Series Preview: Pivotal Games Against Cal to Close WIHC Home Schedule

What: Penn State (No. 1 ACHA WD2 East Region, 12-1-2 overall, 7-1-2 College Hockey East) hosts California (No. 2 ACHA WD2 East Region, 13-3-3 overall, 5-2-1 College Hockey East) in a CHE series

When: Friday, January 31st at 10:15 p.m. and Saturday, February 1st at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Pegula Ice Arena; University Park, PA

Notable: PSU's last home games and last CHE conference games of the season are packed with implications, as they'll likely decide both the league regular season title and the ACHA East Region's top seed heading into the national tournament.

Game Notes

Senior Salute: Saturday's contest is Senior Day, and a special class of five will be honored prior to the final home game of their spectacular careers: forwards Carly Szyszko and Elizabeth Denis, defensemen Allie Rothman and Kim Badorrek, as well as goaltender Katie Vaughan. Collectively, the group is among the most significant in Penn State hockey history, helping the Lady Icers to rebuild and, ultimately, win the 2012 ECWHL regular season championship. They also were instrumental in establishing the Women's Ice Hockey Club - through numerous obstacles - after the Lady Icers were elevated to varsity status for 2012-13, as well as ensuring its immediate success with a run to the 2013 ACHA national championship game and its lofty status so far this season.

Clash of the Titans: In many ways, the series is Penn State's biggest of the regular season. PSU and Cal are the lone remaining contenders for the College Hockey East regular season crown and top seed for the league playoffs. Presently PSU holds a five-point edge heading into its final conference games, although Cal has two CHE games remaining after the weekend. Still, the WIHC earning at least an even share of the points will deliver the title. Additionally, Penn State and California have been a decisive 1 and 2 in the ACHA's East Region rankings throughout the season with both sides looking to make a closing argument for the lead position heading into the national championship tournament in March.

We're Going Streaking: The WIHC is riding a present 12-game unbeaten streak (10-0-2) dating back to the team's only loss of the season, 1-0 at California on October 11, 2013. Wins over the Vulcans, East Region No. 3 West Chester (three times, with one tie), East Region No. 4 Delaware (three times, with one tie), East Region No. 5 Slippery Rock and West Region No. 8 Michigan State (twice) have all been included in the run. PSU's average margin of victory during the stretch: 2.7.

Balancing Act: Both Penn State and Cal are among the deepest teams in the ACHA. The Vulcans boast nine different seven-goal scorers this season, while PSU has received at least one from every single skater who has played in at least five games. On the WIHC side of the ledger, a whopping ten players - 56 percent of non-goalies on the roster - have between six and eight points.

Milestone Watch: Sophomore forward Devon Fisk scored her 25th career goal on December 8th against Delaware... seniors Szyszko (goals and assists) and Rothman (assists) both recently hit 20 on their career numbers - Szyszko doing so with a goal on January 18th versus West Chester and an assist in the Slippery Rock game on November 22nd, while Rothman got there December 7th against Delaware... numerous players have hit double digits in a scoring category this season, including junior forwards Mary Kate Tonetti (assists) and Taylor Nyman (points), junior defenseman Ashton Schaffer (points) and sophomore defenseman Tara Soukup (points), with Soukup the most recent entry thanks to an assist in the January 18th West Chester game.

The Opponent

Name: California University of Pennsylvania
Nickname: Vulcans
Location: California, PA

Series History: Cal leads, 3-1-0. The only team with a winning record against the WIHC got to that point with a 2-1, 2-0 home sweep over PSU on October 6 and 7, 2012, the first of those decided by a Margo Laboon tally in overtime. On October 11, 2013, at Rostraver Ice Garden, Kelsey DeNardo gave the Vulcans a 1-0 win with 7:33 left in regulation, with Maria Sciacca recording Cal's shutout. Penn State fired back the next day with a 3-1 result, thanks to goals from Devon Fisk (two) and Geneva Wagoner, while Mary Kate Tonetti recorded assists on all three.

About California: The Vulcans, to the surprise of nobody, have continued as one of ACHA WD2’s top programs this season and look like a strong bet to make a third consecutive appearance at the ACHA National Tournament in the team’s sixth season of existence. Cal and Penn State have competed at the top of both College Hockey East and the ACHA’s East Region all year, with the split between the teams back in October doing little to separate them. The balanced Vulcans squad includes leading scorer Kelsey DeNardo, Megan Cooper, who features prominently in Cal’s record books, and former first-team All-American pick Alli Paratore. Sciacca, one of the nation’s best goaltenders, anchors things on the back end, while top blueliner Laboon helps keep her clean. Among the more impressive points on the Vulcans' resume this season: a 2-1-1 record against Division 1 teams Adrian and Buffalo.

Trivia: Much as with West Chester and PSU's eastern-commonwealth natives, hockey ties run fairly deep between the westerners and Cal. To cite a couple examples: Vaughan and Badorrek played with the Vulcans' Paratore on Team Pittsburgh prior to college, while the Allegheny Badgers produced both Cal goalie Sciacca and the WIHC's Emma Dickson, although the senior and the freshman were obviously a couple years apart.

Head Coach: Gregg Kaminski (fourth season)
Goals Scored Per Game: 5.84
Goals Allowed Per Game: 1.47

Team Website: