Watson Ready to Lead All-New Group of Lady Ice Lions Captains

Left to right: New captain Kelly Watson, alternates Anna Marcus, Lucy Yeatman and Cassie Dunne

In the wake of the graduations of captain Jackie Saideh and alternate captains Nina Elia and Darby Kern, an all-new group of letter wearers is set to lead the Lady Ice Lions during the 2016-17 season, led by captain Kelly Watson.

Thanks to an extremely tight team vote to decide the roles, three additional players will serve as alternates, including Cassie Dunne, Lucy Yeatman and Anna Marcus.

Watson, an All-ECWHL second team selection as a sophomore in 2015-16, has quickly emerged as an anchoring blueliner for Penn State whose quiet leadership should stand as a great example as the Lady Ice Lions try to build a winning culture. Although she collected her first two career goals while helping pilot a sound PSU power play en route to a career-best 11 points this past season, her most impressive stat is actually the absence of a stat. Specifically, despite leading the team in ice time and drawing some of the nation's toughest assignments - six of ACHA Division 1's top ten scorers last season played for ECWHL opponents - Watson has yet to serve one second in the penalty box during her career.

She becomes the sixth player to wear the C in the post-2012 Lady Ice Lions era, following Carly Szyszko, Elizabeth Denis, Kim Badorrek, Ashton Schaffer and Saideh.

Dunne, a senior widely known to those ECWHL opponents as a tough-to-play-against agitator, will provide a vocal element to the leadership group. The quick puck mover has seven goals and 21 points in her three years with the team and has proven extremely adaptable in joining with significantly different defense partners like Marcus, Badorrek and Allie Rothman during her career. The leadership of the Wyndmoor, PA native and key part of PSU's prominent Princeton Tiger Lilies pipeline extends beyond the game itself, as she was also the club's vice president this past year.

Yeatman is another player who has had a tremendous impact off the ice, not only as club treasurer, but also as an elite student (she was retroactively given the team's freshman academic achievement award for 2013-14 in April). Her arrival that season signaled a transition of sorts, as a thin 2012-13 roster suddenly had a full lineup of quality players. While she generally plays the role of a defensive winger, Yeatman did offer six points to the ACHA D2 runners up as a freshman to make her one of the nation's top rookies and scored her first D1 goal on a deflection against Northeastern this past season.

Marcus, a reliable center as a freshman and sophomore, moved to defense this past spring after spending the fall semester studying abroad. Despite playing just half of the season and as a blueliner, she offered some of the best offensive production of her career. Her eight points were third best among full-time Lady Ice Lions defensemen, although her per-game rate of 0.5 points was exceeded by just five players on the squad, all forwards. Marcus is both strong defensively and one of the team's better shooters, an asset whether sniping from between the circles or generating high-danger chances in front of the net.

Three of the captains will also make up 75 percent of the club's executive board, headed by new president Dunne. Yeatman, considered the team's foremost mathematician, returns as treasurer, while Watson becomes the new THON chair, responsible for club fundraising events and family relations related to Penn State's famed Dance Marathon.

They'll be joined by new vice president Riley O'Connor who, per organizational custom, will rise to president as a senior in 2017-18. O'Connor, over her first two seasons, has already joined the ranks of the Lady Ice Lions' most prolific scorers. The team's 2014-15 Kyle Rossi Rookie of the Year award winner and an All-ECWHL honorable mention pick this past year has 42 career points, good for fourth in post-2012 team history (her first point in the fall will tie her with Szyszko for third). The tough-for-her-size center has anchored Penn State's top line for most of her career to date while also becoming a leader within the team - beyond the officer position, she narrowly missed out on alternate captain status, placing fifth in the voting.

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Former Lady Icer Rossi Invited to NWHL Free Agent Camp Next Weekend

Heather Rossi (front row, center) will attempt to impress NWHL scouts at a league camp next weekend

Former Lady Icers goaltender Heather Rossi was one of 23 players invited to a National Women's Hockey League free agent camp that will take place in Newark, NJ from June 10th through 12th, the league announced on Thursday.

Rossi, following stops at NCAA Division I Robert Morris (PA) and then-ACHA Division 1 Lindenwood (where she won a national title in 2008-09), wound up at Penn State for her junior and senior years from 2009 through 2011.

In 2009-10, the native of Kunkletown, PA was a second-team All-American while leading what was still a rebuilding Lady Icers program to the ACHA National Tournament for just the second time since 2004. While playing nearly all available minutes, she posted a 0.911 save percentage and a 2.69 goals against average against a schedule packed with top teams including ten games against Rhode Island, Robert Morris (IL) and Lindenwood, which finished as the top three teams in Division 1 that year. Rossi shut out Liberty 1-0 at nationals on March 12, 2010, which is still PSU's last victory at the D1 tourney.

Future Lady Ice Lions standout Katie Vaughan joined the Lady Icers in 2010-11 and teamed with Rossi to form a goaltending tandem that starred not only in central Pennsylvania, but on the international stage as well. The duo played for the 2011 U.S. National University Select Team, which finished fourth at the World University Games in Erzurum, Turkey. Rossi was central to one of the team's highlights, stopping 34 of 36 shots against a Finland team that went on to win the silver medal and featured several players from the Finnish team that won bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Each of the NWHL's four teams has one goalie under contract for 2016-17 right now, leaving four of the eight expected goaltender roster spots open league-wide. Rossi previously was invited to a free agent camp with the New York Riveters last summer, when each team hosted separate camps prior to the NWHL's inaugral season. With one season now under its belt including full player rosters and incoming 2015 draft picks, the camp schedule for those attempting to catch on with North America's first paid women's hockey league was scaled back this summer.

The invite list was also sprinkled with familiar names of Penn State opponents, including Rhode Island graduate Sydney Collins, who concluded her spectacular collegiate run in 2015-16 with a first-team ACHA All-American nod and 121 career points. Miami alumna and two-time Zoe M. Harris Award winner Hayley Williams - who was an NWHL all-star while playing for the Buffalo Beauts last season but remains unsigned for 2016-17 - will also be there.

Paige Harrington, who spent the 2011-12 season with the Lady Icers before finishing her ACHA career opposing the Lady Ice Lions with Massachusetts, has already re-signed with the Beauts for 2016-17 after helping Buffalo to the NWHL final this past spring. Rossi is seeking to become the third former Lady Icer to play professionally joining Harrington and 2002 graduate Andrea Lavelle, who skated with the Beatrice Aeros of a previous, unrelated league also called the NWHL during the 2002-03 season.

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ACHA Alters Tournament Structure, Rankings at Annual Meeting

At its annual meeting, held in Naples, FL from April 28th through 30th, the ACHA's Women's Division 1 head coaches approved a number of rule changes for the upcoming 2016-17 season.

Chief among those is a drastic change to the structure to the ACHA national championship tournament.

While the field will remain the same - eight teams - pool play has been abolished in favor of strict head-to-head matchups. The first three days will now see the qualifying and seeded teams pair off (1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5) for a best-of-three series. The winners of that round will be re-seeded and advance to the semifinals.

The previous format, which had been in place since the 2009-10 season, split the eight teams into two pools of four, with the top two teams from each advancing to the semifinals after a full round robin.

The nature of tournament sites will also change, as the ACHA will be centralizing the tournaments from each of its five divisions at one big-city location during the same dates in order to consolidate the association's marketing potential and create what should be seen as a major destination event. Columbus, OH will be the first metropolis to host the megatournament, tentatively scheduled for March 14th through 18th of next year.

Additionally, teams trying to qualify for nationals will generally have a much better idea where they stand, as the ACHA rankings will now be issued each week during the season. The move is unprecedented for a women's division as, regardless of changes to methodology, rankings have only ever been issued four or five times per year. Computers and the competition committee will each count for half of the final ranking, as the division-wide vote of the coaches (previously one-third of the tally, along with the other two elements) has been eliminated.

Overtime during the regular season will now be 4-on-4 for five minutes with the teams switching ends, the hope being that reducing the number of players and including the long change will result in fewer tie games.

Several slightly more mundane, but still productive updates were also made and include:
  • There is now a universal pre-game protocol. Game times will be listed as the point when the teams step on to the ice, and from there, a ten-minute warmup, starting lineups, the national anthem and the opening faceoff will follow. Exceptions will be made for those at a school requiring the different protocol used by NCAA teams, although in those cases, the game time listed will still correspond to the moment the teams first take the ice.
  • Teams will now be required to wear matching equipment.
  • All-American nominations, previously submitted by the coaches, will now be automatically granted to players winning first-team selection from each of D1's three conferences. Independent teams (Liberty is the only one right now) will still submit nominations, but will be limited to three forwards, two defensemen and one goalie. Coach of the year awards will use a similar process, with each conference coach of the year and all independent coaches being considered for the honor.
  • Following a controversial finish to the ACHA semifinal game between Grand Valley State and Adrian, officials and video review were major points of discussion. Efforts will now be made to use referees from the USA Hockey national pool (as is done in tournament games) more frequently during the regular season. The inclusion of a dedicated video review official for games where replays are available will also be examined.
  • Pending legal approval, schools with both a D1 and a D2 team (Miami, Michigan State and Liberty are the only three presently in that category) will be able to roster goalies with both teams. This past season, Liberty's D1 team had to forfeit a game to GVSU after playing a goalie from their D2 team due to being shorthanded in net.
Thirteen of the division's coaches were in attendance to vote on the changes, including ECWHL bosses Bill Wright of Massachusetts (who also serves as the league's commissioner), Ashley Pagliarini of Rhode Island and Bob Lehouiller of Vermont.

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Lady Ice Lions Honor Seniors, Celebrate Season at Annual Banquet

The Penn State Women's Ice Hockey Club's annual postseason banquet, held on Saturday afternoon at The Atherton Hotel in State College, probably doesn't differ substantially from similar events held by almost every team in organized sports.

There are several standard bullet points on the itinerary: remarks from the head coach and captains, presentations of team awards, parting gifts for the graduating seniors and a standard hotel buffet spread involving salad, something with meatballs and cheesecake. And, to be fair, the Lady Ice Lions' season celebration always hits each of those.

What separates PSU's event from others, though, is that the team has developed separate traditions unique among Banquet Saturdays.

One are the team's paper plate awards - a practice dating back to the Lady Icers era - in which each player is given a paper plate by their teammates with honors like "most likely to kidnap a child and claim it as her own" and "most likely to get injured playing intramural soccer," generally including a humorous drawing to match the title.

Another is an annual video prepared by Nina Elia and generally referred to as the "off-ice highlights." Elia's camera is ubiquitous throughout the season on road trips, team social events and impromptu pregame locker room dance parties and the payoff is always a thoroughly entertaining reminder that there's no real value in laying out the money and time commitments involved in playing hockey if fun isn't part of the return. With Elia graduating, her video series is unfortunately at its end, but sophomore Riley O'Connor looks ready to take the reins if her often funny and occasionally emotional senior tribute video that came next is any indication.

Familiarity was also the operative word concerning the formal team awards, as both the Maurice H. Stroemel Most Valuable Player and Billie S. Willits Player's Player Awards went to repeat winners in Darby Kern and Jackie Saideh, respectively. Kern, of course, just completed a career that saw 107 points in only two seasons as well as back-to-back ACHA All-American nods. The latter distinction makes Kern only the second Penn Stater ever to be on the national first or second team twice, following Lady Icer great Katie King in 2001-02 and 2002-03. Saideh, who served as both club president and team captain this season, has always been someone who does whatever the organization needs, on or off the ice. From regular position changes to her high-effort style of play to putting the team's hotel bill on her personal credit card while waiting for Penn State club sports to clear the payment and prepping the banquet's centerpieces, the senior's contributions will be missed in numerous ways next season.

Meghan Miller was voted as the Kyle Rossi Rookie of the Year. The well-rounded Rhode Island native won a tight vote thanks to being a steady performer able to pivot scoring or checking lines with equal effectiveness. She posted nine points for the season, including a pair of power play goals to tie for second on the team in that category as the Lady Ice Lions' had their best season in team history on the advantage.

The team also instituted a new award this year, given to the freshman with the best fall semester grade point average: Rachel Cole and her 3.94 for the 2015-16 opening term. The honor will also be given retroactively to would-have-been past winners Devon Fisk, Lucy Yeatman and Claire Gauthier.

The Lady Ice Lions will lose five seniors for 2016-17 but return much of the team's core, including O'Connor (already the fourth best scorer in team history) and Kelly Watson, each of whom have won Eastern Collegiate Women's Hockey League and/or ACHA awards, as well as others like Miller, Cole and Gauthier. Those players, along with a recruiting class expected to add tons of skill and depth to the roster, will attempt to win PSU's first-ever national championship in women's hockey next year.

Previous Lady Ice Lions Team Award Winners
Maurice H. Stroemel
Most Valuable Player
Kyle Rossi
Rookie of the Year
Billie S. Willits
Player's Player
Katie Vaughan
Devon Fisk
Mandy Mortach
Carly Szyszko
Katie Vaughan
Devon Fisk
Geneva Wagoner
Carly Szyszko
Darby Kern
Riley O'Connor
Jackie Saideh
Darby Kern
Meghan Miller
Jackie Saideh

Freshman Academic
Achievement Award
Devon Fisk
Lucy Yeatman
Claire Gauthier
Rachel Cole

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