Known more for its football program (both good news and bad), the men's hockey team at Penn State have stolen some of the headlines away – at least through the first half of the 2016-17 NCAA Division 1 season.
The Nittany Lions puck squad have been the surprise club in college hockey as the team's gear up for play in 2017 and a run to the championship tournament, culminating with the Frozen Four in Chicago in April.
The Lions, which boasts a Canadian head coach and seven skaters from north of the border, head into the second half of the campaign with a 13-1-1 record and the only NCAA team with a winning percentage over .775 (they're at .900).
Penn State failed to make the NCAA tournament last season and are in just their fourth year of being eligible to play for the national crown. They finished a respectable third in the Big Ten conference last season with a 21-13-4-1 record.
The pollsters have also taken notice of their fast start as the Lions find themselves ranked third in the nation on most of the major polls behind the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (12-3-3) and the Denver Pioneers (12-3-3). Their highest ranking previously was 14th.
Edmonton, Alta. native Guy Gadowsky is in his fifth season as the bench boss at Penn State and in his 18th campaign as an NCAA coach. He has a record of 60-68-10 with the Lions and 233-266-47 overall.
He is joined on the team by three fellow Albertans, senior forward Dylan Richard and freshman forward Brandon Biro, both from Sherwood Park, Alta. along with junior forward James Robinson from Cochrane, Alta.
Richard is tied for third in team scoring with 14 points (5G, 9A) while Biro has six points (3G, 3A). Both played their junior hockey for the Spruce Grove Saints of the AJHL before heading to Penn State.
Robinson, who played junior for the Langley Rivermen of the BCHL, has a pair of counters in just nine starts.
Another import, freshman forward Denis Smirnov from Moscow, Russia leads all Penn scorers with 27 points (10G, 17A), tying him for the Penn State single-season record for a first year player. He is the leading scorer in the Big Ten, top freshman scorer in the NCAA and third overall in the nation.
The other Canadian forwards on the team are freshman Liam Folkes from Scarborough, Ont. (Brockville Braves of the CCHL) and freshman Sean Kohler from Oakville, Ont. (St. Michael's Buzzers of the OJHL). Folkes has seven points (2G, 5A) in 10 games while Kohler has dressed for just two games and has an assist.
The Lions also have two Canadian defencemen, freshman Kris Myllari (2G, 2A) from Kanata, Ont. (Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL) and sophomore Derian Hamilton (3A) from Port McNeill, B.C. (Powell River Kings of the BCHL).
The Nittany Lions kick off 2017 on Jan. 6 and 7 with a pair of road tilts against another team making noise this year the Ohio State Buckeyes (9-2-4).
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