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Elementary: Watson Drives PSU To Smooth Consolation Victory

Kelly Watson had a career day with three goals and two assists



It's right there in the name: consolation game.

One thing is implied by that name, another is more directly stated. The first thing, of course, is that there has been some sort of negative happening that requires consoling. Usually in sports, that means a loss in the semifinals of a tournament, which is what happened to Penn State on Saturday against Rhode Island.

But the more applicable piece for PSU on Sunday morning in Amherst, MA might be the consolation earned through a win in that game. There isn't a trophy involved, nor does it build into anything for next week, but it was still something positive that that program desperately needed to close the 2016-17 season.

The opponent for the ECWHL third-place match was Northeastern, undermanned but still capable of danger, especially when keeping in mind that the Lady Ice Lions needed a late Rachel Cole winner in their only previous meeting this season.

Not so much this time.

Kelly Watson - who had six career goals and 18 career points in three season entering the game - scored three times and added two assists, and received support from markers by Liz Tuorinsky, Tarika Embar, Meghan Miller and Darian Dempsey, as Penn State crushed the Huskies by a 7-1 count.

Tuorinsky went first, midway through the opening period and 33 seconds into what would turn out to be Penn State's only power play of the game. Miller fed the puck high and right in the defenseman's wheelhouse for one of the former New Jersey Rocket's rocket-like blasts.

At 1-0 after the first period, the sense in the locker room was that more could still be done. More was then done, pretty definitively.

Watson grabbed her first just 25 seconds into the second period, firing clean through from the top of the left circle, from a Katelyn Trask feed. Six minutes later, right after her promising-looking rush was foiled by an offsides call, Cassie Dunne fired on from center point. Northeastern goalie Tessa Griffin (who closed with 41 saves) was up to the task on that shot, but not on Embar's falling rebound putback.

Lady Ice Lions captain Watson finished her hat trick bridging the second and third periods, on Penn State's fourth and fifth goals. The middle tally, with 4:48 remaining, came from the defenseman carrying the puck most of the length of the ice and creating a 2-on-1, then leaving for Lucy Yeatman in the right circle. She then followed Yeatman's shot to the net and pushed home the rebound. A more conventional goal for a defenseman followed that, with Cole grabbing the primary assist.

Although she was done scoring goals at that point, Watson wasn't done contributing offensively in the late stages of the rout. Penn State piled on goals six and seven in the closing minutes, first with Miller finishing off Watson's shot, then with Dempsey's snipe off of right wing, with a secondary apple there finishing off the junior's five-point outing.

Notably, three of the five Lady Ice Lions' seniors - Dunne, Yeatman and Dempsey - recorded scoring stats in the final game of their respective careers. While Anna Marcus and Jordan Chiavacci did not, it certainly wasn't for a lack of chances, as each turned in a quality effort throughout.

Northeastern's only goal came off of the stick of Christina Grassie, with Sophie Paolizzi serving a second-period tripping penalty. It made the score 3-1 at that point, but ultimately proved to be chewing gum patching cracks in a dam.

Penn State finishes the campaign at 7-19-1 overall, a modest improvement from 2015-16's 5-20-2 but with - in light of last year's 7-2 consolation game drubbing by Vermont - a much, much better feeling at the end of it.

Box Score


First Period
Scoring
1. Penn State, Liz Tuorinsky (Meghan Miller), 11:47 (power play).
Penalties
1. Northeastern, Meaghan McDougall (2:00 hooking), 12:20.
Second Period
Scoring
2. Penn State, Kelly Watson (Katelyn Trask), 19:35; 3. Penn State, Tarika Embar (Cassie Dunne), 13:30; 4. Northeastern, Christina Grassie (Catriona Hong), 11:41 (power play); 5. Penn State, Kelly Watson (Lucy Yeatman, Rachel Kapoian), 4:48.
Penalties
2. Penn State, Meghan Miller (2:00 slashing), 17:31; 3. Penn State, Sophie Paolizzi (2:00 tripping), 12:33; 4. Penn State, Liz Tuorinsky (2:00 body checking), 1:41.
Third Period
Scoring
6. Penn State, Kelly Watson (Rachel Kapoian, Rachel Cole), 17:35; 7. Penn State, Meghan Miller (Kelly Watson, Sophie Paolizzi), 14:20; 7. Penn State, Darian Dempsey (Liz Tuorinsky, Kelly Watson), 4:00.
Penalties
5. Penn State, Cassie Dunne (2:00 hooking), 9:35.
Goaltending
Penn State: Meg Lydick: W, 16 saves/17 shots; Northeastern: Tessa Griffin: L, 41 saves/48 shots.

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First-Teamer Dunne Leads Five Lady Ice Lions Receiving All-ECWHL Honors

Cassie Dunne capped her Penn State career with one more honor



In a legendary career that didn't need much more bookending after captaining the U.S. National University Team to a bronze medal at the World University Games, Cassie Dunne found one last bit of icing: first-team All-ECWHL recognition.

The turn at WUG, although not specifically considered for ACHA conference awards, certainly did help the Princeton Tiger Lilies product's profile across the association. And deservedly so - only two American teams have medaled at World University Games in the modern era, and only three players in ACHA history have worn a C for those teams (Ramey Weaver captained the 2013 bronze medal squad, while Jessie Rushing was Dunne's co-captain in 2017).

Stateside, of course, Dunne has enjoyed a prolific offensive year in leading Penn State in goals with six. Five have been on the power play - setting a new team single-season record in that category - including an overtime winner at Vermont back on October 1st, PSU's first win of the season. Beyond the UVM tally, all of her scoring burned national contenders: Rhode Island (twice), Massachusetts, Michigan State and Liberty.

She becomes just the second Penn Stater to crack the ECWHL's first team since PSU re-joined the conference in 2014, joining Darby Kern in 2014-15.

The defenseman was one of the five Lady Ice Lions recognized overall, as Riley O'Connor, Meghan Miller, Meg Lydick and Kelly Watson all garnered honorable mention nods.

O'Connor, on the surface, has struggled statistically in her junior year, but the word "struggle" only really applies for those who haven't actually watched her play. She has blossomed as a leader on and off the ice, while centering PSU's top line all season long. The speedy and gritty O'Connor also scored Penn State's first shorthanded goal since 2014 on a breakaway against Liberty on January 27th. She was an All-ECWHL honorable mention in 2015-16.

Rhode Island native Miller stands as the Lady Ice Lions' leading scorer (12 points) with one game remaining in the year, but well beyond that, has been a smart and responsible two-way player either at center or on O'Connor's wing, where she has been late in the season. She has been exceptionally good down the stretch, posting eight points in PSU's last 11 games.

Lydick is perhaps the most essential player on Penn State's team: its only goalie. She has played every minute of every game for the Lady Ice Lions and, somewhat unsurprisingly given that situation, set a new single-season team saves record with 826 and counting. Lydick also set a single-game record in the category with 64 (on 68 shots) at Michigan State on January 21st and posted her first career shutout against NCAA Division III's Lebanon Valley College on February 4th.

Team captain Watson, an All-ECWHL second teamer last season, has continued as a quiet and effective model player. Her four goals are second only to Dunne among Penn Staters, including the game winner in the aforementioned LVC contest on February 4th. She also scored in both ends of the series at Vermont on September 30th and October 1st and in the ECWHL semifinals against Rhode Island.

Here is the complete list of All-ECWHL selections:

First Team
All-ECWHL
Second Team
All-ECWHL
Amber Greene
Massachusetts
G
Abbey Torres
Rhode Island
Brittani Lanzilli
Massachusetts
F
Jojo Olson
Massachusetts
Madison Balutowski
Rhode Island
F
Casey McCormick
Rhode Island
Michaela Tosone
Massachusetts
F
Janessa Courtney
Rhode Island
Cassie Dunne
Penn State
D
Tatum Schulz
Massachusetts
Vicki Bortolussi
Massachusetts
D
Alex Celia
Vermont

Honorable Mention
All-ECWHL
Pos.
School
Riley O'Connor
F
Penn State
Meghan Miller
F
Penn State
Kelly Watson
D
Penn State
Meg Lydick
G
Penn State
Carly Tashman
F
Vermont
Nicole Raccuia
F
Vermont
Estelle Ip
F
Northeastern
Christina Grassie
D
Northeastern
Tessa Griffin
G
Northeastern

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Yet Again: Rhode Island Bounces Penn State From ECWHL Semifinals

Kelly Watson scored Penn State's only goal



Tai Marino scored twice, both on tappers in front of the net and both assisted by Monica Darby, while Janessa Courtney, Shaylyn Maybury and Maddie Balutowski added single goals to power Rhode Island past Penn State 5-1 in their ECWHL semifinal contest on Saturday afternoon in Amherst, MA.

For the Lady Ice Lions, the defeat was the latest chapter in a recurring nightmare: the Rams have now dispatched PSU from the ECWHL semifinals in each of the squad's three seasons since returning to the conference and ACHA Division 1. Additionally, URI has won 11 straight games in the series overall, or every meeting since a 3-2 Penn State win on November 9, 2014.

Marino's first tally set the tone early, just 3:55 from the opening puck drop, and slightly contrary to what had been an even, highly-physical start to things. Nine minutes later, an uncovered Courtney made the score 2-0 from the top of the circle with Trisha Cierniak in the box on a hooking call, a margin that held into the first intermission.

The physical nature of the rivalry match didn't wane from the first couple minutes, as it produced fifteen total penalties (seven for cross checking, elbowing or body checking), and even a couple of near-fights. Despite the heavy parade to the box, however, each team only managed one power play goal.

Following Marino's second, which pushed the Rams' edge to three through 40 minutes, Maybury's floater from just inside the line made it 4-0 with 15:02 remaining in the third period. Kelly Watson managed to answer that one quickly though, thanks to some help from a Brynne Costa hooking call just 20 seconds after the Maybury goal.

On the play, which occurred nine seconds into the Costa penalty, Meghan Miller won an offensive draw back to Liz Tuorinsky. Tuorinsky whipped a D-to-D pass across to Watson, who fired home her fourth of the year.

The highlight would be short-lived though, as Penn State couldn't venture any further into a comeback attempt, while Balutowski capped the game's scoring with 2:11 remaining.

Meg Lydick checked in with her typically-stout effort in goal, stopping 47 shots. URI's Abbey Torres turned aside 14 of the 15 Lady Ice Lion shots she faced.

Penn State, now 6-19-1 overall, will close the 2016-17 season on Sunday at 9:30 a.m. in the ECWHL consolation game, against either Northeastern or Massachusetts.

Box Score


First Period
Scoring
1. Rhode Island, Tai Marino (Monica Darby), 16:05; 2. Rhode Island, Janessa Courtney (Sam Evans), 7:00 (power play).
Penalties
1. Penn State, Trisha Cierniak (2:00 hooking), 7:44; 2. Penn State, Anna Marcus (2:00 hooking), 5:42; 3. Penn State, Cassie Dunne (2:00 tripping), 4:44; 4. Rhode Island, Tea Williams (2:00 tripping), 1:14.
Second Period
Scoring
3. Rhode Island, Tai Marino (Monica Darby), 10:56.
Penalties
5. Penn State, Katelyn Trask (2:00 cross checking), 19:32; 6. Penn State, Liz Tuorinsky (2:00 elbowing), 18:20; 7. Rhode Island, Lexie Stefekos (2:00 body checking), 15:09; 8. Penn State, Liz Tuorinsky (2:00 body checking), 5:19; 9. Rhode Island, Caitlin McGuirl (2:00 slashing), 4:14; 10. Rhode Island, Michelle Monet (2:00 tripping), 0:55; 11. Penn State, Liz Tuorinsky (2:00 roughing), 0:55.
Third Period
Scoring
4. Rhode Island, Shaylyn Maybury (unassisted), 15:02; 5. Penn State, Kelly Watson (Liz Tuorinsky, Meghan Miller), 14:33 (power play); 6. Rhode Island, Maddie Balutowski (Tea Williams), 2:11.
Penalties
12. Penn State, Darian Dempsey (2:00 elbowing), 19:16; 13. Rhode Island, Brynne Costa (2:00 hooking), 14:42; 14. Rhode Island, Maddie Balutowski (2:00 roughing), 6:28; 15. Rhode Island, Brynne Costa (2:00 tripping), 1:02.
Goaltending
Penn State: Meg Lydick: L, 47 saves/52 shots; Rhode Island: Abbey Torres: W, 14 saves/15 shots.

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Penn State Set to Attempt Beasting the East at the ECWHL Playoffs

Goalie Meg Lydick will try to hold off URI's Maddie Balutowski and Monica Darby at bay on Saturday



2017 ECWHL Playoffs
Schedule
Friday, February 24th
4. Vermont vs. 5. Northeastern, 8:00 p.m.

Saturday, February 25th
2. Rhode Island vs. 3. Penn State, 3:00 p.m.
1. Massachusetts vs. Vermont/Northeastern, 5:30 p.m.

Sunday, February 26th
Third-Place Game (Saturday's losers), 9:30 a.m.
Championship Game (Saturday's winners), 12:00 p.m.
Where
Mullins Center
Amherst, MA
The Lead
A first-ever league tournament title, a top-15 ranking and momentum into next year are all on the table as Penn State closes the 2016-17 season at the ECWHL playoffs
Live Video/
Audio
Mixlr (audio)

Last season, the Lady Ice Lions were 4-8-2 in ECWHL games, good for fourth place. The team was a heavy underdog heading into the league playoffs, and mostly lived up to that status by dumping last-place Northeastern in the first round but getting blown out by Rhode Island in the semifinals and Vermont in the third-place game.

This season, the Lady Ice Lions are 5-9-0 in ECWHL games, good for third place. The team is a heavy underdog heading into the league playoffs.

Even if it looks a bit similar on the surface, it might not be so underneath.

In 2015-16, PSU was mostly sputtering towards the finish line. Although the spring semester opened with an overtime win over No. 5 Massachusetts and included semi-encouraging losses to Liberty and Colorado one week later, things largely came unglued after that. Blown third-period leads produced an 0-2-1 weekend against Davenport and Vermont in late January, URI hung seven and six on PSU the following weekend, and Liberty delivered two of the most embarrassing defeats in team history to close the regular season.

This year, even though the results haven't always necessarily presented in the win column, there's a much more optimistic air to things, a palpable and positive feeling around the team in recent weeks. That top-ranked Liberty team that plastered 13 on Penn State last February 13th? They needed four games to hit that number this time around and struggled to earn wins in a couple of them. In between those two weekend sets with the Flames, PSU tied and won against NCAA Division III's Lebanon Valley College - the team's first on-ice series victory since November 7th and 8th, 2015.

All of that may or may not translate to a better result at this weekend's ECWHL playoffs, but either way, there's little doubt that plenty of good outcomes remain on the horizon for this year's squad.
  • Winning the championship. With the 2017 ACHA National Tournament far out of Penn State's sights, the team will be able to empty the entirety of what's left in the tank on the idea of finishing the season by taking a league crown. That would be no small achievement: in eight previous trips to ECWHLs between the Lady Icers and Lady Ice Lions, PSU has only even advanced to the title game once, in 2012, ending with a loss to Rhode Island. The Lady Ice Lions' league tournament struggles are also accented by a College Hockey East championship game loss to California (PA) in 2014 after winning the CHE regular season title during its only year in the league. Penn State's last tournament title of any conference came in the Delaware Valley Collegiate Hockey Conference in 2003, capping the storied league's first season of women's play.
  • Beating Rhode Island. While UMass, the ECWHL's other historic giant, has certainly presented Penn State with plenty of issues over the last three years, it's been URI that has represented PSU's biggest hurdle. Although the Lady Ice Lions toppled the Rams early in 2014-15 to earn a road split that arguably changed the course of that ACHA tournament season, URI has taken ten consecutive meetings since then, including ECWHL semifinal games in both 2015 and 2016. A victory over Rhody, regardless of what happens in the hypothetical title game the next day, would represent an important momentum-building step into 2017-18.
  • Re-entering, and staying in, the ACHA Rankings. This past week, Penn State crept back into the ACHA's top 15, and now sits right at 15th. That's the first time PSU has received an official ranking since Ranking 3 of last year, issued on January 17, 2016, before subsequently dropping out in the end-of-season Ranking 4 that incorporated the 2016 ECWHL playoff results. The ACHA shifted to a weekly ranking in 2016-17, and while PSU has flirted with the polls for most of the campaign, including landing in the "others receiving votes" category in 12 of the first 15 issued, it took until the 16th to finally grab a little number in front of the Penn State name. Keeping that number - a symbolic reversal from last season, if nothing else - into the offseason will require a quality effort at playoffs, of course.
Any or all of those things, while not the program's intended final destination of course, would offer a generally happy ending to 2016-17.

If Penn State is to get there, it will need continued strong play from freshman goalie Meg Lydick. Lydick's rookie season has included a new team single-season saves record (779 and counting) while playing every available second in goal. She's fronted by a sturdy defense group, including classmates Kate Lombardozzi and Trish Cierniak, as well as veterans Kelly Watson, Cassie Dunne and Anna Marcus.

Perhaps even more importantly, the Lady Ice Lions will need to squeeze some offense out of the lineup, which has been a year-long struggle. Meghan Miller, the team's leading scorer, has just 11 points, while the team has been shut out or limited to one goal 12 times in 22 games this season. There are at least a couple signs of improvement there. Riley O'Connor, PSU's leading scorer returning from last season, has come to life of late with goals in each of the team's last two series, including the blue and white's first shorthanded tally since 2014. Miller has been steady all year long, and playing Dunne (Penn State's leading goal scorer) on wing remains an option for coach Patrick Fung, as the bench boss tries to maximize production.

Here are a few other storylines from around the league:

Bubblicious: Simply put, no team has more on the line this weekend than Rhode Island, Penn State's first opponent. The Rams, who have won a record nine ECWHL tournaments, sit at ninth in the ACHA rankings and, more likely than not, need to win the championship to have a shot at qualifying for a 13th ACHA National Tournament. URI certainly has the horses to make such a run, as freshman stars Brynne Costa and Maddie Balutowski are complimented by veterans Monica Darby, Janessa Courtney and Casey McCormick, who has enjoyed a breakout season as a junior. Underrated goalie Abbey Torres is fronted by a capable defense including Jackie Keable and Michelle Monet. The Rams, notably, are the only team that blemished the otherwise perfect ECWHL record of UMass, thanks to a 3-3 draw on January 21st. A URI ACHA tourney miss would be their second time staying home in three years after earning trips to nationals every year from 2004 through 2014.

Hot Minute: Massachusetts is more or less in the opposite position as their archrivals at Rhody. They would, of course, love to capture their third straight ECWHL title (fourth overall) on their home ice, but if they don't, very little is likely to chance for UMass nationally. At fourth in the rankings, the Minutewomen are probably safe in terms of ACHAs, regardless of what happens this weekend, and realistically they don't have a ton of room to move more than a spot or two in either direction. So for Bill Wright's squad, the trophy and gearing up for a national title run are the priorities. World University Games star Amber Greene has taken the team to the next level this year with improved goaltending, while reigning ACHA player of the year Brittani Lanzilli (who also played for Team USA) has clocked in with another outstanding season - 24 goals and 40 points. Jojo Olson and Michaela Tosone are complimentary offensive pieces, while Tatum Schulz and Vicki Bortolussi (herself a former WUG selection, in 2015) lead a potent blueline.

Will Northeastern Show Up: It's the most fundamental of questions, but one that deserves asking after the Huskies bailed on their scheduled trip to Penn State on February 10th and 11th. Between that weekend and another cancellation in Boston on October 30th, three of the four meetings between PSU and Northeastern this season have ended in NU forfeits. For what it's worth the Huskies, 2-16-0 overall, did find the motivation to make out-of-town road games at Vermont (January 21st and 22nd) and Rhode Island (February 3rd and 4th) in the 2017 calendar year. Given that and the likelihood of a one-and-done, no-hotel-required showing in Amherst (less than a two-hour drive from Boston), an affirmative answer seems more likely than not.

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