A Blue-White Weigh-in

Illustration via Corrine Furjanic

Weigh-offs before a mixed martial arts fight have a reputation for lots of posturing, stare-downs and the occasional scuffle. School spirit, not so much. But before his January 2012 fight against Rashad Evans, light heavyweight Phil Davis ’08 stepped on the scale wearing a Penn State singlet, the kind he would have worn as a four-time all-American and 2008 national champion for the Nittany Lions.

“It was a time where we needed a little morale,” said Davis during a promotional visit to Happy Valley ahead of the Bellator MMA promotion’s debut in the Bryce Jordan Center. Davis, along with three-time national champion Ed Ruth ’14, will be fighting Nov. 3 on a Spike-televised event from the same arena that would be packed to the rafters when they wrestled. As he prepares for a homecoming in the cage, the time seems right to bring the singlet back. “I might have to get a hold of one of those fatigue ones, man. That was sick,” says Davis, referring to the blue and white digi camo singlet that makes occasional appearances on the mat. “We’ll have to talk to somebody.”

The light heavyweight, known for donning pink shorts in the cage, said he appreciates the individualism afforded a fighter, mixing it with the team-first mentality of his college days. “Our values are that the basic blue and white, and uniformity is how we achieve together,” he said. “No names on the back. That’s who we are. Penn State, the wrestling singlet was unchanged for 100 years, and on our 100th-year anniversary we went from a blue singlet with white writing—get this, it’s going to get crazy—to a white singlet with blue writing. And that was living on the wild side. … I feel like I come to love and appreciate that mindset, and then take that forward with me into the world. But also, I think it’s fun to showcase my uniqueness and character a little bit. But not too much personality.”

There’s more on Davis and Ruth and their transition to the MMA cage in our Nov./Dec. 2017 issue, already arriving in mailboxes.

Bill Zimmerman, special to PennStaterMag.com

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October 26, 2017 at 2:33 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

Inside Our November/December 2017 Issue

You may have come from thousands of miles away, or from the nearest town over, but nothing quite compares to arriving on campus for the first time. Whether you were nervous to meet your roommate, excited to be on your own, or sad saying goodbye to family and friends, most of us probably remember that day.

We wanted to see what incoming students today thought of the experience, so we sent photographers to five Penn State campuses on arrival weekend to get up close with students—new and returning—and capture them in their element: suitcases, boxes, duffel bags, and lots of cheap plastic storage bins. The feature begins on p. 28.

Also inside, we take you back to a time of great transition and tension in the world, and particularly on campus, as the college transitioned into a military training camp during World War I. The story is told through the love letters between Norman Lake ’22 and Helen Gladys Keller, his then-girlfriend whom he would later marry. Their story begins on p. 40.

And you’ll meet David Titley ’80, a retired Navy admiral and atmospheric expert who has become a prominent voice on climate change as a national security threat.

Plus we’ll take you to the scene of the first away pregame tailgate, hosted by the Alumni Association, and introduce you to Denis Smirnov, the Russian hockey phenom who turned down the chance to play in a top Russian pro league and the NHL to play for the Nittany Lions.

Our Nov./Dec. 2017 issue should be arriving in mailboxes soon. Let us know what you think at heypennstater@psu.edu.

B.J. Reyes, associate editor

October 25, 2017 at 11:18 am 2 comments

Award-Winning Poet Hopkins Gifts Libraries His Private Collection

Photo via Ellysa Cahoy

Award-winning children’s poet and author Lee Bennett Hopkins recently informed the Penn State University Libraries that he would be giving them his entire personal collection of children’s poetry books, manuscripts, and correspondence.

A small portion of the valuable collection—boxes and boxes stored in Hopkins’ Cape Coral, Fla., home—has already been sent to the Special Collections Library at  University Park, and soon, Karla Schmit, interim head, Education Library and Director of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book, and Ellysa Cahoy, education and behavioral sciences librarian and assistant director for the Pennsylvania Center for the Book, will determine where to house the rest.

Hopkins’ private collection is valued at more than $2 million and comprises, among others, 18,000 children’s poetry books, as well as letters from Dr. Seuss. It’s a significant gift to the Penn State libraries, Schmit says, and will be a huge draw for scholars of children’s literature.

But the gift also cements (more…)

October 18, 2017 at 11:50 am Leave a comment

Barry Myers Tabbed to Lead NOAA

President Trump has nominated a Penn State alumnus to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Barry Myers ’67 Lib, CEO of State College-based AccuWeather, was tabbed by Trump on Wednesday to lead NOAA, the agency that oversees the National Weather Service, conducts weather and climate research, and monitors U.S. coast lines. His pick is a departure from previous NOAA nominees, who tend to come from scientific backgrounds, but in keeping with Trump’s preference for candidates from the business world.

Myers’ nomination is controversial to some: As The Washington Post reports, his role as head of a private business that uses National Weather Service data has inspired conflict of interest concerns, both among ex-NOAA staffers and the NWS employee union, which released a statement arguing that Myers would “be in a position to fundamentally alter the nature of weather services that NOAA provides the nation, to the benefit of his family-owned business.”

The nomination was greeted more warmly by the Weather Coalition, an advocacy group of which both AccuWeather and the Penn State Department of Meteorology are members. A Weather Coalition spokesman said Myers “brings a strong track record in growing one of the most successful companies in the weather industry.”

Ryan Jones, deputy editor

 

October 12, 2017 at 11:08 am 1 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

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