Penn State Hockey

All-Freshman line already making impact with Penn State hockey team

Penn State’s Liam Folkes, left, has teamed up with Nate Sucese and Brandon Biro (not pictured) to be a solid line for the Nittany Lion men’s hockey team.
Penn State’s Liam Folkes, left, has teamed up with Nate Sucese and Brandon Biro (not pictured) to be a solid line for the Nittany Lion men’s hockey team. For the Centre Daily Times, file

It’s a risky move to put three freshmen on the ice together on the same line.

There’s a chance they can do, well, freshman-like things.

For the combination of Nate Sucese, Brandon Biro and Liam Folkes, it’s working out pretty well in the early weeks of the season for the Penn State men’s hockey team, who face a huge task this week with games at No. 3 Notre Dame on Friday and Saturday.

Sucese scored a pair of goals Friday night during a 7-0 win at Mercyhurst, and is tied for the team lead with three scores this season. Biro and Folkes have posted two assists apiece.

“They buzzed around,” coach Guy Gadowsky said Monday at his weekly media session about Friday’s win. “They could have easily had five goals.”

Both Folkes and Biro had some near-misses Friday, including a couple of Folkes’ shots hitting goalposts.

Gadowsky and his staff had a lot of discussions about teaming the trio together — and still do. The freshmen all showed their talent playing junior hockey, but facing veteran teams can have its pitfalls.

“It speaks to their talent, for sure,” Gadowsky said. “That’s a tough thing to do and we recognize that.”

While they are all young, the trio is relying on each other, sticking together off the ice and building their chemistry.

“It’s helped us out a lot,” Sucese said. “We’re all going through it together. We’re all kind of similar players, and we all love to kind of use our speed and our skill down low and be next to each other for support.”

While it is rare that a line stays together for an entire season, Gadowsky and the Nittany Lions (2-1) hope the early-season magic continues for the trio.

“It makes me feel old seeing those guys buzz around,” senior forward Ricky DeRosa joked. “They’ve been doing great. They’ve really come in, just an open mind, and they all bring something to the table.”

Playing to perfection

It’s way to early to consider it a decent sample size, but Penn State’s special teams are off to a good start.

The Nittany Lions are No. 1 in the nation in penalty killing, stuffing all 15 of their opponents’ chances this season. They share the top spot among the nation’s 60 Division I programs with Rensselaer and Bemidji State.

While the numbers are nice to see, Gadowsky said credit goes more to the discipline of the entire team than to the skill of the penalty-killing units. The Nittany Lions rank 46th — in this case the higher the ranking the better — by taking only 17 total penalties for 34 minutes. Only St. Cloud State (4), Minnesota (11) and No. 1 North Dakota (16) have taken fewer among teams that have played multiple games.

It’s more impressive because officials around the country have been directed, according to Gadowsky, to more strongly enforce some rules like holding and hooking.

“The No. 1 credit for no power play goals has to be to our overall discipline,” Gadowsky said. “Not to the fact that our PK is that much different.”

Penn State’s power play unit, by the way, is also doing well, converting on 20.8 percent of its chances (5 of 24) to rank 10th in the nation.

Notre Dame is seventh in the power play (27 percent) and 13th in killing penalties (91.3 percent).

Getting to know you

The Fighting Irish and Nittany Lions faced off twice last season, splitting their games at Pegula Ice Arena, in what was supposed to be a four-year contract. The deal will be cut short, but there will be plenty of meetings in the future with Notre Dame joining the Big Ten as an affiliate member for hockey starting next season.

“We’ll get to see them a lot in the future,” sophomore forward Chase Berger said. “I have a couple buddies on the team, I know a lot of guys do. That’s always fun. I think it will definitely amp the rivalry up.”

The Fighting Irish (3-1) are coming off a split last weekend at No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth and made the NCAA’s 16-team field last season, losing in the first round to Michigan.

“They’re a great program whether they’re coming into the Big Ten or not,” Gadowsky said. “Because you know that soon they’re going to be coming in the league, it adds a little bit (to this weekend). I’m sure it’s (the arena is) going to be rocking a little bit.”

Gordon Brunskill: 814-231-4608, @GordonCDT