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Penn State Hockey Legend Stroemel Steps Down as Ice Lions Coach

Mo Stroemel led Team USA to a bronze medal at the 2013 World University Games



Ice Lions head coach Mo Stroemel has stepped down from his post to pursue retirement options, Penn State's ACHA Men's Division 2 team announced on Saturday.

His impact, as most around Penn State hockey know, was hardly limited to that team. Stroemel, quite simply, is one of the most important figures in PSU's ACHA and women's hockey history. He spent the last 23 years working with one of four separate squads, always moving wherever circumstances required and doing exemplary work.

He took over the Lady Icers program in 2007, arriving to find a team in dire straits. The success of four ACHA National Tournament bids and five conference championships between 2000 and 2004 had faded, and what remained was a bit of a mess. Stroemel inherited a roster of just nine players and an organization that ran out of money and had to forfeit its trip to the ECWHL playoffs at the end of the 2006-07 season.

Had the West Chester, PA native not stepped in when he did, the team may very well have folded. And had that team folded, today's Women's Ice Hockey Club may not exist either.

Stroemel went on to coach the Lady Icers for four seasons with a 38-63-3 overall record. While the team took its lumps in the first two years of his tenure, by 2009-10 he had a full roster ready to compete for a national title. Led by second team All-American goalie Heather Rossi and a by-then-deep roster including Alicia Lepore, Dana Heller, Michelle Clarke, Chelly Deiling, Sara Chroman and Lindsay Reihl, Penn State finished seventh in the rankings and returned to the ACHA championships in 2010. They then picked up what remains PSU's most recent nationals win at the Division 1 level, 1-0 over Liberty.

The long-time technical theatre faculty member in Penn State's School of Theatre and avid musician subsequently recruited many of the players who would become the core of the first Lady Ice Lions teams that made consecutive appearances in the ACHA Division 2 championship game. That list includes Carly Szyszko, Allie Rothman, Katie Vaughan, Elizabeth Denis, Ashton Schaffer, Mary Kate Tonetti and Sarah Eisenhut. Patrick Fung, the only head coach the current team has ever known, began his women's hockey career as a Stroemel assistant with the Lady Icers.

Stroemel, as Lady Icers coach in 2009, with a 13-year-old Riley O'Connor

USA Hockey tabbed him to coach the first two versions of the U.S. National University Women's Team that competed at the biennial World University Games tournament, in 2011 and 2013. The first of the two groups included four Lady Icers (Rossi, Vaughan, Reihl and Denise Rohlik) and finished fourth in Erzurum, Turkey. Two years later, Stroemel brought Vaughan to Trentino, Italy and the pair made history by winning the bronze medal, thanks to key wins over Russia and Japan. Until Team USA again won bronze in 2017, the two finishes with Stroemel in charge were the two best by the American women or men in the modern era (the U.S. re-entered World University Games in 2001 on the men's side).

The $102 million donation of Terry and Kim Pegula to build the ice arena that bears their name and bring NCAA hockey to Penn State shifted Stroemel's role. In 2011-12, the final season of the Lady Icers, he was an associate head coach for Josh Brandwene, the man brought in to eventually lead the varsity team. He stepped away from the bench and was the director of operations and video coach for the NCAA team during the 2012-13 season.

The Lady Ice Lions' annual most valuable player award is named in his honor, as recognition for his numerous contributions to the program. Both he and his son Tom have remained involved with the team as their schedules allow, and his family also includes wife Joan and daughter Sarah.

Much of Stroemel's career, of course, was also spent in men's hockey, primarily through two separate runs with the Ice Lions program.

He first joined the Ice Lions in 1994, shortly after the team's formation, and was an assistant to Vinnie Scalamogna for three seasons. In an odd bit of foreshadowing, Stroemel transitioned to the head coaching role as Scalamogna became the first coach in Lady Icers history, in 1996-97.

That year was also significant for the men's team, which advanced to the championship game at the ACHA National Tournament for the first time in history. Stroemel would coach the squad through 2003-04, while posting a 131-62-11 record. He was the ACHA Men's Division 2 Northeast Region Coach of the Year in both 2002-03 and 2003-04. The latter season resulted another final four run at nationals, ending with a crushing 1-0 overtime loss to powerhouse New York University in the semifinals.

Stepping away from coaching will allow Stroemel more time to pursue his passion for music

His many players during his first decade with the Ice Lions included Fung and goaltender Brian Gratz, now head coach of the New York Rangers-affiliated Greenville Swamp Rabbits of the ECHL.

From 2004 through 2007, Stroemel was an assistant coach for Penn State's former ACHA Division 1 men's team, the Icers, under both Joe Battista and Scott Balboni. During his time on that staff (which also included now-New York Islanders assistant Matt Bertani), the Icers rolled to a 85-22-5 record while appearing in the ACHA national title game to close each of the three seasons.

Following his six seasons in women's hockey, Stroemel once again took the reins of the Ice Lions under circumstances at least partly similar to those surrounding the Lady Icers in 2007. While the team remained healthy off the ice and successful on it, the coaching job had become something of a revolving door - including two stints by Ryan Behnken, and one each from Matt Morrow and Josh Hand over a four year period. In 2014, Stroemel resumed his old post and stabilized things for the last three seasons. The team won three consecutive Mid-Atlantic College Hockey North Division regular season championships, qualified for the ACHA D2 Southeast Region's tournament each year, and returned to nationals in 2015-16. This past year's regionals saw PSU fall one win short of a repeat trip, in overtime against Miami.

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Overtime Rules, Pregame Protocol Adjusted at ACHA Annual Meeting




The annual ACHA meeting, held in Naples, FL from April 27th through 29th, generated several new rules affecting the Penn State Women's Ice Hockey Club and their Women's Division 1 opponents for the 2017-18 season and beyond.

While the changes weren't quite as drastic as those introduced last year, then including an overhaul of the format for the ACHA National Tournament and the implementation of a weekly ranking, the adjustments will nevertheless impact every game played, either directly or indirectly.

Headlining the new rules is a shift to a 3-on-3 format for overtime, just one year after the five-minute extra period was reduced from standard 5-on-5 gameplay to 4-on-4, and mirroring the popular and manically-paced setup introduced in the National Hockey League for the 2015-16 season. Penn State played just one overtime game under the previous reduced-player rule, taking a 2-1 decision over Vermont back on October 1, 2016 - although Cassie Dunne's winner came during a 4-on-3 power play and not during 4-on-4 play.

Contests that don't produce a goal during overtime will still end in a tie.

Another change, pushed heavily by Adrian head coach Brett Berger, will be a move towards a modified version of what's called "NCAA protocol" during the warmup period prior to games. Previously, most contests (Adrian-hosted tilts being notable as exceptions) would open with a ten-minute warmup at the beginning of the scheduled ice time, then proceed directly into the starting lineups, national anthem and the first period's puck drop. Under NCAA protocol, teams leave the ice after the warmup skate for an additional ice cut before returning for the pregame ceremonials and the game itself. The protocol adjustment will be "suggested" for the coming season, then mandatory in 2018-19.

Player selection for national awards was also addressed. This past season saw the process streamlined so that only first-team all-conference selections were eligible for All-American status, while only conference players of the year and coaches of the year were considered for the national versions of those honors.

This methodology was further clarified in Naples, with some modifications: each team will be allowed to submit one "wild card" player who did not make first-team all-conference for All-American consideration, while teams unattached to one of ACHA Division 1's three conferences (which included Liberty and McKendree during 2016-17) will be allowed to nominate three players total. Every first team All-American will be considered for the Zoë M. Harris Player of the Year award, with voting for all awards done by Division 1's competition committee.

For the first time ever in 2017, every ACHA division held its national championship tournament in the same city, Columbus, OH, within an 11-day period in March. The tournaments will return to Columbus next season, from March 8th through 18th, 2018. One resolution passed at Naples involves having the women's tournament - if possible - open on a Friday, with the national title game on a Tuesday, in order to minimize missed class time (the 9th through the 13th is the only Friday-Tuesday window within the scheduled nationals dates). Women's D1 national tournament games are tentatively slated for the OhioHealth Ice Haus adjacent to the Columbus Blue Jackets' downtown Nationwide Arena, although that could change due to scheduling demands. Go Live Sports Cast will offer video streaming of all games, as they did this past season.

Other items discussed, with no action taken, included concussions, statistics tracking, officiating and the elimination of the postgame handshake line.

The 2017-18 season will also see changes to the ACHA Division 1 membership, which will total 24 teams, up one from the 2016-17 total. Most significantly from a Penn State perspective, however, is a departure: Eastern Collegiate Women's Hockey League rival Vermont, which is returning to its previous home in Division 2 after six Division 1 seasons. The move leaves the Lady Ice Lions' conference's membership at just four teams, including PSU, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Northeastern. While the ECWHL has never been particularly massive in its history (it has only included more than six teams from 2005 through 2007 since its 2003 founding, and held up with four previously from 2008 through 2010), it now stands two members shy of the required six to regain an ACHA National Tournament autobid for its champion.

The Catamounts are notable as the opponent for a late-season Lady Icers sweep to clinch the 2011-12 ECWHL regular season title, as well as for PSU's first games after moving up from D2 in 2014-15, another pair of blue-and-white wins.

Michigan's Aquinas College, a team that began life in 2015 and is fresh off of its first nationals appearance at the Division 2 level, will be joining Division 1 and the Central Collegiate Women's Hockey Association. The jump won't be entirely foreign territory for the Saints, who played nine CCWHA opponents last season and managed to win a series against Ohio State. The other addition to the division is Grand Canyon University's new program. The Phoenix-based squad will play in the Western Women's Collegiate Hockey League.

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Not Dunne Yet: New Penn State Grad Set to Test Professional Free Agency

Cassie Dunne defends against Russia's Liudmila Belyakova - a former NWHL player - at World University Games



Following a legendary collegiate career, Cassie Dunne could hardly be blamed for wanting more. So that's exactly what she is pursuing.

The brand new Penn State graduate is presently examining options in professional hockey, and has received an encouraging early return in the form of an invitation to a free agent camp for the National Women's Hockey League (NWHL), set for Saturday and Sunday at the New England Sports Center in Marlborough, MA. The camp will involve three games, which are scheduled for 6:00 p.m. on the first day, then 9:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. on the second.

"I was ecstatic when I received the email to attend the free agent camp," Dunne said. "There is definitely a lot of hard work still ahead of me but I'm honored to be given the opportunity."

"I can only hope that my hard work pays off and I have the same success at the NWHL camp that I did at World University Games camp."

Penn State head coach Patrick Fung was quick to cite Dunne's work ethic as a defining quality that has opened doors for her: "She is a kid that has worked hard to better herself throughout her career and now has a chance to compete for a chance at playing professionally," he said. "I'm extremely excited for Cassie to have the opportunity to extend her playing career beyond college."

While the NWHL event is just two days long, Dunne is aware of her good track record when it comes to making a positive impression quickly, even among numerous top players. Back in December, she entered a two-day camp to select the 2017 U.S. National University Team as a relative unknown. Not only did she make the final roster, she was named one of the squad's co-captains, and eventually helped lead it to a bronze medal at the World University Games in February.

It was the experience at WUG that triggered her current quest.

"Before our big game against Canada, Coach Shelley [Looney] asked the captains to meet and tell her how we were feeling and what the sense in the locker room was," Dunne recalled. "I immediately blurted out, 'During camp in Chicago I fell in love with hockey again and I'm ready to share that excitement with my teammates and help them feel the same way.'"

"Playing against Lindenwood [at WUG camp] reminded me of why I've always continued playing hockey and where my love for the sport came from," she continued. "The game is fast and competitive, it rewards the hard workers, and when the teamwork is cohesive, there's no better feeling in the world."

That Canadian team at the World University Games in Kazakhstan featured players from U Sports (Canada's sanctioning body for inter-university athletics), many of whom will go on to play in both the NWHL and the rival Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL). Dunne and Team USA also squared off against Russia, which featured a bevy of players from that nation's senior national team. One of them, Liudmila Belyakova, played for the NWHL's New York Riveters in 2015-16.

"Playing on the big stage against talented competitors with great teammates was all it took to get goosebumps and a feeling that you're in that exact moment where you were meant to be," Dunne said. "I told Coach Pat when I came home that I wanted to keep playing, I didn't feel like my time was up, and I was ready to do whatever it took to at least be seen by the NWHL."

"As a player, we all hope to play until they tell us we can't, and after her experience at the World University Games this year, I can't think of a better way for Cassie to cap this season," Fung added.

Former NWHL head coach Shelley Looney led Dunne and Team USA to bronze medals in February

Notably Looney, Team USA's head coach at World University Games, led the NWHL's Buffalo Beauts during their inaugural 2015-16 season. Looney's co-coach that year, Ric Seiling, remains with the club as a coach and general manager.

Following the camp, unrestricted free agency will open on June 1st with Dunne then hoping to secure a deal with one of the NWHL's four franchises (all league contracts are for one year, with financial terms undisclosed). There is also a restricted free agency period - during which teams can re-sign their players from 2016-17 - spanning the entire month of May before new players are permitted to sign. With four re-signings league-wide through the first ten days of the RFA period, however, early indications are that teams may be anticipating what the unrestricted free agent pool has to offer.

Each roster includes 15 skaters and two goaltenders as well as six unpaid practice players, with the latter group still eligible to fill in as needed for games due to injuries or other commitments (most players also hold other employment, often in the weekend-gobbling hockey world).

The Wyndmoor, PA native's senior season at Penn State wrapped up with a spot on the ECWHL's all-conference first team and Academic All-American honors. She set a new Lady Ice Lions record with five power play goals this past year and was eleventh in the ACHA in overall goal scoring by a blueliner.

The NWHL is set to begin the 2017-18 season in October, but without the well-known stars of the United States senior national team, which centralizes its ranks to train for a full year prior to each Olympic Games, in this case the 2018 event set for next February in PyeongChang, South Korea. It's a situation that Dunne and other free agents hope helps open the league's rosters up for fresh blood.

Meanwhile, the ACHA has developed a growing reputation among North America's two professional women's hockey leagues in recent years. In 2016-17, the CWHL featured Hayley Williams (Miami/Robert Morris) and Kristen Levesque (Rhode Island). Liberty's Sarah Stevenson was the 17th overall selection in the CWHL draft in 2015, the highest ever for an ACHA alumna, and played for the Toronto Furies during the 2015-16 season. While CWHL players don't draw a salary, the league does compensate some equipment and travel expenses and stands as a viable alternative for many top-end players, particularly Canadians.

Many ACHAers have also found traction playing professionally in Europe, including 2014 Massachusetts grads Chelsea and Raschelle Bräm, who have been with Switzerland's SC Reinach since college. Former Vermont player Emily Ford, whose career with the Catamounts ran from 2013 through 2016, skated with Austria's Neuberg Highlanders this past season.

Largely though, it's been the NWHL that's provided the ACHA with its biggest pro highlights. Williams played for the Buffalo Beauts in 2015-16 and was voted into the league's first all-star game, where she scored a goal. Paige Harrington, who spent her freshman year at Penn State as a Lady Icer in 2011-12 before transferring to UMass, has been with the Beauts for two seasons, helping the squad to the NWHL's Isobel Cup championship in March.

Penn State's history with pro hockey includes both Harrington and Andrea Lavelle, who suited up for the Beatrice Aeros of the old National Women's Hockey League (a forerunner of the CWHL and unrelated to the current NWHL) during the 2002-03 season following graduation and a PSU career highlighted by the 2001-02 Zoe M. Harris Award as the ACHA's player of the year. Others, including 2015 graduate Madison Smiddy and 2011 graduate Heather Rossi, have been invited to NWHL free agent camps but remained unsigned.

"We have had several players in the last few years earn opportunities in the NWHL or in Europe," Fung observed.

"But Cassie's story is a great one of just how far one can develop in a four-year college career if they're willing to commit and work for it."

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New Captain O'Connor Set to Lead Lady Ice Lions into 2017-18 Season

Riley O'Connor, Rachel Cole, Meghan Miller and Tarika Embar will be the 2017-18 Lady Ice Lions captains



In 2017-18, for the second consecutive year and following a team vote, the Penn State Women's Ice Hockey Club will feature an entirely new on-ice leadership group, led by new captain Riley O'Connor.

Tarika Embar, Rachel Cole and Meghan Miller will be the alternate captains.

"I'm excited about our captain group for the upcoming season," head coach Patrick Fung said. "They're a great mix of personalities, backgrounds and talents, but you'll notice a few common qualities: All four are elite students who have balanced academics, work, a social life and hockey without letting one be an excuse for not achieving the others."

"All four are also passionate competitors who have used the last few years develop themselves into quality hockey players at this level, and serve as examples that we're never done getting better."

With one full year remaining in her college career, O'Connor has already carved an impressive niche in team history. Her 46 career points are topped only by 2015-16 seniors Darby Kern and Devon Fisk among WIHC-era players, and she ranks 18th all-time when including the Lady Icers (statistics were recorded beginning in 2001-02). O'Connor was the ACHA's rookie of the month in November of 2014 en route to being named team rookie of the year, and has followed her freshman year up with ECWHL all-conference honorable mentions to end each of the last two seasons, as well as Academic All-American recognition this past year.

She will also serve as club president, a dual leadership role that is surprisingly rare. Jackie Saideh, a 2016 graduate, was both president and captain during her senior year, but that's the only other time it's happened since 2010.

Embar, who joins O'Connor as the Lady Ice Lions' only returning seniors, has been regarded as one of the team's hardest workers and most athletic players since arriving in 2014, and already had the respect of the room well before earning a letter. The big Pittsburgh native scored twice in the final five games of the 2016-17 season, including a crucial tally against NCAA Division III Lebanon Valley College that helped the WIHC to its first win over a varsity opponent. Embar, who was an Academic All-American in 2016-17 and will be the team's treasurer in 2017-18, has played in 69 career games to place second to O'Connor among the squad's most experienced players.

Cole is another player who has progressed steadily throughout her career. The rising junior scored her first career goal with 4:40 remaining in an early-season contest at Northeastern to supply Penn State's margin of victory, and went on to finish tied for fifth on the team in scoring (second among forwards). The former Steel City Selects teammate of Embar often played a key defensive role on the team as a checking-line center and saw heavy special teams usage. While not yet eligible for Academic All-American status, a distinction reserved for upperclassmen, Cole's 3.98 grade point average through a demanding biology/pre-medicine curriculum certainly would have qualified but for her class standing.

As the Lady Ice Lions' scoring leader last season, Miller was particularly effective late in the year after moving from center to O'Connor's left wing, delivering ten points over the team's final 12 games on the way to All-ECWHL honorable mention recognition.. The 2015-16 team rookie of the year has developed a reputation as a power play specialist, as she accumulated seven points on the advantage in 2016-17. As a freshman, she became the first documented Penn Stater to score in her first three college games since Alicia Lepore in 2006-07, with two of those tallies coming on the power play as well.

"We're fortunate to have a dedicated group that has played critical roles for the team on the ice for two and three seasons respectively," Fung concluded. "It is now their turn to fulfill the honor and responsibility of being named captains to the team."

PENN STATE CAPTAINS (SINCE 2005)


Season
Captain(s)
Alternate(s)
2005-06
Ashleigh Kinder
Lauren Johnston
Dana Voelker
2006-07
Dana Voelker
Chelsea Sacks
Jess Waldron
2007-08
Caitlyn Sawyer
Chelsea Sacks
Jess Waldron
2008-09
Chelsea Sacks
Jess Waldron
Alicia Lepore
Krissy Heard
2009-10
Alicia Lepore
Claire Slagis
Dana Heller
Sara Chroman
2010-11
Sara Chroman
Dana Heller
Michelle Clarke
2011-12
Sara Chroman
Dana Heller
2012-13
Carly Szyszko
Elizabeth Denis
Allie Rothman
Mary Kate Tonetti
2013-14
Carly Szyszko
Allie Rothman
Ashton Schaffer
2014-15
Ashton Schaffer
Kim Badorrek
Jackie Saideh
Geneva Wagoner
2015-16
Jackie Saideh
Ashton Schaffer
Darby Kern
Nina Elia
2016-17
Kelly Watson
Lucy Yeatman
Anna Marcus
Cassie Dunne
2017-18
Riley O'Connor
Tarika Embar
Meghan Miller
Rachel Cole

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