WIHC Adopts New Nickname For New Era: Meet the Lady Ice Lions

As a new season and new era in Penn State ACHA hockey are upon us with the move to Division 1 and the Eastern Collegiate Women's Hockey League, the Penn State Women's Ice Hockey Club is marking the occasion with a new nickname: the Lady Ice Lions.

The moniker is intended to complement, not replace, "Women's Ice Hockey Club" or "WIHC." While the names will be interchangeable in most cases, "Women's Ice Hockey Club" will remain the formal name of the organization, while "Lady Ice Lions" will generally be used to facilitate game functions like public address announcements and recaps, as well as for marketing purposes.

Adoption was made with an eye on both the past and the future. ACHA hockey at Penn State, of course, has a long history of team nicknames outside of the varsity programs' customary "Nittany Lions," with "Lady Icers" serving as the women's team's identity from 1996 through 2012.

At the same time, the Lady Ice Lions name will serve to formally acknowledge and strengthen the ties between the team and its brother organization, the men's ACHA Division 2 Ice Lions, as the two continue to forge a synergistic relationship.

The newly-christened Lady Ice Lions will open the season in just 25 days, at new ECWHL rival Vermont on September 27th and 28th, before returning to Pegula Ice Arena the following weekend against Delaware.

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PSU Begins Preseason Preparations, Welcomes New Faces to Deep Squad

The WIHC's first dryland session of the 2014-15 season took place on Tuesday

At Penn State, the fall semester began Monday with a tradition known as syllabus week, named for the large number of opening classes involving little more than distribution and discussion of the professor's plans and assignments for the course.

But while most University Park undergrads are enjoying the light responsibility and heightened social opportunities of the grab-it-and-go period, the Penn State Women's Ice Hockey Club jumped straight from summer to preparations for its first season in ACHA Division 1 and the ultra-tough Eastern Collegiate Women's Hockey League.

The WIHC conducted its inaugural 2014-15 on-ice session Monday evening, followed by dryland training on Tuesday. Practices will repeat themselves every Monday, Wednesday and Sunday, with full-squad off-ice efforts taking up the time on Tuesdays on Thursdays.

As the 2014-15 opening series at Vermont on September 27th and 28th approaches, the Sunday practice will be dropped (as games are played primarily on weekends, of course) and dryland will evolve into a series of smaller groups. The rigorous preseason will help ensure Penn State's immediate competitiveness against top D1 programs, including ECWHL powers Rhode Island and Massachusetts, as well as defending national champion Miami.

These early sessions - in addition to the payoff coming in the third period of some game during the typical mid-season drag - represent the (re-)introduction of former NCAA team players Cara Mendelson, Katie Murphy, Darby Kern, Madison Smiddy and new assistant coach Jess Desorcie to PSU ACHA hockey, as well an orientation for a promising collection of freshman that will be formally unveiled in the coming days. Those two groups, of course, are joined by a standout core of returning players from PSU's back-to-back Division 2 national championship game teams, including 2013-14 ACHA All-Americans Devon Fisk and Geneva Wagoner, as well as club officers Mary Kate Tonetti, Jackie Saideh and Ashton Schaffer.

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Four Former PSU NCAA Players Set to Join Women's Ice Hockey Club

Junior forward Darby Kern spent two seasons with the NCAA Division I Nittany Lions

The Penn State Women's Ice Hockey Club is moving up a division for 2014-15, and as with many who face a significant challenge, it will count on help from some old friends.

Defensemen Cara Mendelson and Madison Smiddy, as well as forward Katie Murphy, all of whom played for the former Lady Icers program in 2011-12, will return to the ACHA and play for the WIHC as seniors this coming season. They'll be joined there by junior forward Darby Kern. All four were members of Penn State's NCAA team in 2012-13 and 2013-14.

Penn State senior Jess Desorcie, who also played for the Lady Icers in 2011-12 and the NCAA Nittany Lions from 2012 through 2014, will be added to the club's ranks as an assistant coach.

That final Lady Icers roster, featuring Mendelson, Smiddy, Murphy and Desorcie, as well as already-on-the-team Mary Kate Tonetti, Ashton Schaffer and Sarah Eisenhut, were the 2011-12 regular season champions of the Eastern Collegiate Women's Hockey League, the conference PSU is rejoining this coming season. Along the way to that crown, they went 7-6-1 against eventual national champion Northeastern, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Vermont, the squads remaining in the ECWHL from that year, defeating each of those teams at least once. The Lady Icers also registered a stunning 3-2 overtime upset of NCAA Division I Sacred Heart on January 14, 2012.

Smiddy, a product of the prolific Honeybaked program, played in 20 games for the Nittany Lions over the last two seasons. She posted a goal and seven assists, notably including a helper in Penn State's historic 5-3 road win against Vermont's NCAA team on October 6, 2012 to open PSU's stay in DI. Smiddy's 0.4 points per game over her two varsity seasons were 37 percent better than the next best blueliner on the team, while her ACHA totals included five goals and five assists, the second best points count among 2011-12 PSU defensemen. The latter efforts netted the Grand Rapids, MI native the Lady Icers' rookie of the year award.

Mendelson appeared in a pair of games for the varsity squad, both decisive Penn State wins, and she was an Academic All-Big Ten selection in 2012-13 as well as an Academic All-College Hockey America selection in 2013-14. As a freshman on the Lady Icers, the Steel City Selects alumna scored her first collegiate goal against rival California while adding three assists and contributing to a team 2.43 goals against average despite 11 games against NCAA competition.

Versatile Murphy skated 13 times for the Nittany Lions, all in 2012-13. Despite not registering a point, she played some of her best hockey in a home series against national power Mercyhurst that season, firing two of her four shots on goal over that weekend. Like Mendelson, Murphy scored her first PSU goal versus California as a freshman, adding assists against the likes of the Vulcans, Rhode Island, Vermont and NCAA DI's Sacred Heart.

Kern is the lone member of the group with no previous ACHA experience, as she was a freshman on the 2012-13 Nittany Lions and appeared in 18 of the team's final 21 games that year, picking up an assist against NCAA Division III Chatham and blocking 14 shots while managing nine on the opposite net. As both a freshman and a sophomore, she was named Academic All-College Hockey America. Prior to her arrival at Penn State, Kern played for the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Tier 1 program as well as Peters Township High School.

Desorcie was recruited to the 2011-12 Lady Icers as a semester-break transfer from NCAA Division III Connecticut College and exploded from there, leading the squad with 19 goals. During the bulk of PSU's inaugural NCAA campaign, the Westford, VT native and Taft School alumna was the Nittany Lions' top-line center, ultimately finishing third on the squad in scoring. In all, Desorcie put up eight goals and 26 points in 75 career NCAA games as well as the 19 tallies and 24 points in 16 ACHA contests. She also joined Mendelson as a 2012-13 Academic All-Big Ten pick.

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Right Back Where We Started From: PSU to Re-Join Division 1, ECWHL

It's often said that fashion is cyclical. But so, apparently, are conference affiliations.

The Penn State Women's Ice Hockey Club will elevate to ACHA Division 1, from Division 2, for the 2014-15 season. As part of the move, the WIHC will also leave its D2 conference, College Hockey East, to join D1's Eastern Collegiate Women's Hockey League. The ECWHL consists of the University of Massachusetts, the University of Rhode Island, Northeastern University and the University of Vermont, in addition to PSU and fellow newcomer Navy.

That formidable collection of new league rivals includes the 2012 ACHA Division 1 national champion in Northeastern (the Huskies also won at the D2 level in 2010), as well as perennial powers UMass, last season's national runners-up, and URI, the defending league playoff titlist (the Rams' nine conference playoff banners lead all teams) and a 2014 semifinalist at nationals. Counting the WIHC's Katie Vaughan, nine players from current ECWHL teams were among the 22 members of the U.S. Women's National University Team that won a historic bronze medal at the World University Games last December.

In the bigger picture and outside of the conference, Division 1 includes current national title holders Miami, as well as schools that are Big Ten foes for Penn State in most sports like Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio State. The Spartans (2003 and 2011), Badgers (2002 and 2004) and Gophers (2013) have all claimed national championships as well. In other words, the division offers most of the best non-varsity women's programs in the U.S., as Penn State has already seen.

The former Lady Icers program had a long history in both Division 1 and the ECWHL. PSU was a founding member of what was then the ACHA's sole women's division in the 2000-01 season and, in 2003-04, similarly helped launch the ECWHL. Both runs ended following 2011-12 when the Lady Icers became the Nittany Lions and elevated to NCAA Division I status, although Penn State managed to win the league's regular season championship in its final year of membership - the team's only ECWHL conference title. Current WIHC seniors Ashton Schaffer, Mary Kate Tonetti and Sarah Eisenhut, as well as recent alumnae Vaughan, Carly Szyszko, Elizabeth Denis and Allie Rothman were all a part of that ECWHL crown.

Through its nine-year tenure in the league, the Lady Icers developed several intense rivalries, particularly with fellow inaugural members Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Heated contests with the latter often took on heightened importance, as the teams met in four of PSU's six ECWHL playoff appearances - and it would have been five of seven if not for a weather-related cancellation in 2010. Overall, Penn State went 10-15-1 against the Minutewomen.

WIHC standouts like 2014 alumna Allie Rothman have done battle in the ECWHL before

URI quickly became characterized by measuring stick status, as the powerhouse Rams frequently victimized a struggling Lady Icers program during much of the last decade, including at PSU's last D1 nationals appearance in 2010. However, coach Mo Stroemel's rebuilding project led to a 4-3 Lady Icers road result on October 23, 2010 (featuring an assist by then-freshman and future WIHC captain Szyszko on the 3-3 goal), the first Penn State win in the series during its entire time in the ECWHL. That victory represented a key turning point en route to the regular season title in 2011-12, an accomplishment that involved PSU besting URI for a second consecutive year.

The Lady Icers had limited exposure to the rest of the league, going 2-3-1 against Northeastern (which joined in 2010), and 2-0-0 against Vermont (which joined in 2011) while other schools like Connecticut, North Country Community College, Buffalo and Bates College have filtered in and out of the ECWHL during its eleven seasons. In addition to Penn State, Boston University, Norwich and SUNY-Canton have also used the conference as a springboard to varsity status over the last decade.

Since the Women's Ice Hockey Club's 2012 founding as the Lady Icers' ACHA replacement, its only game against a current ECWHL team was a 9-1 thumping of Navy in Annapolis on January 13, 2013 featuring four Mandy Mortach tallies and a goal with two assists by Taylor Nyman in her debut with the team.

In its previous Division 1 era PSU qualified for the ACHA National Tournament six times, highlighted by a third-place finish in 2002 that stood as the best-ever national finish by a Penn State women's hockey team until the WIHC's second-place runs in 2013 and 2014.

On top of all of the other changes, the program will have to adapt to some new rules in ACHA Division 1, mostly relating to player eligibility. Players have a maximum of five years in D1, compared to six in Division 2 (although the number reduces to four in both divisions for players with NCAA or CIS experience), and must be degree-seeking students with courseloads generally in excess of the six-credit minimum in D2 (precise requirements are based on class standing).

In Division 1, teams must schedule at least 12 games against six other D1 teams to be eligible for nationals, compared to six and three in D2. Finally, 20-minute periods are the order in the new division, up from 17 in the previous one.

PSU's move is just one of many either announced or anticipated in the ACHA women's divisions for the coming season. The new Western Women's Collegiate Hockey League will join the ECWHL and Central Collegiate Women's Hockey Association as a D1 league and include Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado and Colorado State, as well as division newcomers Denver, Lindenwood-Belleville and Midland. The CCWHA will also add a D2 conference including Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Lake Superior State, Loyola (IL), Michigan State, Northern Michigan and Notre Dame, with all teams but MSU new to the division as well.

Penn State's 2014-15 schedule in its new conference and division is still in progress, but be sure to follow the team on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for the latest as an eventful offseason winds down.

Penn State's ACHA Conference History
Mid-Atlantic Women's Collegiate Hockey Association
Delaware Valley Collegiate Hockey Conference
Eastern Collegiate Women's Hockey League
College Hockey East
Eastern Collegiate Women's Hockey League

Penn State's ACHA Division History
Women's Division 1
Women's Division 2
Women's Division 1