Well-Balanced Penn State Prepares for ACHA National Tournament

This coming Thursday, the Women's Ice Hockey Club will begin its quest for the first national championship in the history of Penn State women's hockey at the 2014 ACHA National Tournament in Newark, DE. PSU, 15-3-2 overall and the second seed from the East Region, has been assigned to a pool with West No. 1 North Dakota State, West No. 3 Alaska and East No. 4 Delaware. The group stage opens with Alaska on Thursday at 3:30 p.m., followed by Delaware on Friday at 8:45 a.m. and North Dakota State that same evening at 6:00 p.m. Should the WIHC finish among the top two of the four Pool A teams, it will advance to Saturday's semifinals and - with a win there - to Sunday's championship game.

Here's a bit more on what to expect from the team as the championships get started.

A Standout Goaltender

Katie Vaughan, one of the most decorated players in the history of PSU hockey, more than lives up to the stereotype of the goalie needed for playoff success - her 1.14 goals against average and 0.960 save percentage through four games of last year’s tournament were instrumental in leading PSU to the national title game and in Vaughan’s winning second team all-tournament honors. This season, her goals against average (1.33, third), and save percentage (0.936, first) are again among the best. With fellow netminder Sarah Eisenhut injured, it will likely be Vaughan or bust between the pipes for PSU.

A Lockdown Defense

Fronting Vaughan has been one of the nation’s best defense corps, including Cassie Dunne, Allie Rothman, Ashton Schaffer, Tara Soukup (pictured) and Kim Badorrek. In 20 games this season, PSU has only allowed more than two goals on three occasions - a statistic that includes six team shutouts and eight other games with just one goal allowed. WIHC opponents have averaged just 19.45 shots per game this season and have converted just five of 44 power play opportunities (11.36 percent). The group also offers offensive diversity: puck rushers, heavy shots and precision passers are all part of the package.

Impact From Rookies

Dunne is one of six freshmen - Anna Marcus, Geneva Wagoner, Emma Dickson, Hannah Dier and Lucy Yeatman are the others - who have added fresh blood to Penn State’s national championship drive. Wagoner (pictured) leads all division rookies (as well as PSU’s team) in points (24) and assists (14), figures that also place her near the front among all players. She’s also tied for second in freshman goals (10), while Marcus and Yeatman join the Millbrook School product in the top ten.

Depth at Forward

Among more experienced players, the WIHC receives plenty of offense from 2013 all-tournament first team selection Devon Fisk (pictured) and Carly Szyszko, who rank first and second on the squad with 14 and 11 goals, respectively. Brown graduate Elizabeth Denis averages 0.64 goals per game, while Mary Kate Tonetti, Nina Elia, Jackie Saideh, Taylor Nyman and Alex Warren-Caldwell have also played important roles up front over the course of the year. When the group clicks, Penn State wins: the WIHC is 12-0-0 this season when scoring three goals, and is 15-1-0 with two.

Senior Leadership

The historic senior class of Vaughan, Rothman (pictured), Szyszko and Denis will play their final games at nationals. Each was an integral part of the WIHC’s founding and prior to that, each played for the ACHA Division 1 Lady Icers, helping that program transition to varsity status in 2012. As a group, they helped the Lady Icers to the 2011-12 ECWHL regular season championship and the WIHC to the 2013-14 CHE regular season title. The present team, thanks largely to the exploits of the seniors, qualified for nationals in each of its first two seasons (2013 and 2014). Undoubtedly, they’re looking to end on the biggest prize of all.