NATIONALS BOUND! PSU Secures Historic Trip to ACHA Championships

The waiting may be the hardest part, but often things are worth the wait.

After three days of nail-biting, hypothetical-running, what if-pondering agony following the close of the Eastern Collegiate Women's Hockey League playoffs and possibly the 2014-15 season, the Lady Ice Lions have been invited to the ACHA National Tournament held at York City Ice Arena in York, PA March 4th through 8th. It will be the team's third consecutive trip to the tourney, following runner-up finishes at the Division 2 level in 2013 and 2014.

The announcement came through the issuance of the season's fourth ACHA ranking, released today and placing Penn State seventh. Joining Penn State in the field are Miami, Liberty, Michigan, Massachusetts, Grand Valley State and Adrian (the top six in the ranking), as well as number ten Minnesota. The Gophers were locked into the field by virtue of winning the Western Women's Collegiate Hockey League tournament last weekend and therefore the WWCHL's automatic bid.

PSU has been assigned into Pool B and will play the following games in the preliminary round:
  • March 4th at 6:15 p.m. vs. No. 2 Liberty
  • March 5th at 1:15 p.m. vs. No. 4 Massachusetts
  • March 6th at 12:45 p.m. vs. No. 5 Grand Valley State
Should the Lady Ice Lions finish in the top half of the four-team pool, they will advance to the March 7th semifinals, with the championship game on March 8th.

A poll of all ACHA Division 1 coaches, the verdict of a seven-coach committee and a computer poll each count for one third of the ranking, and include factors like strength of schedule, head-to-head comparisons, games with common opponents and records against ranked teams. PSU finished eighth in the computer component.

It certainly wasn't a stress-free route to nationals. PSU languished on or near the bubble for the entire season, checking in at 11th, 12th, 11th and 8th in previous polls, the latter frustratingly coming immediately after an upset at top-ranked, defending national champion Miami that snapped the RedHawks' 31-game (overall) and 25-game (at home) unbeaten streaks. Then, while riding a six-game winning streak that spanned the entirety of the fourth ranking period, the Lady Ice Lions dropped an ECWHL semifinal contest to fellow bubble dweller Rhode Island that appeared to severely damage the case for a tournament spot.

No worries, though. Thanks to some combination of a 17-7-0 overall record, big wins over Miami, URI and UMass, and none of the team's losses coming to teams ranked lower than eighth, Penn State will have the opportunity to compete for a first-ever ACHA women's national championship.

The bid represents a continuation of what has been a historic first season in ACHA Division 1 and the ECWHL. PSU's 0.708 win percentage so far in 2014-15 is the third best in school history at the D1 level, trailing only the 1999-2000 Lady Icers' 0.725 that preceded the ACHA's sanctioning of women's hockey and the 0.750 posted by the 2001-02 team that finished a D1-best third at nationals. This is the seventh appearance for a Penn State team at the D1 tourney overall, but just the third since 2004 and the first since 2010. The slotting of seventh equals the highest spot achieved by a PSU team in D1 since the ACHA first introduced a national ranking for the 2003-04 season, a status last attained on January 28, 2011.

Additionally, the nationals appearance is a nice bit of redemption for the five Lady Ice Lions seniors (plus assistant coach Jess Desorcie) who were a part of the 2011-12 Lady Icers as freshmen. That team went 5-4-1 against tournament participants Rhode Island, Northeastern (the eventual national champion), Liberty and Massachusetts during the spring semester but were denied a bid themselves, finishing ninth.

It follows, of course, a pair of Division 2 championship game runs by the Lady Ice Lions, including last season's journey through Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota State and former archrival California (PA) before falling 1-0 to Iowa State in the title game. The Lady Ice Lions were 7-2-1 in their two D2 tourneys, while the Lady Icers were 6-14-1 in their six in D1.

Here is the complete final ranking:

Michigan State
Colorado State
Grand Valley State
Robert Morris
Penn State
Rhode Island
Others receiving votes: Colorado, Wisconsin

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