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Holstrom takes flight in Happy Valley

 

NCAA Hockey between Penn State and Cornell

Taylor Holstrom put in a lot of hours towards his pilot’s license over the summer, but it’s his game that has taken off this season at Penn State.

The 5-foot-9 senior forward from Yorba Linda posted 18 points in his first 14 games, giving him more points than either of his first two full seasons with the Nittany Lions, who have established themselves as a force in the Big Ten in just their third season of NCAA Division I existence.

Holstrom, modified his summer training routine, which he credits for his high-flying first semester.

“I came in with a different mentality,” he said. “I came to school early, focused not just on lifting but got on the ice more and shot more. That made a huge difference, mentally and physically. I was ready to go right from the start.”

Nittany Lions coach Guy Gadowski said its gratifying to see things come together so well for one of the players who has been with the program from its transition from a club hockey team to a Division I squad. The points are bonus with Holstrom, the coach said.

“His commitment to other things aside from scoring has been fantastic,” Gadowsky said. “He’s one of our best backcheckers and best forecheckers. He’s doing a lot of little things to help us win. The hockey gods have been smiling on him this season.”

Those little things add up, said teammate and fellow Californian P.J. Musico, one of Penn State’s goaltenders.

“Taylor’s relentless, good at both ends of the rink,” Musico said. “You’re comfortable with him out there because he’s going to get the puck back and make plays at the net. He has an arsenal of plays and is pretty skilled.”

Another attribute stands out.

“His cardiovascular fitness is something else,” Musico said. “It’s almost demoralizing when we do conditioning drills. He’s really fast and it always looks like he’s not tired. That plays to his advantage, especially at the end of shifts.”

Added Gadowsky, “He’s in fantastic shape, and he’s tough to play against because he manages his shifts well and is an extremely hard worker.

“He has a flair for big games, but consistency was a problem until this year.”

In 2012-13 he scored game-winning goals in Big Ten victories against Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Last season, he tallied the winner in double-overtime to send Penn State past the Spartans in the Big Ten quarterfinals.

“We take a lot of pride in how far our team has come,” Holstrom said. “Two years ago, we lost to Arizona State’s club team and Division III Buffalo State and now we’re a Big Ten contender.”

Holstrom’s flight plan has included plenty of stops en route to Penn State, where he carries a double major in energy business finance and economics.

He played for the South Coast Sabres, California Wave and Anaheim Jr. Ducks before settling in at LA Hockey Club for Bantams and Midgets under Mike Lind and Jeff Turcotte.

He played for the Omaha Lancers and Youngstown Phantoms in the United States Hockey League before starting his college career at Mercyhurst in 2010-11.

He scored 33 points in 36 games and was selected Atlantic Hockey’s rookie of the year, yet he found himself playing for Penn State’s club team the following season.

“I can’t knock Mercyhurst, but ultimately it wasn’t what I was looking for,” Holstrom said. “I wanted the big-school environment. I came here and got it.”

Holstrom and Musico joined Penn State’s club team with the knowledge the transition to Division I was a season away.

“It was a rollercoaster,” Holstrom said. “It was such a mix of guys. Some came to go to school and play club hockey, other guys knew they would be part of the D-I team.”

Now that Holstrom and the Nittany Lions have their bearings, the sky is the limit.

– Chris Bayee