Lady Ice Lions Tied Down in a Pool, Season Ends With Draw Against GVSU

Claire Gauthier scored twice in the season-ending draw

The heartbreak of losing consecutive championship games at the ACHA Division 2 level in 2013 and 2014 has been replaced by a slightly different but equally-strong emotion: frustration.

The reason for it is quite obvious.

After three blown third-period leads against the second, fourth and fifth ranked teams in the ACHA produced three overtime games, a loss and two ties, the Lady Ice Lions have been bounced from the ACHA National Tournament. The final blow came through a 3-3 tie with Grand Valley State on Friday afternoon that PSU needed to win to advance to the semifinals.

Instead, it will be the Lakers joining Liberty in the ACHA's final four on Saturday out of Penn State's Pool B. They'll take on Miami and Adrian, respectively, for the right to advance to Sunday's title game.

By and large, one reason why the Lady Ice Lions were unable to advance was GVSU's ability to trap, jam the neutral zone by any means necessary, and convert mistakes and other opportunities into scoring chances. The first part of that plan worked to perfection in a slogging opening period that saw just 11 total shots between the teams, while the second came about when Kristin Iannuzzi banked in a try from the bottom of the left circle during an early-second period power play.

PSU did manage to build more speed in transition as the second period proceeded, and also flexed its special teams muscles. Midway through the frame, and with Alisha Day serving a checking penalty for taking Taylor Nyman hard to the wall at center, Darby Kern ripped a drive from her power play station at the left point. The shot proceeded through heavy traffic and was ultimately deflected through by Claire Gauthier, the freshman's eighth goal of the year.

Another quick exchange of goals closed the middle 20 minutes. Penn State went first this time, with Kern doing the honors by cleaning up on a Cara Mendelson rebound, after Riley O'Connor created a neutral-zone turnover to set up her Pittsburgh-area native linemates. Kendra Myers pulled the score back even at 2-2 on a soft 2-on-1 opportunity, with Day feeding the World University Games selection.

That latter goal was a bit of payback for Myers, who had been stoned by Mary Kate Tonetti's glove on a shorthanded breakaway chance roughly ten minutes earlier. Tonetti finished with 27 saves including that one. Part of an eventful second half of the game for her included battling through an injury sustained during a pileup early in the third period that left her down on the ice for several minutes.

Just two minutes after that incident, the Lady Ice Lions grabbed a second Gauthier-deflected power play goal on a to forge back ahead. This time, the initial shooter was Katie Murphy from the right circle. GVSU, once again, had a quick answer though, as the Lakers forecheck generated a puck out to Corey Robison, who fired in from center point through traffic.

From there, the obvious happened. Penn State, needing a win to advance, desperately tried to push forward while Grand Valley, needing only a tie, went back to what they do best. The latter proved more effective, as PSU mustered little through the last half of the third period and the five-minute overtime other than a partial breakaway by Kern in the last minute of regulation that couldn't produce a clean shot.

The Lady Ice Lions close 2014-15 at 17-8-2 and ranked seventh in the country, an incredible first season at the ACHA Division 1 level. The 0.667 win percentage is the second best produced by a Penn State team in D1 since the ACHA began sanctioning women's hockey in 2000-01, trailing only 2001-02's third place team that went 22-7-1. The nationals appearance was PSU's seventh overall in D1, but first since 2010 and only the third since 2004. Along the way, the team pulled off big wins like toppling top-ranked defending national champion Miami for the first time in 31 RedHawks games and defeating Rhode Island for just the third time in 40 games between the two schools since both URI and the Lady Icers joined the ECWHL in 2003-04 (several of the graduating seniors were a part of one of the other wins, in 2011-12).

Several individual award winners were also part of the mix headlined by Kern, who became Penn State's second-ever first-team ACHA All-American in D1, following only Andrea Lavelle in 2001-02, and was also January's Harrow/ACHA Player of the Month. Tonetti (Warrior Goaltender of the Month, twice), Ashton Schaffer (Great Skate Sportsmanship Award) and O'Connor (Sher-Wood Freshman Spotlight) also captured ACHA monthly awards. Kern, Tonetti, Mendelson, Murphy, Devon Fisk and Madison Smiddy each received all-ECWHL recognition.

So maybe, as much as it hurts right now, frustration is the wrong emotion. It might take days, or even weeks, to get there, but pride probably works a little better.

Box Score

First Period
1. Grand Valley State, Allison Lowe (2:00 high sticking), 5:05; 2. Penn State, Madison Smiddy (2:00 interference), 0:22.
Second Period
1. Grand Valley State, Kristin Iannuzzi (Katie Danto), 18:40 (power play); 2. Penn State, Claire Gauthier (Darby Kern), 12:59 (power play); 3. Penn State, Darby Kern (Riley O'Connor, Cara Mendelson), 2:31; 4. Grand Valley State, Kendra Myers (Alisha Day), 0:31.
3. Grand Valley State, Alisha Day (2:00 body checking), 13:42; 4. Grand Valley State, Lauren Iavasile (2:00 roughing), 10:55; 5. Penn State, Devon Fisk (2:00 body checking), 6:59.
Third Period
5. Penn State, Claire Gauthier (Katie Murphy, Darby Kern), 14:31 (power play); 6. Grand Valley State, Corey Robison (unassisted), 8:51.
6. Grand Valley State, Frankie Wojtylo (2:00 body checking), 15:00; 7. Penn State, Madison Smiddy (2:00 cross checking), 4:45.
Penn State: Mary Kate Tonetti: T, 27 saves/30 shots. Grand Valley State: Taylor Watson: T, 14 saves/17 shots.

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