Posts filed under ‘From the Magazine’

When Truckers Fight Trafficking

The Freeman Project House on the south side of Columbus, Ohio, looks like any other house. Yet it is distinct from the other homes on the street because it’s been set up to serve as a refuge for female survivors of human trafficking, as a place to help them get a fresh start in life.

The home—which will welcome its first residents this summer—was founded by Barbara Freeman, a survivor of trafficking and a great source of inspiration for Pearl Gluck’s latest movie, The Turn Out.

The feature-length film—which has its world premiere tomorrow at the Columbus International Film & Animation Festival—sheds light on human trafficking at truck stops across the U.S., a huge and underreported problem. Gluck, an assistant professor of film and media studies in the Bellisario College of Communications, fears it could only get worse going forward.

“Wherever you have drugs and addiction, everywhere that young people aren’t being given educational opportunities and where they lack stable environments, and wherever there is prostitution, there is trafficking,” she says. “Predators are everywhere— they’re looking at everyone and at vulnerabilities from homelessness to lack of love. They’re watching what your kids put on Instagram.”

Behind the Scenes Turn Out

Pearl Gluck (center) with actors on the set of The Turn Out

The Turn Out is told from the point of view of a trucker whose active role in a domestic sex trafficking ring rises up to haunt him when he engages with an underage victim. More often than not, victims of trafficking are transported across the country on trucks, but many people are not aware of the fact that truckers are also important players in the fight against trafficking, Gluck says.

“We like to point our fingers at truckers— but they’re on the road, they really see what’s going on, and I wanted people to know that many truckers are actually every day heroes in the fight against trafficking,” she says. “The organization Truckers Against Trafficking trains truckers to observe what’s going on when they’re on the road, to ask someone they think might be a trafficking victim how old they are and whether they’re where they are of their own volition, and to generally report any activity they find suspicious.”

For The Turn Out, Gluck interviewed truckers, lawyers, police officers and many others who are working to end trafficking. She also spoke to multiple survivors, who shared their painful stories with her.

“The trafficking network in this country is vast and it encompasses everything from intricate, nationwide networks run by gangs, to smaller networks that start in the home,” she says.

According to Polaris, the leading organization working against global trafficking, reports of human trafficking increase every year here in the U.S. In 2016, over 8,000 cases were reported, most of which were sex-trafficking cases of underage girls and boys. The average age of a child tricked into prostitution and trafficked is 13.

Gluck hopes more states will take a cue from Ohio and the work done by State Representative Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo), a strong voice in the fight against human trafficking for the past 15 years. Fedor is the architect of the 2014 End Demand Act that, among others, broadened Ohio’s definition of trafficking and increased the penalty of purchasing sex from a minor from a misdemeanor to a felony. She also hopes that more states will create CATCH Courts, which were started in 2009 by Judge Paul Herbert in Columbus as a way to provide victims of trafficking forced into prostitution with a path of rehabilitation, recovery, and support.

The Turn Out is set to premier this week. Gluck has also written and directed Summer, a short film about two teenage girls at a Hassidic Jewish sleep-a-way camp, which premiered earlier this year at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s New York Jewish Film Festival; and Where is Joel Baum?, starring veteran actress Lynn Cohen. The movie won several awards, including best film at The Female Eye film festival.

Savita Iyer, senior editor

 

 

 

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March 22, 2018 at 1:17 pm 3 comments

In Tune with the State College Music Scene

The cover story for our March/April issue celebrates some of the alumni who have shaped the sound of State College nightlife for the past 30 years. You can read more about them below, and—assuming you can’t get to Zeno’s or the Phyrst this weekend—relive the sights and sounds of some of your favorites live on stage.

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Molly Countermine ’02g

Born in State College but raised in the South, Countermine never lost her connection to Happy Valley: Her parents, Terry Countermine ’73g and Sherry Corneal ’76, ’87, ’90g, were around for the founding of the Phyrst Phamly. She grew up playing music, first with her father and then in bands in college, then went to grad school at West Chester and “kind of put it on the back burner.” When she returned to her hometown in her late 20s, she was eager to get back into it.

“I think I was back two months when I joined the Phyrst Phamly,” she says. “Around that same time, I started teaching at Penn State.”

Today, it’s hard to say which gig Countermine — that’s her on our March/April cover — is better known for: Professor of Health and Human Development, or vocalist in some of downtown’s favorite bands. While teaching and eventually going back to school to get her PhD, Countermine established her own legacy on the local scene, as a member of both Pure Cane Sugar and Ted McCloskey & the Hi-Fi’s, as well as her own band, Maxwell Strait. She left Pure Cane Sugar in 2015—as a full-time professor and mother of three kids, the schedule simply became too much—but still plays regularly in town.

And each semester, she still teaches HDFS 129: Intro to Human Development to 600 undergrads, many of whom eventually end up dancing and singing along at her gigs.

“Every week, I get somebody at the Phyrst who was in my class when there were 18, and now they’re 21, and they’re like, ‘Oh my god!’ It’s fun,” she says. “I’m not just this distant teacher—I’m this person who is doing what I love to do outside of the classroom. I get a little bit of credibility because of that.”

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Mark Ross ’83

The son of a coal miner and musician from southwestern PA, Mark Ross grew up with twin loves: baseball and music. Baseball was the priority through his high school days, but around the time he headed to Penn State, he saw a trio of memorable shows in Pittsburgh: The Nighthawks, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and a hot young Texas guitarist named “Little” Stevie Vaughan. “I bought their records off the bandstand, took one of my dad’s old guitars, and taught myself to play off these records,” Ross says. “It was watching guys who were better than me, trying to mimic them.”

After cutting his teeth with a number of State College bands, Ross teamed up with Tonya Browne ’85 to form Queen Bee and the Blue Hornet Band. The combination of Browne’s powerful voice and Ross’s hot-shot guitar playing made the bluesy quintet one of the most popular bands in town through the late ’90s, and also led to gigs on international festival bills alongside the likes of B.B. King.

Today, Ross plays a mellower style with Miss Melanie & the Valley Rats, but he’s still an integral part of the local scene—and not just as a player. He also owns the State College music store Alley Cat Music, and designs custom guitars and amps as co-owner of PennTone. He’s also a former children’s music specialist at Penn State’s Child Development Lab, and has written and recorded his own children’s book and accompanying CD.

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Bill Filer ’76

He’s a rarity on the local scene: A guy who’s made a long career as a solo act. He was in a number of bands in his younger days, and has played countless side gigs, but it’s as a solo guitar-and-piano act, most memorably at the Allen Street Grill, that Filer has provided the sing-along soundtrack to countless nights on the town.

“I think some people look down their noses at people who do cover songs, but people want to come and have a good time. They don’t need my ego, and I’m OK with that,” Filer says. “I work hard, I’m always on time, and honestly I’m not the greatest musician, but I’m fairly gregarious. I just can’t express how lucky I’ve been.”

You can still catch him on Friday and Saturday nights at the Grill, but for local musicians, Filer’s real home base is his home studio, Audible Images, just outside of State College. That’s where he puts his broad musical knowledge and his electrical engineering degree to work. “I’ve recorded most of the folks in town at one time or another,” he says, “and I don’t think there’s an instrument I haven’t recorded.”

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Daryl Branford ’96

If you’ve seen a great bar band in State College anytime in the past 20 or so years, there’s a good chance you heard Branford laying down the beat. From his undergraduate bands Out of the Blue and Pluv to Sideshow Bob and Original Soul Project to his current gigs with Pure Cane Sugar and Ted McCloskey and the Hi-Fi’s, Branford has been the scene’s go-to drummer for nearly 25 years.

“I’ve always been determined to play music, and to try to earn a living playing music,” Branford says. “However successful things were, I always try to remember that I’m doing it because it’s my passion. There’s a lot of cool things that have happened independent of me—a lot of great musicians, a lot of great bands. I’ve been fortunate to be able to play with some really great people.”

Branford moonlights—or daylights, more accurately—as a design visualization specialist at Penn State’s Huck Institutes of Life Sciences.

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Ted McCloskey ’90

A bandmate of Branford’s in Sideshow Bob, Ted McCloskey is the most prolific songwriter on the scene: His most recent album, 2016’s Last Flower Standing, was his ninth since 2002. He’s also got a new record coming out this year with Countermine, who refers to him as her “musical husband.”

McCloskey’s band the Hi-Fi’s might just boast the most connective tissue on the scene: Both Countermine and Branford are part of the regular lineup, as is bassist Rene Witzke, who is both Countermine’s actual husband and a former member (with Mark Ross) of Queen Bee and the Blue Hornet Band.

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My Hero Zero

The kings of the current party scene, MHZ are paced by Jason Olcese ’06, who recorded an album for his undergraduate thesis in the Schreyer Honors College. Music has long been the focus for Olcese, aka “Jason O,” who says he left rural Northeast PA for State College because “with 40,000 students, there had to be somebody to play music with.”

He found those collaborators with My Hero Zero, whose lineup includes fellow alums Mike Lee ’95, Greg Folsom ’95, and Jordan Thompson ’13. Their trademark sound relies on uptempo covers that get—and keep—the crowd moving.

In addition to regular gigs at the Phyrst, downtown Champs, and the Jersey and Delaware beach scene, MHZ are also longtime favorites at THON. Olcese says that when the band first started playing their set in the packed BJC, “It was the most exciting thing we’d ever done, playing for that many people. But then we started getting to know some of the Four Diamonds families, and it shifted the focus from us to how we can make it all about the kids. The FTK thing really started to sink in.”

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Velveeta

The “Original Un-Originals,” proud purveyors of ’80s cheese, Velveeta seem to have mastered the obvious idea of building their act on rockin’ covers of fun, popular songs. It just so happens that the idea wasn’t all that obvious at the time. After forming as a grunge-inspired band called Broken, the band that would become Velveeta realized that playing originals would only get them so far in Central PA. So they figured they’d give it a go as a cover band—but with a twist.

“We decided to try this experiment to see if we could play these songs that nobody would touch—stuff that was considered very uncool at the time,” says bassist John Matthews ’94. “It was like fishing: You throw a certain type of bait out there and see if they bite.”

The bait was mostly 80s classics like “Come On Eileen” and “Jessie’s Girl,” songs that the band put through a “grunge filter,” as Matthews puts it, but stayed largely faithful to the originals. Within months, he says, most of the band members were able to quit their day jobs. “It exploded,” Matthews says. “It was a unique live music experience in those days. Nobody else was doing it.”

It’s proven to be an approach with staying power, as Velveeta remains a favorite in State College and pretty much anywhere Penn Stater congregate: In December, they traveled to Florida for a wedding of Penn State alums who hired and flew them down for the reception. Matthews and the rest of the band—Brent Martin ’93, Brian Kriley ’93, and John “Bones” Harper—were happy to oblige.

‘We never intended Velveeta to be serious content—hence the name,” he says. “We just wanted it to be fun.”

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Natalie Berrena Race ’06 ’08

She was used to performing in front of a crowd, but for most of her college days, that meant chasing a ball across artificial turf as a member—and eventual co-captain—of the Nittany Lion field hockey team. Natalie Berrena had always loved to sing, but hadn’t worked up the nerve to do it in front of an audience. It wasn’t until her senior year that a friend who knew her secret—and her talent—convinced the booker at The Brewery that she was a manager who repped an up-and-coming singer-songwriter looking for a local gig. “She went behind my back,” she says now. “Then she came to me and said, ‘I have you booked for a gig, and you’re doing it.'”

She did indeed, bringing a keyboard to play and sing through her very first set: “It was something I always wanted to do, I did it, and I loved it. Then I didn’t want to stop.” She hasn’t, playing with Pure Cane Sugar and her own band, Raven and the Wren, where she gets to showcase her original songs.

Like so many local musicians who came here for school—and in her case, a memorable run as a student-athlete—State College has proven a hard place to leave. “I’m so incredibly grateful that I get to do what I love and get paid for it,” she says, “in a community that really supports the arts.”

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Jeff Tomrell ’06

For Go Go Gadjet, the goal has always been getting the crowd moving. That’s just fine with Jeff Tomrell, whose background as a party DJ helps keep him focused on that goal. “When we started in ’05-06, our set was all current pop songs mixed with ’90s throwbacks, and we built our sets so that the music didn’t stop once, one song running into the next,” he says. “We wanted to be as close to a DJ set as we could.”

That commitment to non-stop energy remains even as Tomrell and his band mates have fine-tuned their approach over the years, mixing in some originals with punched-up covers of popular hits, like their recent version of the iconic early 2000s hit “Drops of Jupiter.” And while they play most of their shows these days outside of State College, their hearts are still in Happy Valley—as is (at least) one very memorable gig each year. Earlier this month, they played THON for the 11th time, including their ninth in the coveted closing spot.

“Year after year, we get to see some of these same families, and some of them come out to clubs we play in their area,” Tomrell says. “We’re trying to deliver this experience to these people who have this insanely difficult life, and now that some of us have children of our own… it’s our most important show.”

Ryan Jones, deputy editor

February 26, 2018 at 6:47 pm 1 comment

Love at Penn State

JF18_LoveLetters_small.pngWe received so many wonderful emails and letters in response to our call for your Penn State love stories, that it was very hard to choose which ones to run in our January/February issue.  So we decided we’d share some more of your stories online. And what better time to do that on Valentine’s Day? Happy Valentine’s Day from the Penn Stater!

Lion Lover

My desk in the Sigma Phi Alpha fraternity house was in a bay window facing a woman’s rooming house. Three coeds raised their window, and motioned for me to raise mine.  They asked what was gaping at them from my desk.  I told them I was the Nittany Lion and kept the head there to keep track of them.  I asked one of the girls if she would meet me at a house party the following Saturday. But just as the girls were coming in, the lights went out. Not knowing which girl I’d invited, I gravitated to the tallest girl silhouetted in the dim light from the street.  It was her and we danced the evening away. We got engaged on December 11, 1944, married on June 23, 1945 while I was in the navy, and enjoyed 67 years of a happy marriage.  Bob Ritzmann ’44, ’46 Sci, State College

 

This Girl, not That One

I didn’t realize, until I picked her up, that the girl who answered the phone when I called for a date was not the one I met at a square dance the week before, but her roommate. Lorraine Hershey had a nice smile, though, and a wonderful warm personality. I took her to a Friday night dance at my fraternity and I remember a warm, good night kiss on soft lips. We soon became inseparable and were married after she graduated in 1965. Bob Ferguson ’64 Agr, Memphis, Tenn.

 

Three Credits and a Wife

Burch and I both signed up for a spring break tourism class that took place over a week in Jamaica.  We fell in love on the beaches and have now been married for 21 years.  Burch likes to say that he really benefited from that tourism class – he got three credits and a wife! Jennifer Wilkes ’94 H&HD, State College

 

Move-in day Meetup-to-Marriage

We met on move-in day. We quickly became friends and ended up going out a few times, but we thought it was best to focus on our studies instead. Years later, unbeknownst to either of us, we both ended up in New York City.  A cousin of mine (who was also a friend of Candace’s from Penn State) reached out to her on Facebook to let her know that we were both now living in the same city and that we should meet up sometime.  After some initial trepidation, we agreed it would be good to catch up. Three years later, we were married. Philippe Rouchon ’05 Sci, Washington, D.C.

 

Bonding over Bagels

During freshman year, I attended Hillel’s “Jewish Speed Dating.” The bagel store was full of guys but one of them, Craig, saw me and it was love at first sight (no joke, ask him). Most people would have said it was “beshert,” the Yiddish word for “meant to be.” Not quite. Craig reached out to me on Facebook, but I forgot to answer. Five months later, we ran into each other on Beaver Avenue during Arts Fest and then at a fraternity party. Eight years later, we got married. It was “beshert” after all. Wendy Cukierman ’12 Edu, Matawan, N.J.

 

In Sickness and in Health
Steve and I met our very first day as freshmen at the Fishbowl Dance in the Pollock Quad.  We became very good friends and hung out all of the time.  We gradually fell in love and a few years later, got married and started a family.  We lost our first two babies:  Kendall was stillborn and Matthew died when he was 16 days old.  We were blessed with our son Daniel in 2001 and in 2005, we adopted our beautiful daughter, Alaina, from Guatemala.  Our love has endured through the best of times as well as the worst. Alisa Kulchinsky Muir ’90 Bus, Florence, S.C.

 

A Near Miss

He suggested we meet to the right of the stadium at the SUV with the orange cone on the roof at the Penn State/Ohio State game on October 29, 1994. We didn’t realize, though, that a lot of tailgaters use orange cones to mark their locations, and we didn’t consider which view of the stadium we were thinking of when we said to meet at “the right.” My best friend and I walked through the different lots and as we approached each orange cone, my heart sank. We didn’t find him. After a consolation dinner with my girlfriend at The Corner Room, I went upstairs to use the ladies room. When I came out, there he was. Fate, good timing and an amazing coincidence brought us together again. That night, we exchanged phone numbers. We haven’t parted since and recently celebrated our 20th anniversary. Erica Fetner Keagy ’95 H&HD, Ardmore, Pa.

 

A Tall Tale

I met the love of my life, René Susan Albrecht, in Waring Dining Hall during Spring Term 1975, and we have one Richard Bartlett to thank for that. René was a 6’ 2” volley baller, and I had a soccer scholarship.  She was in McKee Hall, the graduate dorm, and I was in Irvin Hall, both part of the Waring Quad. Simply put, since I was a reputed “leg man” it was inevitable.  As Rich was a friend in common, and he sometimes shared a table with René, I prevailed upon him for an introduction.  René and I have been sharing bliss now for four decades. Timothy Quentin Unger ’76 Lib, Healdsburg, Calif.

 

Chemical Reaction

My Chem 101 group project in Abington had that inevitable member who didn’t show up for most of our sessions. She had invited one Alen Chao to join our group without telling the rest of us, and we didn’t know he’d actually worked on her portion of the project. When Alen’s name popped up in my packet of peer evaluations, I gave him a negative evaluation: “I have no idea who Alen Chao is and he does not deserve any credit for this project.” Alen saw the evaluations and introduced himself to the group. He and I collaborated, in person, for the next group project and it turned out we had good chemistry. We started dating by the end of the semester and got married in June 2015. Erin Chao’07 Abgt, Stafford, Va.

 

Sweet Spot

I was sure that the guy sitting in front of me knew the answer to the last question on the biochemistry exam paper that I didn’t know. He sat there, relaxed with his chair perched back and arms folded, occasionally adjusting his glasses. Awed by his confidence, I tapped him on the shoulder, which led to a little science talk and a three-year friendship. One humid Fourth of July, while watching the fireworks on the lawn of the Hershey Medical Center, he asked me out on our first date. We’re married now. I’ll never know if I got that question right on my first graduate school exam, but I will always be grateful for it because it led me to my future husband and a lifetime of happiness. Now I know why they call Hershey “The Sweetest Place on Earth.” Christine Sibinski ’15 Hershey, Cockeysville, Md.

 

Lost and Found

At the beginning of my sophomore year, a classmate invited me to a party at his fraternity house. That night, I danced with a guy named Lew. I gave him my number.  He never called, and though I wasn’t surprised, I never forgot him. As seasons and semesters passed, I occasionally steered my friends to that frat, always with a remote and secret hope that he might be there.  And, then, about a year later, he was! Without a moment of thought, I approached him with “I know you.  You’re Lew.  L.E.W.” Surprisingly, he didn’t run away.  And this time, he even called me back.  Turns out, he lost my number the first time around and had been looking for me too. Six years later, we were back at Penn State—this time to get married. Liz Gorman ’07 EMS, Clearwater, Fla.

 

 

 

February 14, 2018 at 10:34 am 1 comment

Inside Our January/February Issue

The turn of the calendar always brings some changes, and the Penn Stater is no exception. When you get our January/February issue, you’ll notice the difference right away, with a smaller page size, new binding, and a new font for our tighter magazine name (notice the missing “The” in “Penn Stater”). You’ll also see a beefed up and, we hope, livelier “Pulse” section, and some big photography spreads. The changes in formatting and content extend throughout the magazine, but we hope that the quality of writing and the selection of articles is everything you’ve come to expect from the Penn Stater magazine. Let us know what you think of the changes at heypennstater@psu.edu.

As far as what you’ll find in the issue, the cover story details the complicated legacy of Harry Anslinger. Although you may have never heard of his name, his imprint on 20th century American culture is hard to mistake. Anslinger 1915 was the first head of the forerunner to today’s Drug Enforcement Administration, the father of the drug war who battled cannabis culture and also took on organized crime. Michael Weinreb ’94 details his story.

Elsewhere in the issue, you’ll find tales of love on campus. We asked for your stories of how it happened for you while you were here and what we got back were tales that were heartwarming, tender, funny, sweet, happy, and sad. And you’ll hear from Steven Levy ’74g, one of the nation’s top tech journalists, who discusses the promises—and perils—of today’s internet world.

You’ll also find out why there’s an air traffic control tower (or not) atop Deike Building, get the original story of the iconic Comic Swap store downtown, and learn what former Nittany Lion basketball star Calvin Booth ’98 is up to in the NBA.

Our Jan./Feb. 2018 issue should be arriving in mailboxes soon. Let us know what you think at heypennstater@psu.edu.

B.J. Reyes, associate editor

December 21, 2017 at 10:15 am Leave a comment

One of “The Fellas” Who Made an Unlikely Mark

The January/February issue of the Penn Stater includes a short obituary of Kevin Cadle ’77, a former Nittany Lion basketball player who went on to unlikely fame in the UK as both a successful coach, and, later, the TV face of American football and basketball in Britain. Cadle, who died in October, left an impressive legacy on both sides of the Atlantic. This video put together by Sky Sports gives a sense of how much he’ll be missed by friends and fans alike.

We learned of Cadle’s passing from Darryl Anderson ’00, his longtime friend and former teammate. Anderson wrote the remembrance below, which we’re happy to share here:

The last time we were in State College together it was a hot summer day in 2016. We just had lunch with the “Fellas,” a group of college friends/former teammates, and “Coach” Don Ferrell, organized by Kevin Cadle. Kevin and I decided to run down to College Avenue and buy some Penn State gear, at the behest of our wives who had decided that we literally wore our Penn State t-shirts, sweat pants etc. until they were threadbare, and it was time to upgrade our wardrobe.

As I started the car, Kevin asked me not to turn on the A/C but to roll down the window, indicating that the weather in London (his adopted city for the last four decades) was so often chilly that he loved the chance for some summer heat, prompting a rather profane comment from me. But it emphasized his Buffalo roots vs his London celebrity lifestyle, and resulted in a big smile and mutual chuckle as we proceeded on our mission. He never forgot where he came from or those that he met along the way. It centered him.

Kevin Cadle was an absolute success in his craft. He graduated from Penn State and got a master’s in education from Texas A&M. He was a broadcaster for Sky Sports, presenter for the NFL in Europe for 16 years, and professional basketball coach for 18 years, with 27 titles and eight coach of the year awards. He was the 1992 UK Olympic qualifying coach. He wrote an autobiography, “The Cadle Will Rock.”

He was a father, son, husband, businessman, mentor, world traveler and friend. A Renaissance man with the savvy of an inner city/urban black kid, blended with the formal education, life exposure and experiences that four years in State College provides. He had the mixture of honesty with a great sense of humor, empathy with passion. Tom Doaty ’77, a backcourt teammate, emphasized Kevin’s honesty and directness: “You may not want to hear what he had to say but you knew he was telling you the truth.”

He understood the struggle of African-Americans and was proud of his heritage. He emphasized what hard work and discipline can do to move us all forward, regardless of our socioeconomic beginnings, our race or ethnicity. He did not accept “half stepping” from anyone—his email signature ended with “Never accept good over best.”

Our teammate Bobby Kinzer ’80 who also played for Kevin in Europe, gave me the news of Kevin’s passing. I did not cry until today writing this (then I wept like a baby) …. I will miss you my brother… the “fellas” know sports and educational opportunity introduced us…. Kevin Cadle kept us together.  “We Are”

Cadle, who lived in suburban London, died unexpectedly on October 15, 2017. He is survived by his wife Lorraine, daughter Toia and mother Loretta.

Ryan Jones, deputy editor

 

December 19, 2017 at 6:41 pm Leave a comment

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

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

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