Freshmen Evaluation: Week Six
The Nittany Lions are having great success during this ten-game home stretch at the front half of the season, and this past weekend against Niagara was no exception. Penn State won the series by a total score of 10-2, winning by a decisive score of 5-1 in both games. The freshmen core had a spectacular offensive display and some players received Big Ten honors for their performances. The defense was equally as impressive, allowing only one goal in each game. Here are the freshmen who took the biggest roles in pushing the Nittany Lions to victory.
The ten-goal performance over the weekend is something we have come to expect from the Nittany Lions when playing these subpar teams such as Niagara. In each of the past two series, Penn State has won by a total score of 18-4, ripping off 221 shots over that time. The freshmen show starring Denis Smirnov was out in full force as he racked up six points, getting two goals in game one and four assists spanning both games in the series. With the stellar performance, Smirnov earned Big Ten second star for the weekend. The only other freshmen tally was an assist from Brandon Biro in the second game of the series.
Denis Smirnov continues to destroy opposing goalies and defenses, either making plays to open up opportunities for his teammates or taking it to the net himself. He has the ability to move the stick around defenders unlike anyone on the Penn State roster. He has knack for finding the nearest patch of open ice and getting himself or his teammates into that spot to score goals.
Smirnov now leads the team in points with 15 points, blowing away the next closest teammate, Andrew Sturtz, by six points. These 15 points also put him at the top of the Big Ten leaderboards and fifth in the NCAA rankings. Smirnov shows no signs of slowing down and will look to plaster the back of the net again in the coming series against Alaska-Anchorage.
The defense stymied any hopes of success for Niagara this past weekend, holding them to two goals on 44 shots. The blue line unit is holding opponents to an average of 25 shots per game, almost half of what Penn State shoots per game.
James Gobetz was a healthy scratch for the series as he has not gotten much playing time since the Notre Dame series. Kris Myllari, who was has played in every game this year, once again posted a zero plus minus rating. He is not the scoring defenseman who is going to be ripping shots from the blue line all night, but he does his job and stays glued to forwards all over the ice. He gives up his body for shots every game as he has 13 blocked shots on the season.
The goaltending from Peyton Jones has been remarkable this season and he finally got the rest he deserved this weekend. Jones only played the latter portion of the series as he was relieved by an exceptional Chris Funkey for the first game. Jones did play well in his lone start this weekend saving 20 of 21 shots last Friday.
The young netminder, who signed a contract with the New York Islanders this past summer, has looked like a veteran all season. Jones is holding a 0.951 save percentage along with averaging a mere 1.05 goals allowed per game. Although the competition has not been particularly tough as of late, he still did well against two tough opponents in St. Lawrence and Notre Dame earlier in the year. He secured a 2-1-1 record against those teams, his best performance coming in the first game of the Notre Dame series, holding the then No. 3 ranked Fighting Irish to no goals and a tie in a crucial overtime period.
Jones should get the nod for both games this weekend, but do not be surprised if coach Guy Gadowsky rests him again against a below average Alaska-Anchorage team.
The freshmen played well against a team that they were expected to play well against.\They did what they had to do, some excelling well beyond just a standard performance which is why they have earned an A. The freshmen should have an equally impressive weekend against the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves.
The first game of the series starts at 7 p.m. at the Pegula Ice Arena on Friday.
Travis Sutton is a freshman majoring in telecommunications. To contact him, email him at email@example.com.