Posts filed under ‘From the Magazine’

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

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

Inside Our September/October 2017 Issue

Since she was young, Zena Cardman has wanted to explore—to become a novelist, to venture out into the great outdoors. A high school interest in science led her down the path of more intellectual exploration. As an undergrad at North Carolina—where she earned a biology degree and minored in marine sciences, creative writing, and chemistry, with an honors thesis in poetry to boot—something clicked, and she realized science wasn’t just in the lab, but also out in the field. Research has taken her from the Gulf of Mexico to British Columbia, Antarctica, and now, Penn State, where she’s a Ph.D. candidate.

Next stop: outer space. As a member of NASA’s 2017 astronaut class, Cardman will train for missions beyond our own atmosphere and perhaps even into those of other planets, namely Mars. Meet Penn State’s newest astronaut—she would become the fifth alum to hold such a distinction—in our Sept./Oct. 2017 issue, which should begin arriving in mailboxes this week.

The new issue also includes an interview with Ben Locke,  director of Penn State’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). “Coping Skills & Growing Pains” explains how the campus counseling center is helping today’s college students navigate anxieties and pressures unlike those of previous generations. And: How did a Penn Stater and OB/GYN by training step in to deliver a baby gorilla? Read her story in “It’s a Boy!”

Plus, learn about the former Golden Gloves winner and Penn State’s only professional boxing champion; go beyond the bleachers and into the structure and history of Penn State football’s iconic home with a crash course on Beaver Stadium; and see how this year’s senior class is looking to break tradition with three separate gifts.

What do you think about the new issue? Let us know by commenting below or emailing us at heypennstater@psu.edu.

B.J. Reyes, associate editor

August 23, 2017 at 7:04 pm Leave a comment

Nittany Lions in the Great War

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Our July/August 2017 issue has a short piece on the Penn State All-Sports Museum’s current exhibit on university athletes who fought in World War I. “Field to Front: Nittany Lions at War, 1917–1919” is a fascinating exhibit of mementos, photos, letters, cards, pins, flags, and other assorted memorabilia from the approximately 210 students who served in the Great War. Of those 210 young men, roughly 75 to 80 were sent overseas, and eight died.

The project was spearheaded by museum director Ken Hickman ’98, who spent the last year and a half researching and collecting the pieces for the exhibit, located in the temporary exhibition space. Hickman’s research process started with a book, Penn State in the World War, which was compiled after the conflict.

The book’s authors surveyed alumni and faculty in the years after the war to put together a collection of bios on all Penn Staters who served. For this project, Hickman and a small staff compiled a list of athletes and proceeded to work backward, tracing their genealogy forward to current living relatives. It was then a process of sending out surveys, contacting people, and trying to flesh out what information they could and couldn’t trust.

The result? “We did much better than I expected,” says Hickman. (more…)

July 12, 2017 at 10:59 am Leave a comment

Inside Our July/August 2017 Issue

When Harry Swimmer ’51 started a therapeutic horse riding program for special needs children at his North Carolina farm 23 years ago, the staff consisted of, essentially, just him and his horses. There was one rider, a 7-year-old girl with cerebral palsy. He didn’t charge a dime. Today, there are some 200 volunteers, 69 riders, and 26 horses on Swimmer’s 83-acre Misty Meadows farm. And to this day, he has never charged any money for the services.

That altruistic approach to service earned him recognition as one of CNN’s Heroes in a ceremony last year, and landed him on the cover this month’s issue of The Penn Stater, arriving in mailboxes soon. In “A Farm Full of Hope,” we visit Misty Meadows to see how Swimmer has kept up with the needs of the kids and the community, as well as his reaction to the CNN tribute.

The new issue also gives you a look into how last year’s Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl berth turned many skeptics into believers of James Franklin and his approach to building the football program, in a profile called “Unite and Conquer.” Additionally, we talk to retiring American Studies professor Simon Bronner, whose office is filled with items from the cultures and communities he has studied in “A Folklorist at Work.”

Plus we’ll tell you what the $30 million gift from Hollywood producer Donald P. Bellisario ’61 means for the College of Communications, take you inside a class that looks at the stereotypes of “good” vs. “bad” moms in literature, and look back at a historic Big Ten championship for men’s track and field.

What do you think about the new issue? Let us know by commenting below or emailing us at heypennstater@psu.edu.

B.J. Reyes, associate editor

June 26, 2017 at 4:54 pm 1 comment

Isaiah Harris Is Still Learning How Fast He Might Be

Photo via Cardoni

Isaiah Harris is really, really fast. This is kind of obvious: You’d assume that runners who receive Division I track scholarships can run much faster than the average person.

But in Harris’ case, his speed is almost unrivaled. On Jan. 28, 2017, the sophomore star lined up for the 600 meters at the Penn State National Open. Competing next to his friend, professional runner Casimir Loxsom ’13, Harris threw down the second-fastest time in the event ever.

The previous world record for the race, which was set eight days prior, was 1:14:97. Loxsom finished the race in 1:14:91, while Harris ran a 1:14.96. This was all in the plan for the pair, as Loxsom had mentioned to Harris prior to the event that he planned on breaking the record.

Harris had beaten Loxsom a few times in the past, so he had a strategy. He wanted to get on Loxsom’s shoulder, hang there, and try to beat him down the race’s home stretch. That didn’t quite happen, but he came about as close as humanly possible.

This was the latest big moment for Harris during his wildly successful collegiate career so far. The Gatorade Player of the Year for track in his home state of Maine as a high school senior, Harris is a middle-distance runner whose specialty is the 800 meters.

Since joining the Nittany Lions, he is 4-for-4 on Big Ten champions in the 800—he won the indoor and outdoor titles as a freshman and successfully defended his titles as a sophomore. Harris has also made it to the NCAA Championships in the 800 meters twice, coming in fourth in 2016 and second in 2017.

In addition to all of that, Harris nearly topped his freshman year off with a trip to Rio for the 2016 Olympics in the race. The top three made the team, and competing at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Eugene, Ore., Harris came in sixth place. Afterward, Penn State track coach John Gondak told Harris that he never had an athlete make it that far.

“Going into it I didn’t have too high of expectations for myself,” Harris says. “Not saying that I was just happy to be there, but I didn’t really know what I was capable of. I kind of just went in and felt I had nothing to lose and just went through the rounds. By the time I made it to the finals, I wasn’t super nervous because I was like ‘No matter how I finish, it’s a pretty big accomplishment making this far, there’s nothing to lose.'”

It’s been a relatively fast ascent for Harris, whose track career began when he was a high school sophomore. He ran when he was in elementary school for fun but decided to give that up to play baseball in middle school.

Photo via Cardoni

During his sophomore year, his godfather bribed him to give up football—the sport he played in the fall—for cross country and track. While he mainly did the former because he enjoyed the success the team had, and because it got him in shape for basketball, the sport he liked the most, Harris’ success on the track happened almost right away.

He made it to the state championship meet in his first year on the team, where he took home first place in the 800 with a time of 1:54:17. For reference, that time would have been good for 18th in the Big Ten this year. Harris did that as a high school sophomore.

Still, while he won a state championship, he didn’t quite know just how impressive that time was. He got a good idea after the meet, though, when he learned he informally got his first scholarship offer.

“The University of Maine coach talked to my high school coach and was like ‘I’ll offer this kid a full scholarship if he wants to come here,'” Harris says. “It was too early for the coaches to talk directly to me and he told my coach that. From that point I was like ‘Oh, I actually might be pretty good.'”

Fast forward a few years and Harris is among the fastest people on the planet. While he plans on getting his degree—an important goal for him, as he’d be the first college graduate in his immediate family—Harris has his sights set on winning an NCAA title in the 800, going pro, and seeing how far running can take him.

Next up is the U.S. Championships in Sacramento, which began on June 22. He made it through the preliminary rounds, coming in 15th with a qualifying time of 1:48:09. Harris will participate in the semifinals on Friday night, and if he makes it through to the finals, will compete on Sunday afternoon for a spot at the World Championships in London.

(Update: Harris officially came in second in the 800 meters with a time of 1:44:53. He will represent the United States in London this August.)

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

June 23, 2017 at 10:44 am 1 comment

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