When the Nittany Lions line up for the opening faceoff at Tennity Ice Pavilion in Syracuse, N.Y. on Friday, there will be some familiar faces adorned in orange and blue on the other side of center ice.
Representing Detroit-based U-19 hockey team Honeybaked in the High Performance Hockey League (HPHL), Penn State’s Madison Smiddy, Birdie Shaw and Jordin Pardoski have seen their fair share of Syracuse’s Nicole Renault and Shiann Darkangelo, alumni of the Detroit Little Caesar’s hockey program.
“It’s always very competitive when [Honeybaked and Little Caesar’s] play each other. It’s like Michigan-Michigan State, on a smaller scale,” Honeybaked coach Ryan Pardoski, Jordin’s father, said.
The rivalry isn’t a new one, or one that’s exclusive to women’s hockey.
In 1985, Little Caesar’s gave birth to the Hall of Fame career of American legend Mike Modano. More than 15 years later, a 14-year-old Patrick Kane would buzz around in a Honeybaked jersey on his path to NHL stardom.
Every Nittany Lion has seen Syracuse’s Darkangelo and Renault twice already when the Orange shut out the Lions a combined 10-0 in two games in mid-October.
“Renault and Darkangelo are two very strong competitors,” Jordin Pardoski said.
A Brighton, Mich. native, Darkangelo represents the Little Caesar’s program well, leading all Syracuse skaters in scoring with 13 goals and five assists.
“I’ve played against Darkangelo my whole life,” Shannon Yoxheimer, a former Detroit Belle Tire player, said.
The leading scorers of their respective teams, freshman Yoxheimer and sophomore Darkangelo give a collegiate perspective to the “Hockeytown” motto scrawled across the ice at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena.
As for the other Little Caesar’s alum, Renault, the freshman has yet to find the back of the net in her young collegiate career. But, her nine assists show she’s capable of creating scoring chances.
“[Renault] is an aggressive defender who’s very good at rushing the puck,” Jordin Pardoski said.
Having coached three Penn Staters in their time with Honeybaked, Ryan Pardoski said Smiddy’s skill set on the blueline, Shaw’s “pitbull mentality”, and his daughter Jordin’s physical presence on defense will be key to thwarting the Orange’s offensive threats.
“Penn State will have to play a defensive game. And those three players, that is their strong point,” Ryan Pardoski said.
As a whole, the Nittany Lions know this two-game series with the 12-11-1 Syracuse Orange will be a tough test.
“It’s going to be a great challenge for us. [Syracuse] is a great program with a great coaching staff,” Penn State coach Josh Brandwene said.
The team is convinced it’s ready for the heated battle this time around.
“I think it’s going to be a completely different game this weekend,” Yoxheimer said.
For several Penn State players, team chemistry began years ago in locker rooms across Michigan, the chilly rink hardly a sanctuary from the Great Lakes’ frigid pre-dawn breeze outside.
Today, that same youthful chemistry has enveloped the Penn State locker room, a catalyst behind the team’s improving play, Smiddy said.
Jordin Pardoski shares her optimism.
“This weekend, I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people,” Pardoski said.