BLOG: Dunne's Road to the Show

Running updates on 2017 graduate Cassie Dunne's quest to play professional hockey

July 18, 2017 | 6:42 p.m.

The NWHL announced today that it has increased its roster size for the 2017-18 season, to a maximum of 25 players per team. Here are the specifics, from the league's release:
  • All NWHL teams may now consist of up to 25 players. As in the past, 17 players will dress for games for each team.
  • The option to flex to up to 25 roster spots is available until the last week of the regular season.
  • There are no longer “practice players,” as there were in the first two years of the league.
  • Every player that signs a contract in the NWHL will be considered a regular team member of that franchise.
As touched on there, last season involved 17 regular roster players per team plus up to five "practice players." The practice players, as the name implies, were unpaid and practiced with their teams, but were only eligible to play in games if regular roster players were unavailable.

The NWHL also confirmed later in the day that players will be paid on a per-game basis in 2017-18 (as opposed to the flat season rate of the league's first two years), with only players who dress being compensated.

Both bits of news are certainly positive for Dunne. Obviously, the across-the-board expansion of the number of available roster spots is a boost for anyone who remains unsigned - under the 17-player limit, things hadn't become dire for the free agent pool, but they were getting a bit cozy. Additionally, since teams are only bound to pay 17 players per game regardless of roster size, there's not much cost associated with (for example) adding a 23rd player if a squad only has 22 signed. While each franchise is likely to come in at least a player or two under capacity at the beginning of the season to allow for flexibility later in the year, the bottom line is that the NWHL has gone from a hard limit of 68 full players to as many as 100.

July 12, 2017 | 8:45 p.m.

Regardless of the outcome of Dunne's situation, Penn State will have at least one former player in the NWHL for the 2017-18 season.

Paige Harrington, a big defenseman who spent 2011-12 with the Lady Icers before transferring to Massachusetts and (eventually) opposing PSU as a senior in 2014-15, signed with the Boston Pride today. She spent her first two professional seasons as a member of the circuit's Buffalo Beauts, highlighted by the 2017 Isobel Cup championship, but found the idea of a move back to her home state and the team she and the Beauts defeated in the 2017 final too good to pass up.

Harrington represents, arguably, the ACHA's greatest success story in professional hockey. On the women's side of things, her only true competition comes from former UMass teammates Chelsea and Raschelle Bräm, and from Hayley Williams, another former Harrington teammate through the 2013 and 2015 World University Games tournaments and the 2015-16 Beauts. The Bräm twins have played in Switzerland since their 2014 graduations, while Williams was voted to the 2016 NWHL All-Star Game in her season in Buffalo before playing with the CWHL's Brampton Thunder last year. With Williams' situation for 2017-18 still up in the air, Harrington and the Bräms are the only ACHA women's alumni ever to play at least three pro seasons.

The bad news, of course, is that Harrington's gain - an increasingly scarce NWHL roster spot - is Dunne's loss. The Pride now have three of their six defensemen locked down, in addition to a full complement of nine forwards. Buffalo also has their forward spots filled, plus four of six blueline openings. Slightly more encouraging situations exist in Connecticut (two forwards, five defensemen signed, with just two of those seven signings taking place after June 2nd) and New York (eight forwards, two defensemen). At the same time, there is a bit of a silver lining in the idea that Dunne now has an advocate under contract with, arguably, the NWHL's premier franchise.

July 2, 2017 | 6:04 p.m.

While waiting as a player hoping to secure a professional roster spot can be tough, some solace can come from the fact that the NWHL has a little bit of a history of waiting until - literally - the last minute to fill up its rosters.

During its inaugural 2015 offseason, the league set a free agency deadline of August 17th. Into the final week before that date, just 42 of the then-72 roster spots had been filled after a couple months of free agency. Notably, ACHA alumni Paige Harrington and Hayley Williams were part of the final push, as their signings were announced by Buffalo on August 11th. Even with those two and a few others signing early in the final week, roughly 20 spots remained available into the 17th.

Last year, the deadline was set on July 31st and once again, a large percentage of roster spots remained open into the last week, fueled in part by a high-profile holdout by the members of the U.S. national team.

This time around, the league has not declared an official signing deadline. However, with 29 of 68 full roster spots remaining open (27 of 60 when removing goalies from the math), and with zero signings league-wide since Bray Ketchum re-upped with the New York Riveters on June 22nd, the NWHL seems headed for another drawn-out free agency process.

June 25, 2017 | 12:34 p.m.

For all but a handful of players looking to break into any pro league, there's a degree of patience required. Teams, generally, prioritize re-signing their existing talent before moving on to fresh blood. And even once that shift happens, there are a lot of variables in play, including geography, finances, system fit and available competition from other players. In Dunne's case (as with many others), that's produced a bit of a waiting game with the NWHL at this stage of the summer.

That's not to say that it's been an unproductive two weeks since she attended the Buffalo Beauts' free agent camp, as the aspiring pro has had positive conversations with coaches from the Beauts and other teams, while keeping her name fresh in their minds. Signing news league-wide has been encouraging in its slowness as well.

NWHL teams carry 17 full roster players (in addition to a few "practice players"), two of which are goalies, leaving 15 forward and defense spots on each squad. So far, with nearly two months gone since teams were first allowed to re-sign current players (a period that began May 1st) and nearing one month of being permitted to sign anyone else (the unrestricted period began June 1st), here's how things stack up for 2017-18 to this point:

Boston Pride: 8 forwards, 2 defensemen, 1 goalie
Buffalo Beauts: 3 forwards, 3 defensemen, 2 goalies
Connecticut Whale: 2 forwards, 5 defensemen, 1 goalie
New York Riveters: 8 forwards, 2 defensemen, 2 goalies

All in all, just 33 of a projected 60 non-goalie spots league-wide have been filled. Dunne's positional flexibility - she played primarily defense in college of course, but spotted on wing and is training with the idea of possibly playing up front in the pros - will definitely offer a selling point on a small roster. Another major positive on the speedster's ledger has always been her persistence and tenacity, traits that will continue to be required in healthy doses as the days grind on.

June 15, 2017 | 7:49 p.m.

Although the NWHL has been an early-summer focus due to free-for-all fashion in which it fills up its teams, Dunne has taken an important step forward with North America's other professional women's league by registering for the 2017 Canadian Women's Hockey League Draft.

The CWHL Draft works a little differently from most other league drafts. Players registering must designate between one and three "acceptable locations," or places they would willing to play, a process that makes sense given the present realities in women's pro hockey concerning geography and salary. Acceptable locations are not made public, but are known to the league's six teams - Boston, Toronto, Calgary, Montreal, Brampton and new expansion squad Kunlun Red Star in Beijing, China - who are then only allowed to select players that have approved their location. Furthermore, the draft continues until all registered players are selected, even if it means that the end of the proceedings have numerous one-pick "rounds" to exhaust the list, as happened with the Boston Blades last year. All selected players are then invited to their team's tryout.

The last two drafts have each involved at least one former Penn State opponent from the ACHA. In 2016, Rhode Island alumnae Sydney Collins and Kristen Levesque were taken by the Blades with consecutive picks. In 2015, Liberty's Sarah Stevenson went in the fourth round, 17th overall, to the Toronto Furies. Both Levesque and Stevenson went on to play for their drafting teams.

This year's version will see Dunne assigned to a CWHL team on August 20th, with player registrations accepted through August 1st. An up-to-date list of draft prospects is available on the CWHL's website.

June 14, 2017 | 3:17 p.m.

The Buffalo Beauts have made their first free agent camp-related transaction, inking SUNY Potsdam's Jordan Ott to a contract after she put together an impressive weekend at the event. Ott is the Bears' all-time leader in points and was USCHO's national NCAA Division III rookie of the year in 2014, so the idea that she would earn a pro contract is far from stunning.

From Dunne's perspective, the news isn't discouraging, as Ott's is the only spot in Buffalo that has become unavailable since the camp, and the move demonstrates that the Beauts coaching staff considered the camp a legitimate roster-building tool.

June 13, 2017 | 7:49 p.m.

The write-ups are starting to roll in concerning the Buffalo Beauts' free agent camp this past weekend, with Erik Wollschlager of FanRag Sports working a Dunne mention into his piece.
[Penn State NCAA team graduate Kelly Seward] was joined by standout Cassie Dunne, who wore the ‘A’ for Team USA at the University Games, helping to lead the team to a bronze medal.
Factual errors aside (Dunne was a co-captain of Team USA with Jessie Rushing, and the two rotated wearing the C due to tournament rules only allowing one C at a time), Wollschlager included other bits of encouraging news, including that 23 players registered for the camp with a few unable to attend. The Beauts presently have 15 full roster spots available plus any practice player positions given out. Co-coach Craig Muni was encouraged by the level of those in attendance as well.
“I believe the camp was very productive,” Muni told FanRag Sports. “You can see the skill level of the young ladies getting better with every season. The players who set themselves apart from the pack are those with speed and hockey knowledge.”

Muni drew an optimistic comparison to the camp held last June.

“[For] an overall comparison to last year’s free agent, [this year’s] camp is very similar but there was more noticeable speed on the ice this year,” he said. “Some players stood out not only on the ice, but come with high recommendations from their college coaches. We have some tough decisions to make for the season.”
Without a doubt, it will be interesting to see how the camp affects the formation of the Beauts' 2017-18 roster over the next few weeks.

June 12, 2017 | 5:03 p.m.

Over the weekend's Buffalo Beauts free agent camp at the Hockey Outlet Ice Complex in North Tonawanda, NY, there wasn't a ton of mystery concerning how Dunne would fit in with the pro team - much of it was already there.

While a full camp roster has yet to be released, confirmed attendees included goalie Kelsey Neumann, who has already re-signed with the team for next season, as well as Hayley Scamurra, Jacquie Greco, Kourtney Kunichika and Sarah Casorso, all of whom were with the team during their 2016-17 championship run. ACHA alumna Hayley Williams and Hannah McGowan, who were inaugural Beauts in 2015-16, also attended.

Ohio State NCAA Division I grad Katie Maroney and Marissa Graham (most recently of Canadian school Brock University, although she began her collegiate career with two seasons with ACHA foe Liberty) were attendees among those in Dunne's category of seeking to enter the league for the first time.

For her part, Dunne felt like she acquitted herself well among the many accomplished players, particularly after making key adjustments to her game between the first and second days.

"It was a great opportunity to skate at the Buffalo Beauts invitational camp this weekend," she said "The speed and skills of the girls at camp was impressive, and it was a lot of fun to be out on the ice with them."

"This weekend was a great opportunity, and I look forward to potential opportunities to come."

For now, the focus will continue to be on looking for those opportunities, by finding additional chances to get on the ice in front of pro coaches and by monitoring the roster situations and needs of the nine NWHL and CWHL teams while keeping contact.

June 8, 2017 | 7:45 p.m.

On June 10th and 11th, Dunne will attend her second NWHL free agent camp. While the first, in Massachusetts last month, was a general, league-wide camp, this one will be held in Buffalo and is specific to the Beauts franchise.

The Beauts, arguably, present the most wide-open opportunity of the four NWHL teams. To this point, co-head coaches Ric Seiling (who also serves as general manager) and Craig Muni have just two players committed for 2017-18: goal-scoring forward Corinne Buie and goaltender Kelsey Neumann (the others have signed ten, nine and five of their 17 full-time players). Buffalo, further removed from the East Coast hockey hotbeds than the other three teams, has generally been the slowest-developing roster of the group during the NWHL's three offseasons so far - although the 2017 Isobel Cup champions would certainly have a point in countering that "slower" doesn't mean "worse."

Still, Dunne and the other attendees, many of whom were also at the May camp, will undoubtedly be looking to impress this weekend and earn a contract with the team that has employed both of the ACHA alumni to play in the NWHL to date.

June 1, 2017 | 12:00 a.m.

Following a restricted free agent period spanning the entire month of May, during which only re-signings of previous players were permitted, NWHL free agency is now officially open to Dunne and all other new players seeking a contract in the league.

May 18, 2017 | 2:23 p.m.

The full roster from the NWHL Free Agent Camp in Marlborough, MA over the weekend made its way to the public today.

Among the notables skating alongside Dunne were Paige Harrington and Hayley Williams, the two ACHA alumni with the longest professional careers in North America. Harrington, a 2011-12 Lady Icers player who subsequently finished her career at UMass, is one of two known former Penn State ACHA players to play professionally (2002 graduate Andrea Lavelle is the other). She's been with the NWHL's Buffalo Beauts for two seasons, winning the league's second Isobel Cup championship at the end of 2016-17.

Williams' nomadic collegiate journey began in 2009-10 at NCAA Division I Bemidji State. She then left the sport for three seasons, before returning with single seasons at ACHA schools Robert Morris (2013-14) and Miami (2014-15). The Crete, IL native teamed with Harrington on the 2015-16 Beauts and was voted to the NWHL's first-ever all-star game - where she scored a goal - before moving over to the CWHL and the Brampton Thunder in 2016-17.

Coincidentally - or perhaps not - all three players have been a captain for the U.S. National University Team at World University Games. Dunne, of course, was 2017's co-captain. Harrington and Williams were both alternate captains on the 2013 squad that also won bronze medals, then again in 2015.

College/Previous Team
Rachael Ade
University of Vermont (NCAA)
Kaycie Anderson
Norwich University (NCAA)
Denise Cardello
Castleton University (NCAA)
Megan Delay
Brock University (U-Sports)
Cassandra Dunne
Penn State University (ACHA)
Emily Fluke
Middlebury College (NCAA)
Keira Goin
Utica College (NCAA)
Paige Harrington
University of Massachusetts (ACHA)
Buffalo Beauts (NWHL)
Lindsey Hartfiel
College of St. Scholastica (NCAA)
Kristin Lewicki
Adrian College (NCAA)
Katie Maroney
Ohio State University (NCAA)
Hannah McGowan
Adrian College (NCAA)
Neuberg Highlanders (EWHL)
Sarah Moe
Gustavus Adolphus College (NCAA)
Minnesota Whitecaps (Ind.)
Elizabeth Parker
Harvard University (NCAA)
Lindsey Post
University of Alberta (U-Sports)
Sarah Quigley
Buffalo State College (NCAA)
Corey Stearns
Princeton University (NCAA)
Kathryn Tomaselli
Union College (NCAA)
Boston Pride (NWHL)
Courtney Turner
Union College (NCAA)
Amie Varano
Sacred Heart University (NCAA)
Hayley Williams
Miami University (ACHA)
Brampton Thunder (CWHL)

May 15, 2017 | 3:30 p.m.

Cassie Dunne (left) looks to break out at the NWHL's free agent camp on May 13th

The NWHL's official website published a recap of the free agent camp.
From seasoned veterans to players fresh out of college, 21 players were invited to attend the two-day NWHL Free Agent Camp held at the New England Sports Complex.

The group of forwards, defenders, and goaltenders went through a series of drills, while representatives from around the league scouted the action.

For nearly everyone in the camp, the hope was to be able to continue playing in an organized setting.
Although Dunne was not among the several attendees quoted, she nevertheless got a nice boost through being featured in the photo accompanying the article.

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

May 11, 2017 | 8:41 p.m.

Dunne, inspired by her bronze medal run while captaining Team USA at World University Games this past season, will attempt to catch on with a professional team this summer, in the National Women's Hockey League (NWHL), the Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL), or possibly in Europe. The first step in that process: her invitation to an NWHL free agent camp, set for this weekend at the New England Sports Center in Marlborough, MA.

From the linked story:
"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.

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."
The NWHL, founded in 2015, is based in the United States and made headlines as the first North American women's league to pay its players (the amounts are less than a full-time job however, and start at $5,000 per year, with every contract carrying a one-season term). Undrafted players new to the league, such as Dunne, will be permitted to sign with any team beginning on June 1st, while returning players and draft picks have been able to re-sign with their previous teams since May 1st.

Meanwhile, the CWHL has one American franchise, the Boston Blades, but is otherwise based in Canada. Its method for stocking rosters differs substantially from the NWHL in that all incoming players first register for the CWHL Draft, a procedure that carries a deadline of August 1st. All registered players will be selected in the draft and all draft picks will have an opportunity to subsequently try out. So, early on in the offseason, more attention is likely to be on the NWHL, which will fill its rosters with contract signings first.

Penn State Lady Ice Lions: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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.

Penn State Lady Ice Lions: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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.

Penn State Lady Ice Lions: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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."

Penn State Lady Ice Lions: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram