|Senior forward Taylor Holstrom is second on the team with 23 points for Penn State after transferring from Mercyhurst University in 2011. (Photo by Mark Selders/PSU Athletic Communications) |
Penn State teammates Taylor Holstrom and Nate Jensen share a strong bond, almost brotherly, call it a bromance, which has grown during their five years together.
Beginning in Erie, Penn., where the two started their college hockey careers for Mercyhurst University, one decided to transfer at the end of his freshman year and the other decided he would follow. This decision brought Jensen and Holstrom to Happy Valley in 2011.
“When we both decided to leave Mercyhurst, we obviously talked to each other,” Jensen said. “I was actually leaving first and he decided he wanted to leave too. Penn State’s been a great fit for us.”
While Jensen, a native of Shorewood, Minn., had his heart set on Penn State, Holstrom wasn’t as easily convinced. At Mercyhurst, Holstrom scored nine goals and was third on the team with 33 points as a freshman. Going through the transfer process could have been perceived as a step back for the Yorba Linda, Calif., native.
“Our freshmen class was really close,” Holstrom said. “I had a lot of friends on the team and had a lot of personal success there. Nothing against Mercyhurst, it’s a great school and a great program, but I wanted that big time competition that the Big Ten was gonna offer and it was hard to leave because I had so many friends on the team but ultimately, I think I made the best decision.”
Nittany Lions for three seasons now, Holstrom is fourth in the Big Ten with 23 points through 18 games played this season while Jensen is a member of one of the most experienced defensive corps in the conference and adds one goal and four points from the blue line.
|A transfer from Mercyhurst University in 2011, redshirt senior Nate Jensen is one of the most experienced defensemen on a veteran Big Ten D-corps for Penn State. (Photo by Mark Selders/PSU Athletic Communications) |
After spending five seasons at two separate destinations together, the Penn State duo has developed a unique chemistry on the ice.
“I know when he does have the puck, I am very confident in his skating abilities and the fact that he’s going to make a play so I don’t necessarily have to overcompensate,” Holstrom said about Jensen. “I’m confident in his playing abilities.”
But their relationship isn’t limited to the ice rink. Like good teammates, the two are also roommates and have been for the duration of their time at Penn State. Like typical college roommates, Jensen said there have been pros and cons of being around each other for that long.
“He’s pretty stubborn, I’m not gonna lie,” Jensen said. “He thinks he’s right about everything so him and I get in some good arguing matches which are all good and fun.”
Born 23 days apart in May 1990, Holstrom and Jensen razz, harass, joke, laugh and share memories like siblings.
“When you’re with a guy for five years now, he’s like a brother,” Jensen said. “You’re obviously gonna have the good times and then you’re gonna argue about things too but we always make it up within a day. It’s awesome living with him.”
Sitting atop the Big Ten with a 5-2-1 conference record and 11-7-3 overall, the Nittany Lions are off to its strongest start to a season as the program is still in the adolescent stages. As seniors, Jensen and Holstrom will look to leave their marks in the Penn State history books during their final season in Happy Valley. Ranked nationally for the first time in December, the Nittany Lions need just three wins to set a new program-high for wins in a season.
No. 16 MICHIGAN (5-1-0, 13-7-0)
OVERVIEW: The Wolverines’ dominant performance over Ohio State produced a score that looked closer to a football game than a hockey game. Four first-period goals propelled the maize and blue to a 10-6 win as 13 different Wolverines chipped in on the scoring. In six Big Ten games, Michigan has recorded 39 goals leading the conference with an average of 6.5 goals per game and leads the nation at 4.15 per game for the season. Fueled by a surging power play, the Wolverines offense is running on all cylinders scoring a power-play goal in seven of the last eight games after going 2-for-4 against the Buckeyes. The power play is 13-for-28 (46.4 percent) during this span.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Since appearing in the World Junior Championships, sophomore Tyler Motte has returned to the Michigan lineup strong, recording three consecutive multi-point games. With two goals and an assist in Friday’s win over Ohio State, Motte picked up his fifth multi-point game of 2014-15 and surpassed his point total from his freshman season. The St. Clair, Mich., native is one of three Wolverines averaging a point per game and has picked up six of his 21 points on the power play in addition to two game-winning goals. A fourth-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013, the 5-foot-9 Motte scored two goals and an assist in four games against Wisconsin last season.
THIS WEEKEND: at Wisconsin, Jan. 23-24.
MICHIGAN STATE (1-3-2, 7-11-2)
OVERVIEW: Unable to record a win in a two-game series against Penn State, the Spartans went back-to-back Big Ten series without a win in consecutive seasons as Michigan State went through an 0-3-3 stretch through series with Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State last season. The Spartans held a lead in both games against the Nittany Lions but were unable to hold onto it, settling for a 2-2 tie on Friday and falling 5-2 in Saturday’s rematch. The offense has to find a way to produce as MSU hasn’t recorded more than two goals in a game since a 6-4 win over Clarkson on Dec. 14. Playing in East Lansing might aid the problem as the Spartans average 2.88 goals per game at Munn Ice Arena versus 1.83 away from home.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Junior Travis Walsh snapped a three-game pointless streak on Saturday with an assist on MSU’s go-ahead goal with 23 seconds left in the first period. That drought was the longest of the season for Walsh who tied a career-high 11 points with the assist. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Walsh leads Spartans defensemen in scoring and leads the team with nine assists and six power-play points. Generating offense from the blue line and having a source of secondary scoring may be just the spark that this Michigan State team needs to produce a much-needed increase in goal scoring.
THIS WEEKEND: vs. Ohio State, Jan. 23-24.
No. 17 MINNESOTA (2-2-2, 11-7-2)
OVERVIEW: The Gophers ended a three-game winless streak with a 5-2 victory over Wisconsin on Saturday. That stretch is the longest Minnesota has gone without a win since a three-game losing streak in January 2012. The Gophers take a break from conference-play to participate in the second annual North Star College Cup, which is a tournament that features the college hockey programs in the state of Minnesota. The event is a way to continue intra-state competition following conference realignment that forced three of the five Minnesota schools to break away from the WCHA. The Gophers won the inaugural event last year in a shootout win over Minnesota-Duluth but will need a strong performance if they want to defend the title against some of the top ranked teams in the country.
PLAYER TO WATCH: With goals in back-to-back games, senior Sam Warning snapped a five-game scoreless streak. The drought was a rarity for the four-year Gopher as he has been a constant for Minnesota throughout his career. Warning finished second on the team in points last season and at one point, claimed a 12-game point streak. For the 5-foot-10 forward to get back on the score sheet for the Gophers is a good sign heading into the weekend’s state tournament. With seven goals and 12 points, Warning has been somewhat quiet on one of the nation’s most-efficient offenses but is one of three Gophers with a shorthanded goal and boasts a team-high plus-12 rating.
THIS WEEKEND: vs. No. 1 Minnesota State, Jan. 23; vs. No. 7 Minnesota-Duluth/Bemidji State, Jan. 24.
OHIO STATE (2-4-0, 7-11-2)
OVERVIEW: On the heels of a 10-6 routing at the hands of rival Michigan, the Buckeyes have struggled to keep the puck out of the net in the new year. In its last six games, Ohio State is giving up an average of 5.17 goals per game going 2-3-1 in that span. Five of those contests have been on the road and this weekend’s series with Michigan State will be no different as the Buckeyes visit East Lansing. The two-games stretch will be a good opportunity for Ohio State to fine-tune its defensive zone efforts as the Spartans average just 2.25 goals per game and the Buckeyes are 5-1-3 in its last nine against Michigan State. The Buckeyes have held the Spartans to three goals or fewer in 10 straight matchups and haven’t lost at Munn Ice Arena since Oct. 20, 2011.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Junior Anthony Greco’s hat trick against the rival Wolverines was bittersweet as his three-goal game wasn’t enough to propel the Buckeyes to a win on Friday. However, it did move the 5-foot-10 forward into third in the Big Ten with 12 goals. Greco is enjoying what could prove to be a career year as he is just one point shy of matching his numbers from a season ago. The Queens, N.Y., native leads the team in shots on goal (86), power-play goals (3) and game-winning goals (3) from his wing position and is in a four-way tie for the team lead with 14 points in 20 games.
THIS WEEKEND: at Michigan State, Jan. 23-24.
PENN STATE (5-2-1, 11-7-3)
OVERVIEW: With a 5-2 win over Michigan State on Saturday, the Nittany Lions improved to 7-1-2 at Pegula Ice Arena and will wrap up a six-game home stand in a non-conference series with Northern Michigan this weekend. A strong start to the season was snuffed out by a three-game losing streak in late December, but two dominant wins and a 2-2 tie in their last three outings proved that this Nittany Lions team is for real. In 13-of-21 games, Penn State has allowed two goals or less going 11-0-2 in those games and putting an emphasis on limiting the opponent’s chances in the defensive zone. Defensemen Patrick Koudys, Luke Juha and David Thompson rank in the top 10 in blocked shots while goalies Eamon McAdam and Matthew Skoff combined to make 51 saves and held the Spartans to three goals in two games.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Sophomore David Goodwin recorded the game-winning goal in the Nittany Lions’ 5-2 win on Saturday, his fourth goal in as many games. The active streak is the longest of his young career as he has posted personal bests in goals (10), assists (12) and points (22) through 20 games this season. The 22-year-old is sixth in the conference in points and plays winger on the Big Ten’s most productive forward line alongside Casey Bailey and Taylor Holstrom. Goodwin’s plus-10 rating is the highest on the team and has appeared in 34 consecutive games for Penn State.
THIS WEEKEND: vs. Northern Michigan, Jan. 23-24.
WISCONSIN (0-3-1, 2-13-3)
OVERVIEW: Goalie Joel Rumpel can expect a busy weekend as the nation’s most efficient offense comes to Madison. The Badgers have given up 30 or more shots on goal in 10 consecutive games including three games of 40-plus. This doesn’t bode well as Michigan is third in the country averaging 34.6 shots per game so if Wisconsin is to have a chance it will be because of a commitment to the defensive zone. The Badgers PK unit will be well rehearsed for the Wolverines’ fifth ranked power-play unit as Wisconsin killed off 12-of-13 opportunities that the Minnesota Gophers had in two games last weekend including a 5-on-3 opportunity that lasted for 1:41 in the third period of Friday’s game.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Sophomore forward Grant Besse produced the best series of his career last weekend at Minnesota, scoring three goals, adding a shootout winner and firing 13 shots on goal. With three goals, Besse doubled his season output and earned him the team scoring lead with six goals and 11 points in 18 games. A fifth round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2013, Besse recorded eight goals and 14 points as a freshman last season and has seen an increased workload as the Badgers pass the halfway point of the schedule. Besse recorded on goal in four games against the Wolverines last season.
THIS WEEKEND: vs. Michigan, Jan. 23-24.
The Big Ten will descend on Joe Louis Arena for the first time from March 19-21 as the conference’s championship tournament will be staged in Detroit with all five games set to air live on the Big Ten Network. All-session ticket packages, which include one ticket to all five games of the tournament, start at $45, and are now on sale at the JLA box office (313-471-7575), all Ticketmaster (800-745-3000) outlets, and online at OlympiaEntertainment.com.
The top two seeds entering the tournament receive byes through the opening-round games, which will take place March 19 at 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. The semifinals are scheduled for March 20 at 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., with the championship game set to follow on March 21 at 8 p.m.