Freshmen Evaluation: First Half
The Nittany Lions are taking the college hockey world by storm. A program that only began Division One play five short years ago, is now ranked fourth in the country and number one in the Pairwise rankings, used to determine seeding for the NCAA tournament.
This year, it has been the freshman who have taken a tremendous role in helping their team rise to such impressive heights. The freshman would not have been able to achieve such great heights if it wasn’t for their leader, Coach Guy Gadowsky. It has been his leadership and ability to create such a tight knit environment, where everyone wins and loses together, that has allowed this stellar freshman class to succeed.
The PSU fan base has been treated to some amazing achievements so far. From beating then third ranked Notre Dame to shutting out opponents 8-0, this team has pushed the envelope on the offensive end of the ice, been a well-oiled machine on defense, and had excellent goalie play from both net minders.
Since winter break has passed and the Nittany Lions begin to go headlong into the rest of their schedule, it’s time to take a step back and give out first half stars to the freshman who have earned them.
There has been one player on the ice who has been a constant catalyst for this Penn State offense, and it’s none other than Denis Smirnov. The Russian winger has been a source for scoring opportunities, whether it has been threading pucks through defenders to open ice or taking it himself and dazzling Pegula with incredible dekes and moves. His play has earned him first star honors for the freshman.
Smirnov currently sits 12th in the NCAA points standings and leads the Big Ten standings with 28. He is one of two freshmen to be in the top 15 in that category in all of Division One. He is also capable of taking to the net himself, racking up 10 goals so far this season. It was known that Smirnov was a high impact hockey player, but as a freshman, to not only get the starting job right out of the gate from your coach, but also to perform as well as he has is unheard of from a young player. Between Andrew Sturtz and Denis Smirnov, they account for a large part of the Penn State offense. Denis Smirnov has been the freshman to watch so far this season.
The second star goes to the freshman netminder that has played with poise beyond his years, Peyton Jones. Jones has been a reliable force between the pipes this year, allowing his skaters to play with confidence, knowing if the puck is turned over, he can bail them out.
Jones has been healthy all year, missing only 2 games due to obligatory rest. He has posted a 1.98 goals allowed average in these games, putting him atop the Big Ten and seventh in the country. His save percentage is also stellar as he is second in the Big Ten at 0.919. These statistics are just a testament to the player that the Langhorne, Pa. native has become.
Jones has improved from the beginning of the season, with his puck awareness steadily improving as he is constantly on top of the puck and not letting opposing teams get many rebound chances on him. Peyton Jones has been a guiding force for his team, keeping a rock-solid demeanor, allowing his teammates to play with everything they have.
The third star goes to a player who has not been in the lime light every night, but seems to always contribute when his team needs it, Kris Myllari. His name doesn’t show up on the stat line very often, but he has become an expert in stonewalling opponents’ effort to begin an offensive attack.
Myllari’s ability to get on opposing forwards and harass them throughout the Penn State zone has proved effective as Penn State has kept opponents to 24.1 shots per game on average, which is nearly half of what the Penn State offense averages. Teams are unable to get setup in the attacking zone and get quality scoring chances, keeping the pressure off Peyton Jones and allowing the electric PSU offense to work its magic.
Defensemen are often overlooked unless they record goals by ripping off shots from the blue line, and even then, sometimes don’t get the credit because it is tipped by a forward. Kris Myllari is the definition of a grinder, a guy who doesn’t get all the glory, but is instrumental in his team’s performance, night in and night out. His stingy play has helped his team reach the upper echelon of Division One hockey.
The Penn State freshmen have been a big cog in the hockey machine that has climbed the ladder of college hockey. Without the play of Denis Smirnov, Peyton Jones, and Kris Myllari, this Nittany Lion squad may not be where they are at this point in the season.
Travis Sutton is a freshman majoring in telecommunications, to contact him, email him at email@example.com.