By: Sean Flanery, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Coming into the inaugural season of the Penn State women's hockey program (2-5-1) many knew that with an incoming class of 17 freshmen the Nittany Lions would need a select few of them to contribute from the first drop of the puck.
One freshman that has certainly come center stage and contributed through the first eight games of the season is forward Shannon Yoxheimer (Jackson, Mich.). The Michigan native made an impact from the very first game on Oct. 6 at Vermont by netting the first goal in the history of the program.
Through eight games, Yoxheimer has posted a team-best eight points while beating the opposing goaltender six times on 49 shot attempts. The forward's 49 shots on goal leads College Hockey America, while her six goals rank among the top-five.
Yoxheimer's stats so far this season should come at no surprise due to her success at lower levels before choosing Penn State as her college destination. Prior to Penn State, Yoxheimer won Michigan state titles at the 14U level with Little Ceasers, as well as at the 19U level with Belle Tire.
After succeeding at both the 14U and 19U levels, the Michigan forward traveled to Vermont where she would attend the North American Hockey Academy. While with NAHA, the 5-foot-7 forward tallied 17 goals to go along with 10 assists in 51 games, helping the team capture the Junior Women's Hockey League title and the USA-Canada Cup.
Yoxheimer has always considered herself a goal scorer and she has built a confidence in her shot over the years, which is a main reason for why she has led the Nittany Lions in shots this season. Along with her goal scoring abilities, Yoxheimer has always been a winner at every level throughout her career and she doesn't want that to change while wearing the Blue and White.
"I think if I had come here and had never really won, I wouldn't really expect to win," said Yoxheimer. "So, since I have won titles in the past, it just makes me strive for wins and to want to do well."
For the 18-year-old, choosing Penn State was an easy choice considering the history that was going to be made every time the team took the ice. Yoxheimer believes what this team has accomplished so far this season is more significant than any state title she ever won in Michigan.
"When I was younger, we won a lot of tournaments and all of that was awesome," said Yoxheimer. "I was younger and I really didn't know what college hockey was really going to be like, but that first win at Vermont almost trumps every single state title that I've ever had. It was the coolest hockey experience for me so far."
So far this season, Yoxheimer has earned a lot of firsts for the program, such as recording the team's first ever goal or being named CHA Offensive Player of the Week just last week. Her statistics and accolades speak volumes about her abilities on the ice.
Incoming freshmen within athletic programs rarely have the success she has had thus far. While the transition lasts longer for some athletes, Penn State assistant captain Lindsay Reihl believes Yoxheimer has transitioned rather quickly.
"One of the major differences between hockey before college and then coming in at this level is the size and fast pace," said Reihl. "Everyone is big, fast and that's one of the major differences. Shannon has the strength and speed, so I think she made the adjustment very well."
While Yoxheimer does offer the size and speed to compete at the Division I level, she believes the North American Hockey Academy prepared her for the mental transition. While in Vermont, Yoxheimer learned the ins and outs of practicing everyday, doing schoolwork and most importantly being away from home.
Penn State head coach Josh Brandwene speaks highly of Yoxheimer's abilities and believes the NAHA prepared her for this season in more ways than one.
"She was well prepared for it in every way," said Brandwene. "She comes from a great program and she put the time and the work into her own skill set and it has allowed her to be successful right from day one."
While adjusting to Division I hockey so quickly as a freshman is an accomplishment in itself, Yoxheimer is still hungry for more. The Michigan forward considers herself to be a shooting forward and isn't afraid to fire the puck towards the net, often times just to see if anything can happen.
With the Nittany Lions having such a youthful team in their inaugural season, it was key for at least a couple freshmen to step up and contribute, and Yoxheimer has done more than that thus far. Coach Brandwene believes as long as she continues to work hard and do the little things correctly, her offensive abilities will continue to be a bright spot this season.
"She's got tremendous natural talent and she is doing all of the little things to go along with how talented a player she is," said Brandwene. "She does a great job of getting pucks out, she makes sure pucks get deep, she takes care of her responsibilities defensively and when you do all of those things and combine that with effort, talent, and a tremendous shot, you're going to get rewarded for it."
Yoxheimer and the Nittany Lions will look to continue making history when they host the Pioneers of Sacred Heart (3-4-0) in a two-game series this weekend, with the first game beginning at 7 p.m. on Friday night.