One of the freshmen on the Penn State men’s hockey team stands above the rest, and his teammates are not fond of facing him in practice.
At 6-foot-7, Nikita Pavlychev has a rather long reach with his stick.
“It’s really hard to play against him in practice, I’ll tell you that,” captain David Goodwin said Monday at the team’s weekly session with the media. “His stick’s like a telephone poll. It’s kind of tough to get around him.”
“Even when you think you get around him,” assistant captain Ricky DeRosa added, “it’s just, no, there’s a stick, he’s got the puck somehow.”
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The freshman from Yaroslavl, Russa, by way of Wilkes-Barre, adds another dimension to this Nittany Lion team (9-1-1) that carries a nine-game unbeaten streak into games this weekend against Arizona State (2-9) at 7 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday at Pegula Ice Arena.
When parked in front of the net, he creates quite a screen to block opposing goalies. But it’s also unusual for someone his size to be on a forward line. Most end up as defensemen. He’s a good skater, passer and stick-handler.
He said he had been playing the position since he was quite young.
“I don’t think anyone knew I was going to be that tall,” Pavlychev said. “I was a little taller than most of the kids on my youth teams. I just had a year when I just went, what, three, four inches.”
“Six-seven,” the 5-10 Goodwin chimed in, “boom!”
The Nittany Lions added a new wrinkle to the lineup last weekend against Alaska-Anchorage by putting Pavlychev on the same line as 6-6 senior Zach Saar.
“It was just so much easier to play with someone like him,” Pavlychev said. “Another big guy. I’m pretty sure the two of us stand at the blue line, we’re going to cover the whole entire (line). I think we did pretty well together.”
Still rising: Penn State continued its climb up the national rankings, and are a top-10 team for the first time in program history. The Nittany Lions are No. 10 in the U.S. College Hockey Online weekly list, and No. 11 in the USA Today-USA Hockey Magazine poll. They dropped one spot to No. 3 in the PairWise rankings, which is not a poll but a mathematical ranking using the Rating Percentage Index (RPI), schedules and opponent records. They were No. 2 last week.
The Nittany Lions also rank second in offense (4.27 goals per game) and tied for fourth in defense (2.00).
The new kids: This weekend’s opponent, Arizona State, took over the honor of being Division I’s youngest program. The Sun Devils are in just their second season as a varsity team.
While comparisons seem natural, Nittany Lion players are more worried about getting two more wins this weekend.
“To us, in a lot of ways it’s just another weekend,” Goodwin said.
Sturtz watch: Top goal-scorer Andrew Sturtz (8 goals) missed last weekend with a “lower body injury,” coach Guy Gadowsky said Friday, but the coach said Monday the sophomore could be back in the lineup.
“I expect him to play,” Gadowsky said. “That’s what I’ve been told, but we have to wait until he practices (Tuesday).”
In net: Gadowsky said freshman goalie Peyton Jones, who has started all but one game this weekend, will be the starter Friday and Chris Funkey will be in goal Saturday. The sophomore has played in two games, starting one.
Robinson out: Junior James Robinson was a healthy scratch last weekend. Gadowsky had Robinson sit out Friday because of a hit from behind the previous weekend that drew a major penalty, but he remained out of the lineup Saturday. Gadowsky said he and his staff are going with what they feel is the best lineup for each game.
“He’ll be back in,” Gadowsky said. “I guarantee it.”