Penn State Hopes for Victories with Mass Effect as Minutewomen Visit

No. 5 Massachusetts (14-4-0/10-1-0 ECWHL) at
No. 11 Penn State (9-5-0/6-3-0 ECWHL)
Saturday, January 10th at 7:00 p.m.
Sunday, January 11th at 12:45 p.m.
Pegula Ice Arena
University Park, PA
The Lead
Penn State opens the spring semester with the first two of nine or ten games in the final push for a bid to the ACHA National Tournament, with fifth-ranked UMass visiting.
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Game Notes

Reset Button: After four weeks off for winter break, the Lady Ice Lions are returning to action for the stretch run for positioning in both the ACHA and the Eastern Collegiate Women's Hockey League. That drive consists of this weekend's series and continues next weekend (visiting Ohio State and top-ranked Miami) and January 30th through February 1st (at home against Navy and Northeastern). The ECWHL regular season title is still in play through those games - the contests against UMass playing no small role in that outcome - as is a spot in the ACHA National Tournament March 4th through 9th, which go to the top eight teams in the final regular season ranking, issued in late February. Should those outlets fail, Penn State will still have a shot at both an ECWHL championship and an ACHA autobid at the league playoffs February 20th through 22nd.

In the team's last game action on December 5th and 6th in Lynchburg, VA, PSU gave second-ranked Liberty everything it could handle but ultimately dropped a pair of one-goal decisions: 6-5 in overtime and 2-1 in regulation. Junior forward Darby Kern led the way with a goal and two assists in the series, while senior Cara Mendelson scored twice and freshman Claire Gauthier chipped in a goal and an assist.

The Newsroom: Winter break, all things considered, was not light on news for the Lady Ice Lions. During the week following the games against Liberty, senior defenseman Madison Smiddy was named to the 2015 U.S. National University Select team that will compete at the World University Games in Granada, Spain from February 5th through 12th. She is the fifth different Penn Stater picked for the squad over three tournaments (in addition to former Lady Icers coach Mo Stroemel, who guided the 2011 and 2013 editions). Stroemel, along with former PSU goalie Katie Vaughan, made history at the last WUG tournament by helping Team USA to a bronze medal, the first medal won by an American men's or women's team since USA Hockey re-entered the biennial competition in 2001.

Honor Roll: The day after Smiddy's roster spot for Granada was announced, forward Riley O'Connor and defenseman Ashton Schaffer were recognized as the ACHA's Sher-Wood Freshman Spotlight and Great Skate Sportsmanship Award winners for the month of November. Schaffer took the sportsmanship award for her low penalty minute count despite heavy usage against top competition, as well as for her club leadership roles in serving as co-captain and treasurer and her status as the only team member to play in each the first 49 games in its history. Freshman Spotlight winner O'Connor, meanwhile, continued her outstanding rookie year with four goals and an assist during the month. Two of those goals came on November 8th and 9th at Rhode Island, the latter holding up as the winner in an upset of the now-third-ranked Rams. The pair were the second and third Lady Ice Lions to win an ACHA monthly award following Mary Kate Tonetti, who was the Warrior Goaltender of the Month back in September.

Hashtag Big: This week, the team welcomed (or welcomed back) two members, forward Nina Elia and goaltender Aimee Little. Elia, of course, is a founding Lady Ice Lion who played every team game in 2012-13 and 2013-14 before missing the first half of this season to study abroad. She has 15 career points, including the double overtime goal that sent PSU to the 2013 ACHA Division 2 national championship game, but is best known for grit, toughness and defense. Little, at one point West Chester Quakers teammate of Tonetti and Devon Fisk, is a former USA Hockey Player Development Camp selection (in 2010) and was recruited to play at NCAA Division III Norwich University. The Lancaster, PA native will immediately bolster Penn State's crease depth, both for the remainder of this season and beyond.

Happy on Home Ice: Pegula Ice Arena, beyond giving the Lady Ice Lions one of the newest and nicest rinks in the nation, has proven to be quite a formidable home-ice advantage. The squad is 4-0-0 at home this season, and 12-1-0 overall in the venue since its September, 2013 opening - including 11-0-0 when playing on the arena's varsity rink. That spotless mark will be put to the test this weekend against what is likely the toughest opponent in Pegula's two seasons of use.

The Opponent

Name: University of Massachusetts Amherst
Nickname: Minutewomen
Location: Amherst, MA

Series History: Massachusetts leads, 2-0-0. Back in October at UMass' Mullins Center, the Minutewomen took a 3-0, 1-0 sweep largely thanks to senior defenseman Paige Harrington. The 2011-12 Lady Icers teammate of five current Lady Ice Lions scored the opening goal in each contest, with Caleigh LaBossiere and Ally Perdios adding third-period tallies in the first meeting. Kasey Zegel kept the door closed on PSU with 76 saves and a pair of shutouts, while Tonetti made 99 stops on the other end.

The Lady Icers went 10-15-1 against the Minutewomen while both were ECWHL members from 2003 through 2012.

About Massachusetts: UMass climbed to 5-2-0 overall with the pair of wins over Penn State, but the perennial nationals contender has been arguably even more impressive since that series in going 9-2-0 after October 11th. The losses came through a split with always-tough Rhode Island and a standalone neutral site game against defending national champion Miami, while the other side of the ledger features victories over URI, Northeastern, Colorado, Wisconsin, Vermont and, most recently, 11-0 and 7-0 blowouts of Navy. The Minutewomen boast an incredible six players averaging better than one point per game, including Brittani Lanzilli and Meghan Crosby, who share the team lead with nine goals apiece. Defensemen Harrington and LaBossiere have scored eight times (as has forward Amanda Abromson), underscoring that the team's balanced attack can come from anywhere on the ice. Zegel continues to receive the bulk of the team's minutes in goal, and she ranks in the national top ten in save percentage (0.941, ninth), wins (12, first) and shutouts (four, first).

Trivia: The Minutewomen had four players picked to team up with Smiddy on the U.S. National University Select Team at the World University Games next month: Harrington, LaBossiere, Abromson and Vicki Bortolussi. That brings the school's total number of player selections up to nine in three tournaments (Harrington, LaBossiere and Abromson, along with Sarah Oteri and Chelsea Corell were all a part of the 2013 squad). That number is the most of any school, edging out Michigan (8), Miami (7) and Michigan State (6). Rhode Island is second among ECWHL with six picks while Penn State has had six as well, although only five came with the school standing as an ECWHL member.

Head Coach: Bill Wright
Goals Scored Per Game: 4.33
Goals Allowed Per Game: 1.61

Team Website:

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