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Smirnov Leads Penn State past Robert Morris

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By Andy Kuros, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No.18 Penn State extended its unbeaten streak to eight games following a 7-4 victory against Robert Morris in front of a crowded Pegula Ice Arena.

Sophomore forward Denis Smirnov, who scored a goal in Friday night's 5-2 win, capped off a great weekend with two more goals and two assists in the second game of the series to match a career-high mark.

After he was sidelined for the last few weeks, Smirnov, who is second on the team in goals scored, is picking up right where he left off. For Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky, he's an important addition back into the lineup.

"He adds a lot of offensive creativity to us, that's for sure," Gadowsky said. "His vision and creativity is really difficult to replace and it's fun to watch."

When asked about his recent success, Smirnov gave credit to his line mates, sophomore forwards Nate Sucese and Brandon Biro.

"Playing with those guys is fun," Smirnov said. "They're a little faster than me, so I always try to keep up with them."

The line played a crucial role in the potent Nittany Lion offensive attack Saturday. Skating together, they found the back of the net a combined four times to lead Penn State offensively.

Sucese scored two goals to go along with an assist, while Biro registered an assist of his own.

Despite the line's renewed success since reuniting, the unit of Smirnov, Sucese and Biro hasn't seen much time on the ice together this season.

"Not one of those units is the way it was at the start of the year," Gadowsky mentioned.

As a result, Smirnov noted the importance of hard work, keying in on the amount of practice the unit has spent dedicated to building chemistry to gel as a unit.

"We know what we have to work on," Smirnoff said. "We get out there as a line and work on some things together."

Come this week, it's seemingly paying off.

The Nittany Lions, who returned home after playing the first game of the series at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, registered 44 shots in tying a season high mark with seven goals.

For Gadowsky, he's pleased with his team's offensive performance headed into a nearly month-long break before returning to Big Ten play in early January.

"I thought we moved the puck really well," Gadowsky said. "When we got to the (attacking) zone, I thought we did a good job.

Freshman Feature: Stevens Shows Promise

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By Erin Neri, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A native of Plymouth, Minnesota, Penn State hockey freshman Alex Stevens comes from a part of the country where hockey is seemingly in everyone's blood. Often growing up both living and breathing the sport things were no different for Stevens.

"I starting playing actual hockey when I was five," Stevens said. "I probably had my first pair of skates by three."

In between playing pee-wee hockey and finding his way to Penn State, Stevens skated a total of 120 games in the USHL with three different teams. The defenseman registered a total of 48 points, on 12 goals and 36 assists.

Stevens ended his three seasons in the league with the Dubuque Fighting Saints. While only on the team for about two months, he helped lead the team in a run in the playoffs, making it all the way to the Clark Cup Eastern Conference Finals.

"It was kind of a blur," Stevens said. "Once we hit the playoffs we were just a great team, kind of like here, everyone was close, everyone worked hard. Playoffs were a fun time." 

Growing up not far from the University of Minnesota, playing Big Ten hockey had always been a dream of his.

Although growing up watching the Gophers play, a team he'll get an opportunity to play against in Hockey Valley in late February, Stevens knew as soon as he stepped on campus, he'd be pulling on the blue and white for the next four years.

"It was a dream school for me once I saw the facilities," Stevens said. "Not just because of our awesome rink at Pegula but the student academic facilities are top-notch too."

Stevens saw his first time on the ice against Arizona State and Michigan State, having registered seven shots to date.

"My mentality is just wanting to get better every game, every shift," Stevens said. "The coaches preached to me to move pucks as quickly as I can, so that's what I've been trying to do."

The freshman also put his shot to the test in the overtime shootout against the Spartans in game two of the series. Stevens shot third behind junior Andrew Sturtz and sophomore Brandon Biro.  

While the choice to put Stevens in the shootout lineup was clearly a first, Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky shed some light on his decision, telling the media at recent availability that Stevens has the highest scoring percentage on the team when they simulate shootouts in practice.

"He's got a bomb and he's got a really good shot," Gadowsky said. "That was a no-brainer to play him."

While the freshman still only has three games under his belt, both Stevens and the coaching staff remain confident that even while missing the first part of the season, he will improve and gain synergy with his teammates with more ice time. 

"It's hard to judge him right now fairly because those are his first three games and everybody else has played numerous," Gadowsky said. "I think when you take that into consideration he's done many things very well and I do think there's a certain aspect of his game that he'll have to tighten up if he's going to be successful."

Penn State Weekly Check In

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State's weekly check in returns this week, catching up with Nittany Lion head coach Guy Gadowsky, as well as Andrew Sturtz and Trevor Hamilton. Check in this week as the Nittany Lions look back on a successful road trip at Ohio State, while also looking ahead to a trip to PPG Paints Arena before returning home to Pegula Ice Arena for a home-and-home against Robert Morris this weekend. 

Gadowsky

Sturtz, Hamilton

Success on the Third Line

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By Erin Neri, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - During his weekly meeting with the media this week, Penn State men's hockey head coach Guy Gadowsky stressed consistency in both the offensive and defensive zones. Coming off two strong series against Arizona State and Michigan State, the team has been making practical strides toward their goal.

"Consistency is what our goal is, that's what we're after," Gadowsky said. "I do still think we're very aggressive deep, both offensively and defensively but I'd like us to be a lot more consistent in certain areas."

The Nittany Lions have been experiencing consistent success is their third line though, adjusted to feature sophomores Nate Sucese and Brandon Biro with the addition of freshman Sam Sternschein, who filled in for sophomore Denis Smirnov on the right wing.

Even with the line experiencing some shakeups, keeping the pair of Sucese and Biro intact was a no-brainer for the coaching staff.

"They've played together in the past and they've showed synergy," Gadowsky said. "They are two guys that do a lot of extra work."

Although the two line mates work well together on the ice, their bond goes far beyond the ice. They're roommates this year after rooming together last year, and both constantly collaborating on how to improve their game. 

"He's my best friend on the team, we rarely spend any time apart," Biro said. "We pretty much talk hockey all the time." 

Individually, Biro score in back-to-back against the Sun Devils along with three assists to earn himself the Big Ten Third Star of the Week honor last week. The Canadian native also extended career-high three-game point and assist streaks in game one against the Spartans. 

Sucese achieved his own success alongside Biro, with two assists and a goal in game one against ASU as well as an assist.

Complimenting an already efficient pairing, Sternschein made a smooth transition on to the line, playing like he had been there since the beginning of October. His efforts have not gone unnoticed by his counterparts on the left and in the center of the offense either.

"He's awesome, especially coming in for his first couple of games," Biro said. "He's a super fast player, he always seems to get open and he's getting more confident every game. "It's been really easy to play with him."

Sternschein registered his first career goal and an assist in game one against Arizona State, along with an assist in game two. In game one back in Pegula against Michigan State, the New York native put two in the back of the net in the first and second period. 

"Sammy Sternschein absolutely did what he had to do to make a case that he should be in the lineup every night," Gadowsky said. "Now it's just a matter of slotting him in and finding synergy with him and someone else."

With Smirnov's return into the lineup, Sternschein will have to readjust back to a different role on the team off of the third line. He is confident though in the success he has found so far in the season and that he can still contribute consistency to the team.

"I'm just going to do what I can, play my game, work hard every night and if I'm in the lineup that's awesome that's what I want," Sternschein said. "The rest is up to the coaches."

Penn State Weekly Check In

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State weekly check in is back, catching up with head coach Guy Gadowsky and Nittany Lions Sam Sternschein and Kevin Kerr ahead of this weekend's trip to Ohio State.

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Sternschein, Kerr

Penn State Weekly Check In

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following a pair of road wins at Arizona State last weekend, Penn State men's hockey returns to Pegula Ice Area to host Big Ten opponent Michigan State in a weekend series.

Back from the road, the Nittany Lions will look to continue building on the momentum from the successful road trip, also currently slated 2-4 in conference play ahead of the series against the Spartans.

From Thanksgiving plans to what's next, check in with head coach Guy Gadowsky and sophomore forward Brandon Biro ahead of this weekend's action in Pegula.

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Biro

Freshman Feature: Sternschein Adds to Offense

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By Erin Neri, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Growing up just down the road from the New York Islanders practice facility in Syosset, New York, Penn State freshman Sam Sternschein was introduced to hockey at a very young age. Skating lessons for him started at an early age and from there, learning to play hockey wasn't too far behind.

Since his early days on the ice, Sternshein has grown into a 6-foot-1-inch aggressive offensive option for the Nittany Lions. Originally verbally committed to Cornell in 2013, once he stepped on campus, Sternschein knew Hockey Valley was where he belonged.

"You come here you go to a game you see the fan base and the Roar Zone," Sternschein said. "From the coaching staff to the academic opportunities, it's exactly where I wanted to be."

The power forward does bring success with him from his past years in the USHL. The righty shooter ended his four season USHL career with the Lincoln Stars, after being traded from the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders.

In his 45 games with the Stars, he registered 20 goals and 12 assists for 32 points, good for fourth best on the team. Even though the transition from juniors to college might seem like a big leap, Sternschein doesn't see it that way.

"A lot of those guys [in the USHL] played here, so the adjustment isn't too big," Sternschein said. "The biggest thing is guys are bigger and stronger."

The freshman forward is joining some successful Lincoln Stars alumni now playing for the Blue and White in senior defenseman Trevor Hamilton and sophomore goalie Peyton Jones.

Although he is a freshman, Sternschein is already contributing to the team. He earned both his first point and assist in his collegiate debut Friday night against Meryhurst. He was originally credited with the goal, before it was overturned to fellow freshman Alex Limoges, who was in front of the net to knock in the rebound.

"My first few shifts I was a little nervous, but playing in front of all the fans here and just playing my first college hockey game was really special," Sternschein said. "Those are two games I'll always remember."

After seeing Sternschein in action for the first time, coach Guy Gadowsky did note he liked the size and release of his shot, something he has been working on.

"I like his presence," Gadowsky said. "Size doesn't do anything to me unless your aggressive and he is, he seems to get in there."

For Strenschein, he'll continue to work toward growing his role on the team moving forward with the season.

"I'm here to play, I want to play," Sternschein said. "I'm just going to take advantage of my chance."    

Penn State Building Upon Positives

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By Erin Neri, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Headed into its second consecutive week on the road, Penn State men's hockey has a lot of positives to build upon before traveling to the west coast to play Arizona State.

Pulling from game two of last weekend's series at Notre Dame, the Nittany Lions held the Fighting Irish to only one goal in an all-out defensive showcase. Although Penn State didn't put any goals in the back of the net despite various opportunities to do so, head coach Guy Gadowsky was still happy with the performance. 

"We had a lot of 'grade A' opportunities that we never finish on but we take that game any day, we really would," Gadowsky said. "If we could bottle that, we take that game against anyone."

The blue line stepped up and showcased improvements Gadowsky has been looking for all season, allowing zero power play goals through the entire series against the best power play scoring unit in the Big Ten. The defense also held one of the nation's top goal scorers, Jake Evans, to a lone assist throughout the weekend. 

Strength in the defense zone also led to better goaltending on behalf of sophomore Peyton Jones, who totaled 40 saves throughout the series and earned the third star in Saturday night's game.

"As Kyle MacDonald our goaltending coach said, 'It takes one game to turn the tide on goaltenders,'" Gadowsky said. "We know what Peyton can do and we have a ton of faith in him." 

For Gadowsky, it's something he hopes will boost Jones' confidence as well as that of the defense, sparking more improvement going forward.

On the other side of the puck, Nikita Pavlychev has been able to find the back on the net on a more consistent basis this season. Using his 6-foot-7-inch stature along with his aggressive style of play to his advantage, Pavlychev has become an integral part of Penn State's offense.

The sophomore forward registered a career-best point streak and extended his goal streak to four games going into game two at South Bend before it was snapped. 

"He actually had a lot of opportunities last year but he struggled in hitting the net," Gadowsky said. "Whereas this year, I know that's something he has really focused on in the summer and it's starting to pay off."

By the time game 12 arrived, Pavlychev had registered only two goals, but this season he has boosted his total to five goals headed into game 13.

The Russian native has been able to hone in on his shooting skills at the Pittsburgh Penguins development camp, where he spent this past summer. The Penguins drafted Pavlychev in the 2015 NHL Draft in the seventh round.

"He works hard every day, he really takes pride in playing in his own end," junior forward Andrew Sturtz said. "It's tough to do that every night and it might not always show up on the scoreboard, but those little things are what's going to help us win." 

As noted by Gadowsky, it's doing the little things that will ultimately lead to success for the Nittany Lions, and Pavlychev is helping to move things in the right direction.

Penn State Weekly Check In

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State remains on the road this week, headed to Arizona State for a weekend series. Check in with Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky and Nittany Lions Nikita Pavlychev and Blake Gober for a closer look at the week in review and what's ahead. 

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Pavlychev, Gober

Penn State Turning Focus Inward

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By Erin Neri, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For Penn State men's hockey, success is found in doing the little things, something that's at the forefront of weekly preparations for the Nittany Lions.

"We know we have to improve, but just trying to do the small things right every day," assistant captain and senior defenseman Erik Autio said.

The Nittany Lions travel to Indiana this weekend, returning to Big Ten play against the newest conference member, Notre Dame. Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky isn't making the focus totally on the opposition this week in practice though, instead the focusing on improvements within the program.

"Right now we're all on us," Gadowsky said. "Where we are, I don't care if it's conference or nonconference, it's pretty well defined what we are doing this week."

After tying the Fighting Irish in game one of last year's series in South Bend, a win in game two marked the beginning of an 11 game win-streak for the Nittany Lions. In order for history to repeat itself this weekend, the defensive unit has to improve.

A point of emphasis for the Blue and White has been defending against the odd man rush. Last weekend alone, the blue line allowed three goals on nine power play opportunities.

"I think we have to initiate starting defense earlier," Autio said.  "Right now we're backing up too much on top of the goalie." 

Penn State's skillset on defense will be put to the test this weekend with the Fighting Irish already finding success in scoring on the odd man rush. Notre Dame leads the Big Ten offensively on the power play, converting their last nine of 35 opportunities.

The Nittany Lions will also look to rectify a slow start coming off puck drop. Mercyhurst scored in the first 13 seconds of game one, something the Nittany Lions will look to reverse headed into a four-game road swing.

"We just have to come in with the mentality of winning the first five minutes," senior defenseman Trevor Hamilton said.

The areas of improvement don't fall solely on the shoulders of the defensemen though, rather on the team as a whole. As Hamilton noted, it's a group effort for both forwards and defenseman to get back and help the goalies. 

On a more positive note, freshman Cole Hults continues to step up, making an impact in his first season for the Nittany Lions.  

Hults registered a pair of assists in each game of last weekend's series, extending his career-high point streak to eight games. He's also continuing to build the connection alongside Autio as line partners. 

"I feel like we have a lot of chemistry, we've been building that ever since he stepped on campus," Autio said. "Obviously he's an amazing player, a smart player, so it's really easy to play with him."

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