Freshmen Evaluation: Week 13
Monumental steps were taken this weekend in Madison, Wisconsin as Penn State got back on the right track with a sweep of the Badgers. Weapons that were quiet for the past month during a nasty skid are back and firing emphatically. The defensive side of the puck improved dramatically, allowing no more than three goals in either game. Even freshmen big guns like Denis Smirnov and Nate Sucese made their way back to the box score sheet in a big way, even earning conference first and second stars, respectively.
Denis Smirnov was electric in the beginning of the year, leading the Big Ten in scoring for a few months. Last month, however, his performance was dismal to say the least. Smirnov hadn’t recorded a single point since playing Michigan State on January 14th before this weekend. That changed in a big way this series. Smirnov managed to find some of that electricity he had in the first part of the year striking for five points, including a four-point performance on Saturday night with two goals, one of which was unassisted.
This past weekend’s performance was great to see from a freshman with such high expectations. Fans have been clamoring for Smirnov to get back into the swing of things. It is evident that he is a huge part of the winning ways for the Lions because when he scores at least one point, the team is 16-1-1. It is hard to succeed when a player of his significance and caliber is not playing up to his potential. Hopefully, this is the beginning of Smirnov getting back to his form of old that made everyone fall in love with the Russian winger.
Nate Sucese is another forward who has struggled as of late, but put up great numbers this past series. Leading up to the series, he only had two assists and no goals since the Michigan State series on January 14th. Denis Smirnov must have shared the pre-series magic with Sucese, as he exploded for five points, including two goals and an assist in game two, aiding Smirnov on the offensive attack. Both players were all over the ice not only taking the puck themselves and showing their fancy stick work, but also delivering the puck to their fellow skaters to record goals of their own.
Sucese is another freshman who needs to play well if the team is to roll through the rest of the schedule. A big reason for the recent slump was the struggling defense. This can be attributed to the struggling play of the offense. The defense may feel the need to press and create breakaway opportunities for its forwards if the offense cannot get the job done themselves. This leaves the goalie out to dry if they do not succeed in taking the puck away, making Peyton Jones’s job very hard. This, among a multitude of issues, is why the Nittany Lions have been under siege from offenses around the Big Ten.
The offense, defense, and goalie all feed off of each other and because the freshmen are a huge part of this team, they can often be the difference between winning and losing within those units. All the cogs are going to have to turn in time this weekend against a tough opponent in Minnesota if Penn State wants to pick up some points in the standings, and gain ground on the leaders.
Travis Sutton is a freshman majoring in telecommunications. To contact, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org