A Twin Dilemma: Emma Embar Forges Unique Identity at Penn State

Emma Embar (right) scored her first collegiate goal on November 14th against Slippery Rock

By Mary Clarke

Emma Embar shares hockey teams with her twin Tarika, but she doesn’t enjoy the same experience.

Unlike other sets of hockey twins – Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux – Emma’s time with her sister on the ice hasn’t always had success.

“It really depends on the situation we are in when determining if we work well together,” Emma Embar, freshman left winger for the Penn State women’s ice hockey club, said. “We usually get along at practice and can handle being on the same line, but we let coach Pat [Fung] know that it probably isn't the best idea to put us on the same line for games.

“We tend to accidentally ‘follow each other’ around the ice and we get mad at each other quickly.”

Emma and her twin sister Tarika have been playing hockey together since their freshman years of high school. Natives of Pittsburgh, the pair has been inseparable since they first stepped out onto the ice with their first team, the Allderdice Dragons.

As high school went on, the twins moved to playing with other teams, sometimes multiple clubs at a time. In their sophomore year Emma and Tarika split time between the Dragons and a team in the South Hills Amateur Hockey Association. As juniors, they dropped the Dragons and only continued in the SHAHA, but in their last year, the duo played for the Steel City Selects in their U19 Tier II team along with SHAHA.

As seniors with Steel City, the twins helped the Selects take home the U19 Tier II District Championship, and it’s one of Emma’s greatest accomplishments to date.

“The game we played that won us that title was probably the best game I've ever played,” Emma said. “I'm extremely proud of it.”

However, the road together hasn’t been an easy one, Emma said, as she often compares herself to her sister when she scores goals or gets more ice time than her.

“I sometimes take it the wrong way,” Emma said.

Despite their inability to click on the ice and some sibling rivalry, there’s nothing but love between the two sisters.

“[Tarika] works extremely hard both on and off the ice and is committed to any team she's on,” Emma said. “She works on improving as much as she can and it also really helps push me on and off the ice. It often reminds me to work towards the goal of improving myself and to not compare my skill level with the other players.”

The team’s matchup against Slippery Rock on November 14 was a big milestone for the sisters. Both twins tallied goals in a 15-3 rout of the visiting team in Penn State’s last home game of the semester.

The freshman’s goal from the left circle at 5:54 of the second period was her first as a member of the Nittany Lions and her first game sharing a score with her sister in their collegiate careers.

Emma’s path to playing as a forward for the Lady Ice Lions started thanks to the $40,000 Pittsburgh Promise scholarship she received as a part of attending a Pittsburgh Public School, which allowed her to attend any college she wanted in Pennsylvania.

Though she was accepted to the University of Pittsburgh, was within walking distance of the campus, and had pressure from her mother to attend the local college, Emma decided against staying close to home.

“I didn't like the idea of attending school in my backyard and I wanted a full college experience away from home,” Emma said. “Not only did Penn State have my intended major, but I also intended on staying with hockey for as long as possible and Penn State offered both.”

Currently, Emma is enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts and plans on majoring in psychology when able.

The twin’s decision was also an easy one after touring the school last year, as Emma said she fell in love with the campus very early on in the selection process.

As a first-year student on campus and on the ice with the team, Emma knows she has a lot to learn as a beginner with the club.

“My favorite thing about being a part of any hockey team is the family away from family that it offers me, except for the fact that my twin sister has always played with me,” Emma said. “I feel like the older girls on this team are role models for me and it's really a lot different than the age differences on all my younger teams.”

Mary Clarke is a Penn State senior majoring in sports journalism, with a minor in English, and a member of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism. She covers the Nittany Lions varsity hockey teams for both Victory Bell Rings and SB Nation College Hockey.

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Schaffer and O'Connor Claim ACHA Monthly Honors for November

Riley O'Connor is the ACHA's freshman of the month for November

ACHA release

Senior defenseman Ashton Schaffer and freshman forward Riley O'Connor have won two of the ACHA's five monthly awards for November, the association announced on Thursday.

Schaffer took the Great Skate Sportsmanship Award. While a low penalty minute count is a major consideration for the award and the Texan - who serves as the club's co-captain and treasurer - has just six all season, her contributions to the team both on and off the ice go well beyond merely staying out of the box, particularly considering her usage and playing style.

She has teamed with newly-announced World University Games selection Madison Smiddy in each of her games this season, forming a tandem that plays in all situations and against the best competition, yet has helped Penn State hold opponents to exactly two goals per game all season, despite six of the team's 14 games coming against squads presently ranked in the ACHA's top five. Schaffer's consistency and reliability was found both within and across games, as she was the only Lady Ice Lion to appear in each of the team's first 49 contests (since its 2012-13 founding) before finally seeing the string snapped on November 22nd and 23rd at Northeastern due to a scheduling miscommunication.

O'Connor, a product of the noted Princeton Tiger Lilies program, was picked as the Sher-Wood Freshman Spotlight winner.

An obvious highlight of her season so far has been the weekend at Rhode Island on November 8th and 9th, where she scored in each end of the series, including the winner in game two, helping the Lady Ice Lions to a signature victory over the now-third-ranked Rams. She buried twice more within the month, bringing her season total to five goals along with an assist, which came on Tara Soukup's decider at Northeastern on November 23rd.

The Boothwyn, PA native, a speedy, highly-adaptable player who has centered both scoring and shutdown lines this season while increasing her role throughout, has a goal count that trails only four Penn Staters - former NCAA squad members Cara Mendelson, Darby Kern and Katie Murphy, and ACHA All-American Devon Fisk.

O'Connor and Schaffer are the Lady Ice Lions' second and third ACHA monthly award winners, joining senior Mary Kate Tonetti, who was the Warrior Goaltender of the Month in September.

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Smiddy Picked for Team USA, Set to Compete at World University Games

USA Hockey release
Full 2015 U.S. National University Team roster

Senior defenseman Madison Smiddy has been selected to the 2015 U.S. National University Team, head coach Kristen Wright and USA Hockey announced on Monday. Smiddy and the 21 other ACHA players tabbed will wear the red, white and blue and represent the United States in the World University Games tournament, held February 5th through 12th in Granada, Spain.

So far this season, Smiddy has excelled as a senior Lady Ice Lions rookie. She has partnered primarily with Ashton Schaffer to provide the team with a reliable and heavily-used shutdown pair, while also chipping in offensively with a pair of goals and three assists in 14 games. The highlight of those five points, without a doubt, was a low blast from left point that propelled Penn State to a 2-1 overtime win at Northeastern on November 21st.

The Grand Rapids, MI native and product of the noted Honeybaked program spent her sophomore and junior years as a member of Penn State's first two varsity women's hockey teams, posting one goal and seven assists over 20 games. Her 0.40 points per game with the NCAA team were 36 percent better than the next best PSU blueliner over those two campaigns. As a freshman, she played for the former Lady Icers ACHA program and was also a two-way standout, finishing second in defense scoring with five goals and five assists in 26 games and winning the team's rookie of the year award.

Penn State has an illustrious history with the World University Games. Last December, Lady Ice Lions goalie Katie Vaughan helped Team USA to a bronze medal in Trentino, Italy, the first medal by an American squad since the ACHA began stocking USA Hockey's entries to the biennial tournament in 2001 (for the men) and 2011 (for the women). Vaughan's exploits during the most recent edition of the competition included outdueling Russian Olympic goalie Anna Prugova with 33 stops on 35 shots in a 4-2 U.S. victory to open the group stage, and a 37-for-38 effort in the bronze medal match, a 3-1 win over Japan.

The Pittsburgher's showing in Italy helped her win USA Hockey's Adult Player of the Year award this past May.

The 2011 fourth-place U.S. team that competed in Erzurum, Turkey included four Lady Icers: Vaughan, fellow goaltender Heather Rossi, forward Denise Rohlik and defenseman Lindsay Reihl. Both the 2011 and 2013 squads were coached by former Lady Icers boss Mo Stroemel.

Former Penn State Icers coach Scott Balboni will reprise his position leading the American men in 2015, as he did for that group's best-ever fourth place finish in 2013. Seventeen different Icers represented PSU 19 times at the 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011 World University Games tournaments with Balboni's Icers predecessor, Joe Battista, serving as head coach in 2003.

Lady Ice Lions opponents are well represented on the 2015 women's roster as well, featuring seven players from the Eastern Collegiate Women's Hockey League in addition to Smiddy. Massachusetts leads the ECWHL with four selections, headlined by Paige Harrington, who played at Penn State for the Lady Icers in 2011-12. Rhode Island has two on the team - forwards Cassie Catlow and Kristen Levesque - while Vermont's Emily Ford rounds out the ECWHL delegation. Top-ranked defending national champion Miami, which PSU will visit on January 18th, leads all schools with six players plus assistant coach Scott Hicks headed to Spain. Harrington and Catlow were also a part of 2013's bronze medal squad.

Smiddy and Team USA will start things off in Granada as a member of Pool A with China, Japan and Spain, opening with Chinese opposition on February 5th at 11:00 a.m. eastern time. Japan will follow on February 7th at 11:00 a.m., with a contest against the hosts wrapping up pool play on February 9th at 2:30 p.m. Should the U.S. finish in the top two of the group standings, it would advance to the semifinals on February 11th against a Pool B team (three-time gold medalists Canada, Russia and Kazakhstan make up the other side of the field), with the gold and bronze medal games taking place the next day.

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Liberty Proves One Goal Too Far as Penn State Falls Again Saturday

Once again, Penn State provided a sound effort against second-ranked Liberty on Saturday afternoon in Lynchburg, VA, following Friday night's 6-5 overtime defeat. But once again the Lady Ice Lions were a goal short, dropping a 2-1 decision to the Flames to close the 2014 half of this season's schedule.

Autumn Kucharczyk's left-point shot through heavy traffic with 10:51 remaining in the third period proved the difference as LU climbed to 14-3-1 overall. PSU is now 9-5-0 overall and 6-3-0 in the Eastern Collegiate Women's Hockey League.

Darby Kern opened the scoring with 7:02 remaining in the second period against the run of play in a game with a decidedly more measured pace than the series-opening barnburner, as two tired teams attempted to play things tight. Following a quick turnover generated by Geneva Wagoner, Kern lasered a shot past Liberty goaltender Samantha Rupp.

That lead would lead a much shorter life than the 21:28 PSU spent in charge on Friday though.

Following an offensive draw and some sharp puck movement, the Flames' Carrie Jickling beat Mary Kate Tonetti on her glove side with a shot that went bar down from high in the right-wing circle exactly four minutes after PSU went ahead. Madison Fischer and Courtney Gilmour were given assists on the play.

Tonetti was otherwise spectacular though, turning aside 42 shots - including 13 during the first half of the second period, a stretch dominated by LU but ultimately, a sequence of denial that allowed Kern to put her team ahead shortly after. On the other end, Rupp made 23 saves for the hosts.

After Kucharczyk's winner, the Lady Ice Lions still pressed for a second consecutive overtime, particularly in the last six minutes of regulation. Around that mark, Claire Gauthier, strong in possession all weekend, chipped around the LU defense down left wing, but her centering pass for a wide open Devon Fisk just missed. The last 90 seconds of the contest witnessed two more notable close calls: one a Wagoner backhanded wraparound try that generated a rebound for Riley O'Connor and a Madison Smiddy shot that was deflected down by Katie Murphy in front and remained loose near the crease for several seconds. Penn State also received a late power play, with 4:58 remaining and thanks to a Fischer interference call, but could not convert.

In addition to the generally slower pace, the match was also much cleaner than on Friday, with just six total penalty calls. Each team was 0-for-2 on the power play.

Penn State will now enjoy winter break off - well, the "enjoy" part taking over once finals are over in two weeks anyway - and returns to action at Pegula Ice Arena on January 10th and 11th against ECWHL rival Massachusetts. That weekend and the following one, back on the road against Ohio State and number one Miami, will be the team's closing arguments in the third ACHA ranking period, which has a cutoff date of January 18th.

Box Score

First Period
1. Penn State, Cassie Dunne (2:00 interference), 8:49; 2. Liberty, Sarah Stevenson (2:00 tripping), 5:47; 3. Penn State, Devon Fisk (2:00 holding), 0:39; 4. Liberty, Alex Alexopoulos (2:00 interference), 0:39.
Second Period
1. Penn State, Darby Kern (Geneva Wagoner), 7:02; 2. Liberty, Carrie Jickling (Madison Fischer, Courtney Gilmour), 3:02.
5. Penn State, Madison Smiddy (2:00 hooking), 12:25.
Third Period
3. Liberty, Autumn Kucharczyk (Carrie Jickling), 10:51.
6. Liberty, Madison Fischer (2:00 interference), 4:58.
Penn State: Mary Kate Tonetti: L, 42 saves/44 shots. Liberty: Samantha Rupp: W, 23 saves/24 shots.

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