Denis Smirnov’s Unwavering Commitment to Penn State Hockey

October 26, 2017 at 11:33 am Leave a comment

Photo via Cardoni

Denis Smirnov is very good at hockey. Based on the fact that he has a scholarship to play in college and rewrote Penn State’s record book during his first year in Hockey Valley, this is fairly obvious. But even by those standards, Smirnov is the kind of hockey player who can suit up anywhere in the world. Don’t take our word for it—just ask the two professional teams that have drafted him over the last three years.

Smirnov, a native of Moscow, was drafted by HK Sochi in the first round of the 2014 Kontinental Hockey League Draft. (The KHL is Russia’s top professional hockey league and is considered the second-best league in the world behind only the NHL.)

Three years later, after completing perhaps the best individual season in Penn State’s (still young) hockey history, Smirnov was driving back to Happy Valley after flying from Russia to New York. He received a FaceTime call from his best friend back home, who let him know that he was just taken by the Colorado Avalanche in the sixth round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

At first, he didn’t believe it—Smirnov says that he’d joke with this particular friend all the time about eventually making it to the NHL, and he figured this was just another example of his friend pulling his leg, even as his friend was adamant that he would be “on the line with (Avalanche star and captain Gabriel) Landeskog.”

Eventually, he got a text from Nittany Lion teammate Erik Autio and a call from the Avalanche, who invited him out to development camp.

Smirnov has had the opportunity to play professionally twice, in the two best leagues in the world, and achieve a dream that every hockey player with professional aspirations strives for. He even says that, while he tries to focus on the present as much as possible, “every player’s dream, probably, is to play in the NHL.”

But despite the fact that he could have the opportunity to achieve that dream, Smirnov has decided to stick with Penn State.

Coming back after getting picked by the Avalanche—who will own his rights up until a few months after he graduates college—wasn’t a tough decision, as he sat down with the franchise and decided it was best for his development if he returned to State College.

His decision in 2014 was a little more difficult, as Smirnov was playing for the Indiana Ice of the USHL at that time. He was a Penn State commit, and ultimately decided that coming to Happy Valley was the best thing for him as a player.

Photo via Cardoni

“In the back of my mind, I always thought Penn State was the right place for me,” Smirnov recalls. “I decided to talk to family, and we all agreed on Penn State.”

Smirnov’s first year in Hockey Valley came after stints with lower-level teams in Wilkes-Barre, Indianapolis, and Fargo. During his freshman campaign in 2016-17, Smirnov led the nation in freshman scoring with 47 points, set program records in points and assists, and set the freshman program record with 19 goals. He also had a 10-game point streak to kick off his career, another program record.

This all happened during a historic season for Penn State hockey, in which the Lions won the Big Ten and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time. Smirnov remembers the moment he realized the team could be special—right after a series in South Bend against Notre Dame that featured a tie and a win in overtime—which led to a hot streak and, eventually, the first No. 1 ranking in program history.

He also remembers how the environment around the program changed once the team climbed the rankings. “It was exciting around the rink, it was a different environment when we were ranked first,” Smirnov says. “Everyone was happy, it was kind of distracting at first, and we probably deserved to be first because we played well. It was fun.”

Smirnov knows the team will get everyone’s best punch this year since they’re the reigning conference champions. He worked towards improving every aspect of his game during the offseason—unsurprisingly, he says he has more fun when the team is winning.

Through six games, Penn State is 3-3-0 on the year and Smirnov has accrued four goals and six assists. The Nittany Lions will take the ice for a two-game weekend series against Michigan this week, with the first game taking place at 7 p.m. on Friday night at Pegula.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

Advertisements

Entry filed under: Athletics, From the Magazine. Tags: , .

Inside Our November/December 2017 Issue A Blue-White Weigh-in

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


Follow The Penn Stater on Twitter

Enter your email address to follow us and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 425 other followers


%d bloggers like this: