Freshman Denis Smirnov’s three-point game propelled the Penn State men’s hockey team past Niagara 5-1 Thursday night at Pegula Ice Arena.
The Nittany Lions (6-1-1) entered the night having not lost in their previous five games, and they continued to roll.
Penn State took an early 1-0 lead at the 2:35 mark of the first period and never looked back.
The goal was a result of transition offense, as the Nittany Lions attacked with a three-on-two advantage in the neutral zone. Senior Ricky DeRosa sped down the right wing and hit senior Zach Saar with a tape-to-tape pass as he deflected it past the Niagara goalie. It was Saar’s first shift of the season.
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“It’s great to suit up with the guys,” Saar said. “Goals are great but I don’t gage my success on that.”
Sophomore Andrew Sturtz extended the Nittany Lions’ lead to two with a tremendous individual effort just four minutes later. Sturtz flew past his defender on the left wing, swung right around the goalie, and passed the puck into the empty net mid-dive.
Penn State took the 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
Momentum shifted early in the second period, as Niagara forward Kris Spriggs scored to cut the Nittany Lions lead in half just five minutes into the period.
Penn State continued to outshoot Niagara (0-6-2) all game long with a staggering 56-25 margin. The Nittany Lions will face off against Niagara again Friday at 7 p.m.
Smirnov, who is currently seventh in the nation in points with 12, tallied two goals in the last four minutes of the period to give Penn State a 4-1 lead.
“I worked really hard this summer so when I came here it just made it easy playing with great teammates,” Smirnov said. “It’s hard not to get points when you are playing with those guys.”
On his second goal, Smirnov received a no look behind the back pass from junior Trevor Hamilton and roofed the puck right under the cross bar and over the goalie’s shoulder.
“Huge goal by Denis late in the second,” Nittany Lions coach Guy Gadowsky said. “We were pressing a little and making some mistakes and that made it 3-1.”
Senior Dylan Richard extended the Nittany Lions’ lead late in the third period, on a goal assisted by Smirnov.
Penn State received a solid performance from sophomore Chris Funkey, who notched his first win as a collegiate goaltender.
“I was thrilled to get the start tonight,” Funkey said. “It was an unbelievable experience and something that I’ll never forget.”