The freshmen on the Penn State men’s hockey team are pretty darned good.
The first-year guys led the way in the No. 10 Nittany Lions’ 5-2 win over Wisconsin on Saturday night to complete a weekend sweep at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis.
Freshman Denis Smirnov collected two goals and two assists while classmate Nate Sucese had two goals and one assist to topple the No. 17 Badgers (15-10-1, 8-4).
“Obviously they were very, very good tonight,” Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said about the freshmen pair to the media in Madison. “They are difference-makers and they had a big night, but I do think that it was just a great team win.”
Trevor Hamilton, a junior but in his first year at Penn State after transferring, also scored for the Nittany Lions (18-6-2, 7-4-1 Big Ten), who are two points behind second-place Wisconsin in the Big Ten standings and five behind leader Minnesota.
Freshman Peyton Jones made the lead stand with 27 saves.
“I thought that was a really good hockey game,” Gadowsky said. “It’s great to win in this building, it’s great to win an excellent hockey game.”
Matt Ustaski and Luke Kunin had the Badger goals and Matt Jurusik stopped 39 attempts as Penn State outshot Wisconsin 44-29.
A 2-on-1 break led to the first Nittany Lion goal, with David Goodwin setting up Sucese for the quick flick into the net. Ustaski tied the game in the final seconds of the first period, hitting the net from the slot off a feed from Grant Besse.
Sucese scored again 7:20 into the second period, knocking in a rebound as the Nittany Lions rushed up the ice. It gave the freshman his 10th goal of the season. Then Smirnov netted his first tally with a rocket wrist shot from the slot for a two-goal lead.
“Physically, he’s getting healthy,” Gadowsky said of a three-goal weekend for the Russian after not netting a point in the previous five games.
Kunin cut the lead to one when he converted from the faceoff circle on a power play for his 19th goal of the season, matching his total for last year.
But a pair of Badger miscues iced the Penn State win.
Early in the third, a turnover led to a Smirnov breakaway, slipping the puck under Jurusik for his 14th goal of the season, and another turnover led to Hamilton flipping in a backhanded rebound to close the scoring.
Notes: After three weeks on the road, the Nittany Lions are back home next weekend hosting No. 5 Minnesota on Friday and Saturday at Pegula Ice Arena. ... Defenseman Kevin Kerr did not play Saturday after sustaining an injury crashing into the boards during Friday’s 6-3 Penn State win. Gadowsky said he had “no idea” about how long Kerr will be out. ... The Nittany Lions controlled the faceoff dots with a 36-26 edge in draws.