Lady Ice Lions Look For Nationals Bid, History at ECWHL Playoffs

2015 ECWHL Playoffs
Friday, February 20th at 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, February 21st at 8:30 a.m. or 2:00 p.m.
Sunday, Feburary 22nd at 10:00 a.m. or 1:00 p.m.
Bradford R. Boss Ice Arena
Kingston, RI
The Lead
The Lady Ice Lions look to secure Penn State's first ECWHL playoff championship in ten tries by winning three games against the league's six member teams.
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Game Notes

The Details: The ECWHL playoffs are an affair involving all six conference teams. Before the third-seeded Lady Ice Lions meet sixth-seeded Navy on Friday at 8:00 p.m., Vermont and Northeastern will battle it out in a 4 vs. 5 matchup at 5:00 p.m. The losers of those two games play for fifth place on Saturday at 8:30 a.m., while the winners advance to the semifinals to face second-place Rhode Island at 2:00 p.m. and regular-season champ Massachusetts at 5:00 p.m. (the highest-seeded winner of Friday's games will be paired with URI, meaning that Penn State is locked into a battle with the Rams should the team defeat Navy). The semifinal winners will collide for the crown on Sunday at 1:00 p.m., preceded by a third-place game at 10:00 a.m.

The News: It's been three weeks since the Lady Ice Lions have been seen in game action, but there has still been some significant news around the team during the layoff. Senior defenseman Madison Smiddy was a part of the 2015 U.S. National University Team that grabbed a fifth-place finish at the World University Games in Granada, Spain this month, with Smiddy finishing among Team USA and tournament leaders in defense scoring and plus-minus rating. Meanwhile, back at home, the team announced a very strong academic performance in the fall semester headlined by Devon Fisk's perfect 4.0 grade point average and matching 3.92s from Claire Gauthier and Lucy Yeatman. Finally, Penn State received three of the ACHA's monthly awards for January including Harrow Player of the Month recognition for Darby Kern, a second Warrior Goaltender of the Month nod for Mary Kate Tonetti and Gongshow Stars in the Community honors for the team's efforts in support of PSU's famed IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon.

The Big Picture: Other than a first-ever ECWHL championship, which stands as a worthy goal in and of itself (especially as the former Lady Icers program came up empty there over nine seasons), the major prize on the table for this weekend is the playoff winner's automatic bid to the ACHA National Tournament, set for March 4th through 8th in York, PA. Should that route fail, the top eight teams in the final ACHA ranking (minus any spots given to teams from outside of the top eight winning autobids from the ACHA's three Division 1 conferences) issued next week will also be invited. The Lady Ice Lions sit squarely on the bubble as the eighth-ranked team in late January's previous poll and will look for a strong performance this weekend to help close out a spot at nationals. With a 3-0-0 record by a combined 27-3 count and elevation from 12th to seventh in the computer ranking - which counts for one third of the overall standing - since that last ranking, it's so far, so good in that department.

The Opponents

First Place

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

2014-15 Record: 22-6-0 (15-3-0 ECWHL)
ACHA Ranking: 3
ECWHL Playoff Championships: 2013

Series History: Massachusetts leads, 3-1-0 (3-1-0 this season). Most recently, Penn State and UMass exchanged 2-1 and 4-3 overtime wins at Pegula Ice Arena on January 10th and 11th, with Cara Mendelson grabbing the decider in game one and the visitors' Amy Morin striking back the next day 19 seconds away from a tie after PSU had rallied from 2-1 and 3-2 holes to force OT. The Minutewomen swept the Lady Ice Lions back in October in Amherst, with former Lady Icer Paige Harrington grabbing the opening goal each time to help 3-0 and 1-0 scores. Kasey Zegel made 76 saves in her dual shutouts that weekend.

About Massachusetts: For the most part, the beat has rolled on for the Minutewomen since their overtime split at Pegula Ice Arena to open the spring semester. UMass has gone 7-1-0 down the stretch, impressively surviving the loss of top players Harrington, Caleigh LaBossiere, Amanda Abromson and Vicki Bortolussi to the World University Games for four of those contests. The seven wins have included No. 7 Rhode Island, No. 10 Colorado State and No. 12 Robert Morris (twice), while the only defeat was in the back half of the series with the Rams. Beyond the WUG contingent, Zegel (20 wins, 0.923 save percentage), Brittani Lanzilli (21 goals, 39 points) and Michaela Tosone (28 assists, 37 points) lead the way for last season's ACHA runners-up.

Head Coach: Bill Wright
Goals Scored Per ECWHL Game: 3.89
Goals Allowed Per ECWHL Game: 1.50

Team Website:

Second Place

Name: University of Rhode Island
Nickname: Rams
Location: Kingston, RI

2014-15 Record: 18-10-1 (12-3-1 ECWHL)
ACHA Ranking: 7
ECWHL Playoff Championships: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2014

Series History: Tied, 1-1-0 (1-1-0 this season). On November 9th, Penn State earned what was then its biggest win of the season by jumping out to a 3-0 lead through Mendelson, Anna Marcus and Riley O'Connor, then hanging on through a tense third period for a 3-2 victory. URI took the matchup of the previous day 3-1 by similarly getting up 3-0 then surviving a late rally that included an O'Connor goal.

About Rhode Island: The tournament hosts have an illustrious history in the ECWHL playoffs, including nine of the 11 championships in league history (including last season, which allowed them the opportunity to host this edition). Behind players like 2012-13 Zoe M. Harris Award winner Cassie Catlow - a two-time World University Games selection as well - leading scorer Kristy Kennedy (23 goals, 44 points) and Alisha DiFilippo (16 goals) the Rams have a great opportunity to make it an even 10 titles under first-year coach Ashley Pagliarini. URI has already proven able to compete with many of the ACHA's best, including season splits with PSU, UMass and second-ranked Liberty.

Head Coach: Ashley Pagliarini
Goals Scored Per ECWHL Game: 4.94
Goals Allowed Per ECWHL Game: 2.19

Team Website:

Fourth Place

Name: University of Vermont
Nickname: Catamounts
Location: Burlington, VT

2014-15 Record: 4-11-3 (4-7-1 ECWHL)
ACHA Ranking: 15
ECWHL Playoff Championships: None

Series History: Penn State leads, 2-0-0 (2-0-0 this season). The Lady Ice Lions opened the 2014-15 campaign at Vermont and came away with 3-0 and 5-4 wins, the latter coming through Kern's winner 1:05 into overtime, following a regulation hat trick by Fisk. The day before, Tonetti's shutout was supported by goals from both Kern (twice) and Cassie Dunne.

About Vermont: It's been a long time since the Lady Ice Lions have seen UVM, and the Catamounts have shown a lot of improvement since that late-September season-opening series. Their spring semester exploits have included an 8-3 loss to UMass where UVM led 3-2 headed into the third period, a one-goal loss to the Minutewomen the next day, and a series at Rhode Island that resulted in a tie and a late-overtime loss. The latter two games were played without star forward Emily Ford, a World University Games selection who leads Vermont with 13 goals (including a four-goal game against PSU back on September 28th). Other standouts include Ford's typical linemates - Carly Tashman and Erin McDonald - as well as former NCAA Division III Chatham player Nicole Beaudoin and MIT graduate Monique Squiers on defense. Rosie Gluck and Audrey Currier form one of the league's more reliable goaltending tandems.

Head Coach: Keith Nagle
Goals Scored Per ECWHL Game: 2.92
Goals Allowed Per ECWHL Game: 3.00

Team Website:

Fifth Place

Name: Northeastern University
Nickname: Huskies
Location: Boston, MA

2014-15 Record: 4-17-0 (2-13-0 ECWHL)
ACHA Ranking: Unranked
ECWHL Playoff Championships: 2011

Series History: Penn State leads, 4-0-0 (4-0-0 this season). In November, the Lady Ice Lions took a pair of one-goal decisions in Boston, by 2-1 and 3-2 counts. The first required overtime, where a Smiddy drive 40 seconds in settled things, while the second saw a pair of Gauthier assists and another winner from a defenseman - this time Tara Soukup in regulation. The season's final regular season games saw much more decisive results in University Park on January 31st and February 1st, 11-1 and 6-1. Kern exploded for seven goals in the pair of routs, while Fisk chipped in four.

About Northeastern: It's been a difficult season for the 2012 ACHA National Champions, as the Huskies have not won since November 16th at Navy. The ten-game losing streak has included some close calls against good teams - 1-0 against UMass last weekend most recently and also the two one-goal games against PSU in November - but also clunkers like a pair of defeats to non-ACHA team Boston University. Still, Michelle Macchione (18 points) and Kelsey Hickey (15 points) are two of the ECWHL's most dangerous players, with Macchione scoring in two of NU's four games against PSU.

Head Coach: Jeff Postera
Goals Scored Per ECWHL Game: 2.07
Goals Allowed Per ECWHL Game: 4.80

Team Website:

Sixth Place

Name: United States Naval Academy
Nickname: Midshipmen
Location: Annapolis, MD

2014-15 Record: 9-19-0 (0-13-0 ECWHL)
ACHA Ranking: Unranked
ECWHL Playoff Championships: None

Series History: Penn State leads, 3-0-0 (2-0-0 this season). The Lady Ice Lions have had little issue with the Middies, winning 9-1 in Annapolis on January 13, 2013 behind four goals and two assists from Mandy Mortach and one and two from Taylor Nyman, then 9-0 and 10-1 this season at Pegula Ice Arena. The line of Fisk, Kern and Katie Murphy combined for six goals and seven assists in the first 2014-15 meeting back in November, while Kern and Mendelson each offered hat tricks in the most recent collision on January 30th.

About Navy: Last weekend, the Midshipmen traveled to nearby Harrington, DE for the playoffs of their other conference, the Delaware Valley Collegiate Hockey Conference. However, the co-favorites fell to Towson in the championship game by a 3-2 count after defeating Liberty's ACHA Division 2 team and Maryland. Cara Pastrana - who also plays lacrosse at the academy and is a cousin of action sports legend Travis Pastrana - is one of the league's best defensemen and fronts heavily-worked but sturdy goaltender Sarah Hutchinson. Allyson Strachan had a tremendous DVCHC playoff run with seven goals in three games, and has 26 overall this season, while Emily Buzzard's 19 goals and 18 assists also position her as a top offensive threat.

Head Coaches: Kimberly Himmer and Keith Himmer
Goals Scored Per ECWHL Game: 1.23
Goals Allowed Per ECWHL Game: 7.31

Team Website:

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