ll keep driving.’ I said, ‘No, I really want to do this.’ My brother was four years older and playing junior hockey at the time, and he would take me out and we’d do the agility ladder and get me some cardio and shooting pucks and all that stuff. He just showed me the benefits from hard work and how you need to have it to be successful. He really set that precedent for me.


Q: Why did you decide to study journalism?

SARLO: My brother is the smart one, he was valedictorian. My sisters were smart. I was never really a number person. I don’t like math. I know a lot of the hockey guys are doing finance and business and stuff. That was just something I couldn’t see myself doing. I love hockey, I love talking about hockey, discussing the game, whether it be with other people or explaining my thoughts to people. I figure journalism would be a good way to get into that. I’m thinking about becoming either a hockey writer or a broadcaster. I’ve always wanted to be one of the color guys and have those short snippets of breaking down the game.


Q: What has your favorite class been?

SARLO: Mike Poorman’s class, COMM 170, the sports industry class. It was all online, but he’d get the coolest guests in, and the way he did the lectures was always good. He’s been real helpful to me and set me up with a bunch of people in the hockey journalism world. And then professor (John) Affleck taught another sports studies class which was going over sports media, was another one I was really interested in, and then RPTM 210 with Brian Soulé. He was a big sports guy and just hearing him talk, he kind of covered everything. One of his projects was creating a business, and mine was a hockey camp.


Q: What’s your favorite cheer or jeer that the student section does at Pegula?

SARLO: I got one for both. I’d say the jeer has got to be “It’s All Your Fault.” My mom loves that one, which is funny because my brother is a goalie; you’d think she would have more sympathy for them. And then my cheer has got to be the cowbell, when they do “Let’s go PSU.” I always love hearing that.


Q: If you weren’t a hockey player, what other sport would you play and why?

SARLO: I would love to play basketball. We play basketball a pretty good amount out of the season. I love going behind the 3-point line and trying to make it. A lot of hockey players aren’t good, so I’m the best shooter, which is a bad thing. Realistically I probably couldn’t do basketball considering I’m generously 6-foot. So I would say probably baseball. I was a pretty good hitter. Or golf. But I’m not good at golf.