When Penn State star winger Denis Smirnov was forced to miss game action with an illness three weeks ago, freshman Sam Sternschein was tasked with filling in alongside Smirnov’s linemates — sophomores Brandon Biro and Nate Sucese.
In his eight games this season, Smirnov found chemistry with Biro and Sucese to create a dynamic scoring line. Smirnov played on center Nate Sucese’s left flank and Biro was deployed on the right to create a line that head coach Guy Gadowsky considered to be his top forward group.
“I thought our top line was Nate Sucese with Brandon Biro and Denis Smirnov,” Gadowsky said. “They were our best line until Denis’ illness. We’re gonna put that line back together [against No. 11 Ohio State this weekend].”
He slotted Sam Sternschein on the right wing of the line when Smirnov was injured, forcing Biro to shift to the left wing. Biro has mostly played right wing during his Penn State career, so the move found the Canadian in unfamiliar territory. The move accomodated Sternschein, a 20-goal scorer in the USHL last season, and allowed him to play on his strong side.
Sternschein excelled in his new role alongside two of Penn State’s better forwards. During his six-game cameo, he scored three goals and added two assists, including his first collegiate goal during a 7-0 smashing of Arizona State in the desert.
Now that Smirnov will to return to action this weekend against No. 11 Ohio State, it appears that Guy Gadowsky is happy to keep the Syosset, NY, native in the lineup heading into an important series.
“Sam Sternschein absolutely did what he had to do to make a case for him to be in the lineup every night,” Gadowsky said. “Now it’s just a matter of slotting him into a spot where he can find synergy with somebody else.”
Sternschein himself was happy with the performance with Biro and Sucese, who are roommates off the ice.
“I’ve been playing well,” the freshman said. “We’re obviously really excited to get Denis back, but I’m happy with the way my game has been going.”
In his first consistent stretch of action, Sternschein noted the massive difference between college hockey and the USHL, which is the United States’ top junior hockey league.
“The guys [I play against] are bigger and stronger here,” he said. “The game’s a little faster, but after a few games you get used to it. I feel pretty good now and just have to keep playing my game.”
Sternschein and the Nittany Lions will kick off a weekend series against No. 11 Ohio State on Friday night in Columbus. Puck drop is at 7 p.m. on Friday while Saturday’s game gets underway at 4 p.m.