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Shots On Goal
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Penn State sophomore goalie Chris Funkey waited for over a year to gain his first career start. It couldn’t have come at a better time.
Funkey has appeared in relief five times in his two seasons at Penn State, but hadn’t started a game for the Nittany Lions. He found out following the Lions’ second game versus Canisius that the wait would be over, he would start the first game of the series with Niagara.
By coincidence, Funkey’s family planned on travelling to State College for the No. 14 Lions’ series against the Purple Eagles.
“My mom, my dad and my sister had actually planned on coming up before I even knew I was getting the start, so it ended up working out,” Funkey said following the game.
Two and a half hours later, Funkey and the Lions emerged from the game victorious, earning his first collegiate win in a 5-1 decision over the Eagles.
“I was thrilled to get the start and I was really happy that the boys played unbelievable in front of me tonight,” he said. “It was really an unbelievable experience, something I definitely won’t forget.”
Funkey remained calm during the week in anticipation of his first start at the collegiate level, but admitted to some nerves before he suited up for the game. Those nerves were virtually nonexistent following the opening puck drop. The sophomore stopped 22 shots and made several key saves as the Eagles attempted a comeback midway through the contest.
Zach Saar opened the scoring for the Nittany Lions in a rather unconventional manner. The senior forward charged down the right wing boards before sending the puck in front of the goal. He was hoping for a lucky bounce or a redirection from linemate Ricky DeRosa.
Originally the goal was credited to DeRosa, but video review showed Saar got the lucky bounce he was hoping for, as the puck ricocheted in off a Niagara defenseman. The goal came in Saar’s first shift of the season, as he has spent the previous seven games as a healthy scratch.
“He’s been great through all of it,” coach Guy Gadowsky said of Saar following the game. “He should be proud of himself, for not only the game tonight, but what he’s done to get here.
“He played pretty calm, but I’m sure in his head he was probably a little more excited than he showed.”
Shortly after Saar’s tally, Andrew Sturtz doubled the lead for the Lions in a similar fashion.
Heading down the left wing boards, Sturtz cut hard to the front of the net, reaching his stick around Niagara goalie Therien to tuck the puck into the net for his team-leading sixth goal of the season.
The Eagles responded early in the second period as Kris Spriggs gathered a loose puck to the left of Funkey and slammed it into an open net.
With the Eagles pressing for the tying goal, Denis Smirnov took the opportunity to be the hero the Lions needed.
Smirnov notched his first goal of the game with a laser over Therien’s glove from the left circle. Just two minutes later, the freshman forward got his second of the night, jamming a rebound past Guillaume Therien’s left pad.
Gadowsky highlighted the importance of the timing of Smirnov’s tallies.
“We were pressing a little bit and making some mistakes, and it was a one-goal game and you could feel [the Eagles] were getting some confidence,” Gadowsky said. Smirnov’s goals halted the Eagles’ momentum, turning the tide of the game back in favor of the Lions.
Dylan Richard added a late goal, lifting the puck over a sprawled-out Therien with just over five minutes remaining in the third period. Smirnov picked up an assist on the goal, giving him three points in the game and extending his team leading total to 12, tying him for seventh in scoring in the nation. It also illustrated a trait that cannot be taught; unselfishness. Smirnov could have tossed a low-percentage shot on net, looking for this third goal of the night, but he found his teammate with a better chance and didn’t think twice.
Gadowsky has been impressed not only with Smirnov’s production, but with the overall play of that entire line, which also features team captain David Goodwin.
“[Smirnov]’s very skilled. Not too many guys can finish like him,” Gadowsky said. “But I think the line is really working. It was a great effort from the whole line, but when you get a guy that can finish like him, it’s pretty nice to watch.”
Smirnov tried to direct focus away from his own talents, instead praising his linemates for their role in his impressive production.
“Playing with such great teammates in [Goodwin] and Richard, they just make plays,” he said. “It’s hard not to get points with those guys.”
The two squads complete their series tomorrow night at 7 p.m.