No. 8 Penn State (12-6-0/7-4-0 ECWHL) vs.
Navy (7-15-0/0-12-0 ECWHL)
Friday, January 30th at 10:15 p.m.
Pegula Ice Arena
University Park, PA
Penn State's drive to the ACHA National Tournament resumes after a week off against the visiting Midshipmen.
No. 8 Penn State (10-6-0/7-4-0 ECWHL) vs.
Northeastern (4-12-0/2-9-0 ECWHL)
Saturday, January 31st at 7:00 p.m.
Sunday, February 1st at 11:00 a.m.
Pegula Ice Arena
University Park, PA
The Lady Ice Lions honor an extraordinary senior class and play their final home games of the season.
Senior Citizens: Prior to the middle game of the weekend - the 7:00 p.m. Saturday start against Northeastern - the Lady Ice Lions will conduct the annual Senior Night ceremony to celebrate the careers of assistant coach Jess Desorcie and players Kim Badorrek, Taylor Nyman, Cara Mendelson, Ashton Schaffer, Madison Smiddy, Katie Murphy and Mary Kate Tonetti. Collectively, the group is responsible for two league championships and two ACHA Division 2 National Tournament appearances (each ending with a second-place finishes), with both league and national honors still remaining on the table for this season, of course. It also deserves a gigantic amount of credit for its role in re-establishing ACHA hockey at Penn State in the aftermath of the previous program's move to NCAA Division I and for the team's successful transition to ACHA Division 1 and the ECWHL this season.
For more on this year's special class, click here.
Endurance Test: This weekend is the preliminary step in what should be an interesting challenge to close the 2014-15 season. For starters, outside of the 2013 and 2014 ACHA National Tournaments, this is the first time in Lady Ice Lions history that the team has faced games on three consecutive days (and only the second time other than nationals and the 2014 College Hockey East playoffs that Penn State has played more than one team over a weekend). That test folds nicely into the next one, the ECWHL playoffs on the third weekend in February, where PSU may have to win games against different opponents on three consecutive days to win the title. Finally, of course and hopefully, are the ACHA championships, where the team standing at the end will have survived five games over five days against at least four different teams.
ECWH-Hello: The ECWHL conference race is approaching its dying days, with Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Penn State the teams remaining in contention for the regular season title (which is decided by points percentage in league games). The Lady Ice Lions, 7-4-0 in ECWHL games and in third place, will need to sweep this weekend and finish 10-4-0 to keep a chance at the crown, but will still need lots of help. League leader Massachusetts is 13-2-0 in the league and must do no better than one point over its final four games (Friday and Saturday against Rhode Island, February 14th and 15th at Northeastern) for PSU to finish ahead of the Minutewomen. URI is 9-2-0 in the ECWHL and needs at least five points from its remaining games (tonight against Northeastern, the aforementioned UMass series, February 7th and 8th against Vermont) to beat out the Lady Ice Lions. All in all, it's a pretty tight window for PSU - particularly when granting that the Rams would need to gain three points from the games against the Minutewomen to keep the leaders in range.
The good news: If that doesn't work out, Penn State will still have a shot at the ECWHL playoff title (and the ACHA National Tournament autobid that goes with it) over the weekend of February 20th through 22nd in Kingston, RI. The first day of the playoffs will see the sixth-place team (Navy is locked into that spot) battle the third-place team, while the fourth-place squad takes on the fifth seed. The winners of those games advance to the semifinals on day two, where the first and second seeds will await.
Poll-y Sci 101: The other way to make it to nationals, of course, is through the rankings. Thanks largely to the January 18th upset at then-unbeaten and still top-ranked Miami, the Lady Ice Lions jumped from 11th to 8th in the penultimate ranking of the regular season, released last week. While the top eight teams in late February's final ranking make it to York in theory, the autobids awarded to each of ACHA Division 1's three conferences complicates the picture for teams near the bottom of the list, particularly since one conference (the WWCHL) does not presently have a team in the top eight. Penn State, then, will look to gain a couple more spots by then through strong performances this weekend and in the ECWHL playoffs.
Beyond that, the Great Scoreboard Watch is now in full force and will include primarily...
4. Adrian: The Bulldogs traded shutouts with No. 5 Michigan last weekend and close with No. 12 Robert Morris, No. 13 Davenport and Ohio State for two games each before the CCWHA playoffs.
5. Michigan: After splitting with Adrian, the Wolverines end their regular season with series against Davenport, Robert Morris and No. 6 Grand Valley State.
6. Grand Valley State: The Lakers played Miami tough last weekend with a pair of two-goal losses at home and will continue with a single game against No. 9 Michigan State and the series at Michigan.
7. Rhode Island: A sweep of RMU last weekend (one win by forfeit) kicked off the Rams' ranking period. Other than the already-mentioned ECWHL games, Rhody has a February 6th meeting with No. 10 Colorado State remaining. The possibility of a PSU-URI meeting at the ECWHL playoffs also offers a layer of intrigue.
The (First) Opponent
Name: United States Naval Academy
Location: Annapolis, MD
Series History: Penn State leads, 2-0-0. The Lady Ice Lions have skated off with decisive wins both times they have met Navy, first winning 9-1 on January 13, 2013 behind a six point outing by Mandy Mortach (four goals, two assists) as well as a goal and two assists by Nyman in her debut with the team. Earlier this season, on November 2nd, Mendelson scored 1:51 into the game to kick off a 9-0 barrage at Pegula Ice Arena. Murphy, Devon Fisk and Darby Kern skated on a line together that afternoon and combined for six goals and seven assists.
About Navy: Since that first visit to PSU, the Middies have continued their dual reality of playing in both the ECWHL and the Delaware Valley Collegiate Hockey Conference. Navy has continued to fare well in the DVCHC, carrying a 7-1-0 record in the league and 6-0-0 within their division to occupy the driver's seat for a top seed in the playoffs. The ECWHL has been an entirely different story, however, as the squad has only managed to stay within five goals three times in 12 conference games, all losses. Hannah Pereira (15 goals, 10 assists), Claire Clark (15 goals, 5 assists), Allyson Strachan (12 goals, 11 assists) and Emily Buzzard (11 goals, 8 assists) headline Navy's attack, while Sarah Hutchinson has taken most of the team's toughest contests between the pipes.
Trivia: While Navy does not have NCAA Division I hockey, it has flirted with the prospect repeatedly, particularly since its home McMullen Hockey Arena was constructed in 2007. Most recently, the academy was floated as an expansion candidate by Bob DeGregorio, the commissioner of the men's Atlantic Hockey Association and the women's College Hockey America before withdrawing from consideration last January.
Head Coaches: Kimberly Himmer and Keith Himmer
Goals Scored Per Game: 3.50
Goals Allowed Per Game: 5.64
The (Second) Opponent
Name: Northeastern University
Location: Boston, MA
Series History: Penn State leads, 2-0-0. In November, the Lady Ice Lions took a pair of one-goal decisions in Boston, by 2-1 and 3-2 counts. The first required overtime, where a Smiddy drive 40 seconds in settled things, while the second saw a pair of Claire Gauthier assists and another winner from a defenseman - this time Tara Soukup in regulation.
About Northeastern: Like Navy, NU has struggled in the ECWHL this year, defeating only the Middies on the way to a 2-9-0 league mark (part of a 4-12-0 overall record). That said, underrated goalie Anne-Marie Dion (2.40 goals against average, 0.915 save percentage) has kept the Huskies in many games against the ACHA's best - including the two games with PSU, as well as two-goal losses to both third-ranked Massachusetts and number seven Rhode Island. Michelle Macchione and Pittsburgh native Kelsey Hickey each scored on the Lady Ice Lions in November and pace the 2011-12 ACHA national champs' offense with 15 and 14 points, respectively.
Trivia: Prior to the Lady Ice Lions' upset of Miami on January 18th, Penn State's last win against the top-ranked team in ACHA Division 1 was on January 21, 2012, when the Lady Icers triumphed 3-2 at Northeastern. Desorcie opened the game's scoring, while Mendelson assisted on a Taylor Gross shorthanded goal to make it 2-0 in the second period, although Macchione and Meredith Harclerode struck quickly for the Huskies to tie things up. The decider went to Tess Weaver, who buried a 2-on-1 with Gross in the final 20 minutes.
Head Coach: Jeff Postera
Goals Scored Per Game: 2.31
Goals Allowed Per Game: 3.69
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