Player Spotlight: Denis Smirnov
Freshman Denis Smirnov handles the puck with supreme confidence. His eyes are constantly scanning the goal as he glides along the blue line of Pegula Ice Arena.
Here at Penn State, he can pursue his craft.
Smirnov was born in Moscow, Russia. Following the passion for hockey that was instilled in him at a young age, Smirnov moved to the states to pursue a future in the sport.
Learning a new country, language, and culture wasn’t easy for the young teenager.
"I left my home. It was definitely hard, but hockey made it easier,” Smirnov told Chris Murphy of Inforum. “When you love hockey you'll do anything for it."
His love for hockey translated into a knack for scoring. The teenager scored 120 points (62 goals, 58 assists) in his first couple of years in the Atlantic Metropolitan Hockey League.
He was drafted into the United States Hockey League, where he caught the attention of Penn State’s head coach Guy Gadowsky. In pursuit of his hockey future, Smirnov chose to become a Nittany Lion.
However, college is a time consuming aspect that Smirnov wasn’t exposed to in the UHSL.
“The thing I miss most about juniors is not having to go to class everyday and having a lot of free time,” Smirnov told his former team’s media (Fargo Force).
As difficult as it may be to transition to being a college student, his performance on the ice remains unhindered. Smirnov is yet be held pointless in a game for the Nittany Lions this season.
He opened the season with a pair of assists in a series against St.Lawrence. He scored his first collegiate goal against Mercyhurst.
Against Notre Dame, Smirnov was a key component to beating one of the top teams in the nation. He had a pair of assists to open the series, and put the dagger in the Fighting Irish with an assist to captain David Goodwin in overtime.
The win demonstrated the potential of this young team.
“I think it builds our confidence,” Smirnov told GoPSUSports.com. “We know what we are capable of and know what we can do this year.”
The transition to State College was helped by having another Russian on the team. Nikita Pavlychev, the 6-foot-7 freshman that stalks the goal and blocks the goalie’s view better than an oak tree, knew Smirnov before coming to Penn State. They played on the same youth hockey team a few years ago.
The dynamic Russian duo has made their presence known on the ice. They have combined for 13 points, helping Penn State match its highest ranking in program history at No. 14.
The Nittany Lions have a bright future with Smirnov and company at the helm. They will look to keep the momentum going this week in a series against Niagara.
Pegula Ice Arena is sure to live up to the standards that initially impressed the Russian playmaker.
“It’s the best place to play hockey,” Smirnov said.
Paddy Cotter is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.