Penn State fans have been treated to an electrifying freshman class, headlined by the all-freshman top line comprised of Brandon Biro, Liam Folkes, Blake Gober and Nate Sucese. The group has become one of the top producing lines for the Nittany Lions this season. The foursome will rotate into the game three at a time and the odd man out has been used to fill needs on other lines.
One person who may not be as thrilled by the group’s success is teammate Ricky DeRosa.
“It makes me feel a little old, going out there and seeing those guys buzz around,” DeRosa said on Monday.
While the prominence of the youngsters may illuminate DeRosa’s age, the senior out of Aston, Pa. will turn 25 in February, he has had fun watching the first-year players perform at a high level this season.
“They all love to contribute,” he said. “They’re all playing ‘Penn State hockey’ which is so fun to see.”
Having three freshman play together wasn’t in coach Guy Gadowsky’s preseason plans. It was more likely for them to be slotted along more experienced players to help adjust to collegiate hockey, an approach Gadowsky has taken with fellow rookies Denis Smirnov and Nikita Pavlychev this season.
But after seeing what each player had to offer in the Lions’ version of training camp, it only made sense for Gadowsky to put together the line.
“It certainly wasn’t something that we had planned, but just the way things had worked out, the three of them actually gravitated toward each other,” Gadowsky said following Penn State’s exhibition win over Queens (Ontario). “All three of them showed synergy with each other.”
The Lions have reaped the benefits since then. Sucese is tied for the team lead with three goals, while both Biro and Folkes have recorded two assists. Gober has also gotten on the score sheet with an empty-net goal in his first career game.
Two of Sucese’s tallies came in a 7-0 win over Mercyhurst on Friday. Gadowsky felt that line could have notched four or five goals with the number of chances it created.
“You never quite know when it’s going to click,” Gadowsky said. “But if that game was any indication, after that breakaway goal, Nate was a different player and he started creating things on his own. That line ended up looking really good.”
Despite the line’s success early in the season, Gadowsky expects there to be growing pains along the way as the group continues to adjust to collegiate hockey, but is confident the more experienced players will help them along the way.
While variables may arise, the all-freshman line is likely to stick together for a while, even after all four are no longer freshmen.
“Sometimes, good lines fit together like pieces of a puzzle and then sometimes guys with like thinking fit together and that’s sort of how they are,” Gadowsky said. “They’re all cerebral, they’re all quick.”
Penn State is set to take on No. 3 Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana this weekend. The Fighting Irish will be one of, if not the most, important non-conference series of the season for the Lions. Coming off a very satisfying series split with No. 12 St. Lawrence, any points gained on the road will be greatly appreciated. Notre Dame will join the Big Ten hockey conference for the 2017-2018.