Nate Sucese received a rather rude welcome to the United States Hockey League during his rookie season.
In just his second game with the Dubuque Fighting Saints in 2014-15, he suffered four broken ribs, a partially ruptured spleen and internal bleeding that cost him a month’s worth of development. As a sign of his grit and toughness, he played the night after the injury and the symptoms didn’t surface until a day later, when he checked into the hospital.
The injury tested his patience and briefly suppressed his competitive drive, but Sucese’s legs haven’t stopped churning since.
On Saturday night, the 5-foot-9, 174-pound senior left wing from Fairport, N.Y., became the all-time leading point producer in the history of the Penn State University hockey program. He tallied three assists against Robert Morris to reach 129 points and pass David Goodwin, a 2017 graduate.
Sucese also tops the Nittany Lions’ career chart with 58 goals in 135 games.
“It’s obviously a huge personal accomplishment, and I’m very proud of it,” Sucese said Sunday night. “Coming in freshman year, I wanted to make a statement and be the best player I could be every single day and be the player everyone knew they were going to get every single Friday and Saturday night. I’m proud of the way I’ve done that throughout my career here at Penn State and I plan to keep leaving that last impression the rest of my time here.”
Sucese established himself in the Penn State lineup as a freshman and contributed 17 goals and 36 points, good for fourth on a team that won a Big Ten Conference championship and earned the program’s first NCAA tournament berth. He added 29 points as a sophomore, as the Nittany Lions returned to the NCAA tournament.
Sucese set career-highs with 19 goals and 37 points, which ranked third and eighth in the Big Ten, during his junior campaign, but Penn State fell just short of the NCAA tournament. Through 22 games, Sucese has eight goals and 27 points this season.
“He really deserves it,” Penn State coach Gadowsky said earlier this season, when Sucese became the program’s all-time leading goal scorer. “His mentality to produce consistently, you really have to admire and respect that. You really do. That’s a very, very difficult thing to do, and his mental toughness to produce in every type of game and whoever he is playing with is awesome.
“If you look at his statistics, they’re very consistent year in, year out. He scores highlight-reel goals, but he also scores gritty goals … he’s not just a one-trick pony. He just finds a way to produce.”
Sucese established himself as a fan favorite in Dubuque because of that grit and hustle. After rebounding from the early injury to record 12 goals and 27 points in 51 games as a rookie under coach Matt Shaw, he became a dominant force the following year with 26 goals and 59 points in 60 games under new coach Jason Lammers. Sucese added four goals and 10 points in 12 playoff games his second season.
“Dubuque helped me a lot in my development, mainly because of the belief from the coaching staff right from the start,” Sucese said. “Obviously, I didn’t start too well my first year, but the belief from Coach Shaw and (then-assistant coach) Oliver David my first year really helped me have confidence moving forward in my second year.
“They gave me the confidence to have a really good summer, and I felt really good about Coach Lammers coming in. We saw eye to eye right from the start when he called me in the summer, and I got really excited going into that second season. I loved my time in Dubuque, because it’s such a welcoming place and the fans do such a great job of supporting the team. My time in Dubuque really catapulted me into my freshman year in college.”
Sucese has played an integral role in helping the relatively young Penn State program reach new heights. After decades as a club program, the Nittany Lions elevated to the NCAA Divison I level in 2012-13. That prompted the Big Ten to form its own seven-team league the following year.
“It’s been an awesome journey,” Sucese said. “My class in general has been a huge part of the success of this program, following the foundation from the guys who were here before us for the first couple of years of the Division I era. It’s definitely going to be a sad moment when our class leaves, because there’s a bunch of us who have been part of something special. But, on the other hand, I’m looking forward to see how our hockey careers move forward.”
His tenacity and physical attributes should make Sucese an attractive free agent following his time at Penn State. Last summer, the undrafted forward attended the development camp of the Boston Bruins.
He hopes to follow the path of former Saints standout Karson Kuhlman, who parlayed a four-year run and a national championship at Minnesota-Duluth into a free-agent deal with the Bruins. Last spring, Kuhlman became the first former Saints player from the Tier I era to compete in the Stanley Cup Final, and he scored a goal in Game 6 against the St. Louis Blues.
“Obviously, it’s everyone’s goal to make it to the NHL,” Sucese said. “At the end of this season, I’ll be looking forward to see if a team is interested in giving me an entry level contract. If I’m fortunate enough to have that happen, I’d be really excited for the opportunity. I’m definitely looking forward to continuing my hockey career at the professional level, no matter what league it is.
“But, right now, all of my focus is on helping this team get back to the NCAA tournament and finishing my college career on a high note. It’s been a great ride, but we’re not done yet.”
Penn State is 16-6-0 and ranked No. 6, tops among Big Ten teams, in the most recent USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.