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By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - The Nittany Lions are confident right now, having won three of their first four games to start conference play. Pegula Ice Arena will be a welcome site for the team this weekend as they have spent the last few weekends on the road. Despite the recent road trip, they have by no means let that be an excuse and have continued to perform at a high level.
It's been a total team effort that has led to Penn State's recent success, but head coach Josh Brandwene called out the sophomore class specifically as a group that has been at their highest level for a sustained period.
"They are flourishing right now as individuals and as a group," Brandwene said. "They're committed to all the fine details of the game and getting better as individuals and also doing what they need to do on behalf of the team. You're seeing that both offensively and defensively with that group."
Brandwene also had praise for a few individuals for their improved play over the past few weeks.
"Meike Meilleur is producing points, Victoria Samuelsson playing great hockey at both ends of the ice. Her speed is right where it needs to be. She's blocking shots, she's penalty killing well. Kelsey Crow with her shot release and all she does for us on the power play penalty kill. I'm very pleased with that class," he said.
Meilleur in particular has been a big part of the turnaround, as she has scored her first two career goals as a Nittany Lion this season.
"I think just having that confidence is a big part of the game," she said. "Going from freshman year to sophomore year, I think you get that experience and then over time, it's not something you think about, but it just happens naturally especially with the support of your teammates. [Getting that goal] was awesome, getting that assist from Victoria [Samuelsson]. It was the best feeling and something I'll remember forever."
The transition from freshman to sophomore is always a critical one for any college student, and these players understand their changing roles on the team now that they have a year under their belts.
"I feel like we're more involved with the team and have more leadership roles," Victoria Samuelsson said.
"With having so many freshmen now, I think they can look up to us," Meilleur said. "We kind of know the ropes and we're trying to help them out as much as we can."
"I think what it comes down to is when we do the little things," Kelsey Crow said. "It's not necessarily that we're not doing them, it's that we're being vocal if we see someone like 'Hey, maybe they missed a pass because they weren't focusing'. Just a little tap on the shoulder like 'Hey, get your mind right' or something like that."
The sophomores have also been a strong influence on the freshmen class, making sure their transition to collegiate hockey has been and will continue to be as seamless as possible.
"The experience is helping them be more competitive," Crow said. "Not only fighting for spots but also against the other team where they really want to win battles and really want to get the shot on net."
"I think they're getting a lot more comfortable," Meilleur said. "They fit into the team right away and I think that definitely shows when they play."
The sophomore class as well as the rest of the Nittany Lions will finally have a chance to host a conference game this weekend as Lindenwood comes to town for a pair of games.
"We are so excited to play at home," Brandwene said. "I think it'll sink in for us probably after practice tomorrow, when we're not getting packed up and loading a bus."
"It's nice, hopefully we can bring the momentum back here to Pegula," Samuelsson said.
"It's always good energy, and I think we're all excited to be back after being on the road for so long," Meilleur said.
Friday's game does come with a little hitch for the Nittany Lions, as puck drop is set for an unusual 11 a.m.
"It's a school day game, so we have a couple of elementary schools coming Friday," Brandwene said. "So that's obviously exciting introducing some young fans to the game. You prepare the same as always. You try to stick with a similar routine in terms of timing for pregame meal, pregame meeting, and again we're so excited to play at home. 9 a.m., 11 a.m., start time doesn't matter; be ready to go."
"It's definitely something that we're not going to be used to, but we're going to adjust and I think we're going to make the best of it," Meilleur said.
"It's to our advantage," Samuelsson said. "The game's early so we can get off to a good start."