Freshmen Evaluation: Week 14
Just when you thought they were on the up and up, they couldn’t rise to the occasion. The Nittany Lions had a golden opportunity this past weekend to gain some serious ground on Big Ten conference leader Minnesota, but Penn State just couldn’t seal the deal Friday and Saturday night.
The Nittany Lions were in a winning position in the third period of both games and had defensive collapses in the third period of both games. In game one, it was tied halfway through the third period on a Kris Myllari special from the blue line then Penn State’s blue line opened up like floodgates and allowed three goals in the third period, one of which was an empty netter.
However, in game two, it looked as if the Nittany Lions had it locked up after Denis Smirnov buried a nasty backhander through the five hole of Eric Schierhorn on a penalty shot with 1:26 left in third. The Nittany Lions were caught completely off guard by the extra man rush after the Golden Gophers emptied their net. No one could be faulted on that goal that sent it to overtime, but Penn State just couldn’t hold off the Minnesota attack as Rem Pitlick notched his fourth goal of the series for the win.
While the team as whole showed they didn’t have the stamina to hang with the Golden Gophers, several freshmen stepped up and played some of their best hockey in quite some time. One guy that had a tremendous series was Denis Smirnov.
After last week’s great performance against Wisconsin, Smirnov looked like he was heading back to his form of old before the winter break. He showed everybody this weekend that he is definitely ready to make a post season push, recording five points, two of which came in his second multi-goal performance in as many weeks.
The Penn State loyal were reassured that the Russian sparkplug was back when he made a fool out of last year’s conference goalie of the year, Eric Schierhorn, on a penalty shot that got a reaction from the spectators that nearly blew the roof off of Pegula Ice Arena. Smirnov proved to be an issue for Minnesota all weekend, even though they played him far more physically than any of the other Penn State skaters. He was pressured constantly Friday night whenever he had the puck and still managed to notch three assists, contributing to all of Penn State’s goals that night. Denis Smirnov is finding his stride again, right when his team needs him the most.
There have not been many consistent freshmen this year for the Nittany Lions, but one blue liner has been the beacon of consistency. Kris Myllari has been nothing but amazing, and Guy Gadowsky has rewarded him with more and more playing time, even pairing him with top defenseman Trevor Hamilton. Myllari works so well with Hamilton because of their difference in playing style. The freshman is a stay-home defenseman, more traditional in his play through blocking shots and staying near the blue line. Trevor Hamilton is more of a two-way defenseman, and can contribute on the offensive rush. He is able to be riskier now because he can rely on Myllari covering him at the blue line.
Myllari has continued to surprise as he netted another goal from the point on Friday night. It took until Nov. 11 of this season to record his first points of the season, but has had good performances ever since. He doesn’t always impress on the stat sheet, but Kris Myllari has been a bastion of reliability for this hockey team this year.
Smirnov and Myllari are going to have to try spreading some of their success around the team from here on out, as now every series is a must-win series. The postseason push presses on this week as the Nittany Lions head to East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans.
Travis Sutton is a freshman majoring in telecommunications. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.