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Denis Smirnov’s Unwavering Commitment to Penn State Hockey

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

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

Keep the Lots Clean

A note to Penn State football fans: If you’re going to tailgate on Saturday, or anytime this fall, don’t let this happen:

Those images come from the Centre County Recycling & Refuse Authority, which has the important-but-unenviable task of cleaning up the tailgating lots around Beaver Stadium on Sundays. The issue? Too many tailgaters are putting the wrong items in the wrong bags during football weekends. The clear bags are meant for trash, while the blue bags are meant for recyclable materials—namely plastic, glass, and metal.

However, as Amy Schirf, the Authory’s education coordinator, told StateCollege.com, “Many of the blue bags designated for recycling will also contain food, liquid, diapers, bags of dog feces, purses, bags, plastic wrap.” And that’s only accounting for the stuff that makes it into bags in the first place.

This particular mess was left after Penn State football took down Georgia State.

So, a friendly reminder: Throw your trash away, and of course, make sure you’re always using the right bag.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

September 29, 2017 at 3:21 pm Leave a comment

The Family Business

Photo via Hoffman United

A pair of Penn State students are using their entrepreneurial spirit to try to revitalize their hometown.

Erie natives Paul and Christine Hoffman, sophomores who are two-thirds of a set of Penn State triplets, formed the group Hoffman United in 2014. As the duo told GoErie.com, Hoffman United is a real estate development, construction and property management company that seeks to help cities by “redeveloping areas to make long-lasting impacts.”

Namely, Hoffman United buys neglected real estate and renovates the buildings to turn them into apartment complexes. Paul, the company’s president (who got his start in business mowing neighbors’ lawns at age 12) and Christine, its vice president, purchased their first property in 2016, for $69,000, and plan to own more than 100 by the end of 2017.

Christie told Erie.com that her motivation in all of this is to help their local community. Paul echoed this sentiment, saying “We believe every neighborhood can be transformed.”

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

September 22, 2017 at 10:25 am Leave a comment

It’s Good to Be the King

Don Roy King’s already-packed trophy case added another Emmy on Sunday night. King ’69, a 2016 recipient of Penn State’s Distinguished Alumni Award, won the Emmy for Outstanding Directing for a Variety Series for his work on the April 15, 2017 episode of Saturday Night Live, the first in the program’s history that aired live in all four major American time zones.

After receiving his seventh Emmy since becoming the director of the long-running show, King took one question from the press about comedy’s place in America’s “fraught political climate.” Saying that he’s always been “proud of the show,” King said that the 42nd season of Saturday Night Live “felt different, more important” and that it mixed “holding people accountable” with “doing some healing.”

Bill Difilippo, online editor

September 18, 2017 at 3:06 pm 1 comment

Aurelia Meijer Is a Breath of Fresh Air for Penn State Field Hockey

Photo via Cardoni

When Aurelia Meijer came to Penn State in the fall of 2015, it wasn’t just her first time on a college campus. It was her first time ever stepping foot in the United States.

Meijer, a standout midfielder/forward on the Nittany Lion field hockey team, holds the distinction of being the first foreign-born player in program history. Born in South Africa, Meijer has lived in the Netherlands since she was 4.

It was not long after that Meijer started playing field hockey. She picked up the game after watching her father play in the country’s highest men’s league and her grandfather play for the national team in the Netherlands. The Meijers even have a turf next to their house in the Dutch municipality of Hattem, where you can watch the family play and work on their skills.

Basically, field hockey—in addition to being part of the cultural identity of the Netherlands—has been a constant presence in Meijer’s life from the time she was a child.

So it only makes sense that Meijer is really good at the sport. When she was 15, (more…)

August 24, 2017 at 5:04 pm Leave a comment

Joe Kovacs’ Silver Leads the Way for Penn Staters in London

The first weekend of competition at the IAAF Track & Field World Championships in London was kind to a trio of Penn Staters. Joe Kovacs ’11, Darrell Hill ’15, and current Nittany Lion Isaiah Harris all made it to at least the semifinals of their events, with Kovacs taking home a silver medal for his performance in the shot put.

Kovacs, who won gold at 2015 world championships, was the top American in the event with a 21.66-meter throw en route to the silver. While his final throw would have narrowly won him the gold, Kovacs was flagged for a foul. The infraction was reviewed, the call was upheld, and Kovacs took to social media to address the decision.

Thank you for all the support! Proud to go down swinging with a winning distance on the last throw. A foul is a foul. Congrats @tomwalshsp !

A post shared by Joe Kovacs (@joekovacsusa) on

Kovacs was joined in the shot put final by Hill, who came in 11th during his debut at the world championships with a throw of 20.79 meters.

Harris, our July/August 2017 featured athlete, made it to the semifinals of the 800 meters. The rising junior registered a time of 1:46.66, good for fourth in his heat and 17th overall. Also competing on the track was volunteer assistant Eddie Lovett, who participated in the 110-meter hurdles and registered a time of 13.67 seconds.

There’s still one more Penn Stater who is slated to compete at the world championships: rising junior Keianna Albury will run in the 4×100 meter relay for the Bahamas on Aug. 12.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

August 9, 2017 at 4:46 pm Leave a comment

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