State Natty's Day: Lady Ice Lions Head to ACHA National Tournament

2015 ACHA National Tournament
Wednesday, March 4th at 6:15 p.m. (vs. Liberty)
Thursday, March 5th at 1:15 p.m. (vs. Massachusetts)
Friday, March 6th at 12:45 p.m. (vs. Grand Valley State)
Saturday, March 7th at 1:30 p.m. or 4:15 p.m. (semifinals)
Sunday, March 8th at 1:00 p.m. (championship game)
York City Ice Arena
York, PA
The Lead
The Lady Ice Lions seek to win Penn State's first ACHA women's national championship Division 1, after finishing second at the Division 2 level in both 2013 and 2014.
Live Video/
Ustream.tv (Wednesday-Friday, audio only)
YouTube.com (Saturday-Sunday, video)

Game Notes

Natty Light: The ACHA National Tournament, similar to last season, is an eight-team affair with the squads divided into four-team pools:
  • Pool A: 1. Miami, 3. Michigan, 6. Adrian, 8. Minnesota
  • Pool B: 2. Liberty, 4. Massachusetts, 5. Grand Valley State, 7. Penn State
Each team will play the other three in its pool on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, with two points awarded for a win and one for a tie. After that, the teams finishing first and second in each pool's standings advance to Saturday's semifinals, with the championship game on Sunday. The primary differences from 2014 include the abolishment of the third-place game as well as the addition of a day to the pool stage to avoid teams playing twice in one day.

Natty Ice: The York City Ice Arena, roughly a two-and-a-half hour drive southeast from Pegula Ice Arena, is hosting the national tournament. The Lady Ice Lions have a bit of history with the facility, as it hosted the 2014 playoffs of Penn State's former conference, College Hockey East. In that tournament, PSU defeated Delaware in the semifinals by a 2-1 count on a Devon Fisk power play goal with 4:14 remaining before falling by the same score to California (PA) in the championship game.

2010 Vision: Oddly enough, each of the four Pool B schools have simultaneously appeared at Division 1 nationals one other time: 2010's championships in Blaine, MN. On that occasion, Liberty and the Lady Icers were pool mates, with PSU topping the Flames 1-0 on a Sam Summers goal on March 12, 2010. Meanwhile, in the opposite pool that same day, Grand Valley State beat UMass 5-0. However, those were the only wins by any of the four teams in the tournament, and none advanced to the semifinals. Lindenwood, now an NCAA Division I program, went on to defeat Michigan State for the title. The Lady Icers finished sixth officially, Penn State's second best finish at the ACHA D1 level behind only 2001-02's third-place run.

Upper East Side: At nationals, the Lady Ice Lions will be led by six All-ECWHL selections, including Darby Kern (first team), Fisk (second team), Mary Kate Tonetti (second team), Madison Smiddy (second team), Cara Mendelson (honorable mention) and Katie Murphy (honorable mention). The four forwards of the group - Kern, Fisk, Murphy and Mendelson - have 69 of the team's 109 goals this season, while Smiddy has another five and anchors one of the ACHA's best defense corps. Tonetti, appropriately, is one of the nation's best goalies and carries 0.945 save percentage behind that group of blueliners.

Fountain of Youth: While four of the Penn State-record six all-league selections are seniors (juniors Kern and Fisk are the exceptions), PSU also boasts a stellar collection of younger players that will be counted on for key contributions at nationals. Sophomore defenseman Cassie Dunne and Kelly Watson, set to be the only returning blueliners next year, both had strong games in the ECWHL playoffs February 20th through 22nd. Speedy wrecking-ball center Riley O'Connor and smooth winger Claire Gauthier have both locked down top-six roles as freshmen and chipped in 14 and 17 points respectively, good for sixth and fifth on the team. Checking line specialists Jackie Saideh, a junior and alternate captain, and Anna Marcus, a sophomore, will also need to play well for the Lady Ice Lions to advance.

Chasing Zoe: The Lady Icers program boasted a Zoe M. Harris Award winner as ACHA player of the year for the 2001-02 season, Andrea Lavelle. And while junior forward Kern may or may not join her this season, she certainly has to be considered a candidate for the prize, which is based on pre-ACHA tournament performance. Kern leads ACHA Division 1 in scoring with 55 points, and her 32 goals trail only the 33 of Liberty's Carrie Jickling. What's more, that output has come in just 22 games, fewer than any player within 20 points of her. The January Harrow/ACHA Player of the Month has certainly had eye-popping stats games - a pair of six-point outings against Navy are tied for a season high in that department - but just as impressively, she has three goals and six assists in PSU's seven games against teams at nationals this season (four against Massachusetts, two against Liberty, one against Miami). Other candidates for the award include Jickling and Miami's Hayley Williams, who won last year while a member of Robert Morris' team.

The 2015 Zoe M. Harris Award winner will be announced during the tournament.

Pool B Opponents

Name: Liberty University
Nickname: Flames
Location: Lynchburg, VA

2014-15 Record: 21-4-1
ACHA Ranking: 2
ACHA National Championships: None
Previous ACHA Tournament Appearances: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014

Series History: Liberty leads, 2-0-0 (2-0-0 this season). On December 5th and 6th, the Flames took a pair of one-goal decisions in Lynchburg, 6-5 and 2-1. The first involved overtime after PSU's late 5-3 lead - built on goals by Mendelson (twice), Fisk, Gauthier and Dunne - evaporated. Kern opened the scoring in the second period the next day, but was answered by LU's Jickling and Autumn Kucharczyk.

About Liberty: While it's not technically accurate to call them a wire-to-wire number two (UMass was second in the preseason poll, the Flames third), LU has solidly been in the rankings line behind only defending national champion Miami for most of the campaign. The always-very-physical, always-very-talented, always-very-Canadian team is led by 33-goal woman Jickling and Sarah Stevenson, who has 33 helpers among her 49 points. Brittany Hymers and Madison Fischer are two standouts on defense, while Chantal Lischynski and Kristina Toppazzini have taken the bulk of the goaltending minutes, both to great effect - the former boasting five shutouts and a sub-1.00 goals against average. Liberty has a 6-2-0 record against tournament teams this season, dropping only a pair of one-goal games to Miami.

Head Coach: Paul Bloomfield
Goals Scored Per Game vs. Tournament Teams: 3.13
Goals Allowed Per Game vs. Tournament Teams: 2.00

Team Website:

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

2014-15 Record: 24-6-0
ACHA Ranking: 4
ACHA National Championships: None
Previous ACHA Tournament Appearances: 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014

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 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: The Minutewomen are Pool B's sole team claiming a conference championship. UMass crushed archrival Rhode Island 7-2 in the Eastern Collegiate Women's Hockey League title game on February 22nd to both claim the ECWHL's automatic bid to nationals and, as it turned out, snap URI's 11-year streak of tournament attendance. UMass is 9-1-0 in 2015, a record including two wins over both the Rams and No. 13 Robert Morris, and one over No. 11 Colorado State. Potent defensemen Harrington and Caleigh LaBossiere are two of the ACHA's best in front of all-ECWHL pick Kasey Zegel (22 wins, 0.923 save percentage, five shutouts), while Amanda Abromson, Brittani Lanzilli and Michaela Tosone are all among the division's top 15 scorers.

Head Coach: Bill Wright
Goals Scored Per Game vs. Tournament Teams: 1.71
Goals Allowed Per Game vs. Tournament Teams: 2.71

Team Website:

Name: Grand Valley State University
Nickname: Lakers
Location: Grand Rapids, MI

2014-15 Record: 16-8-3
ACHA Ranking: 5
ACHA National Championships: None
Previous ACHA Tournament Appearances: 2009, 2010, 2011

Series History: Tied, 0-0-0 (0-0-0 this season). The Lady Ice Lions and Lakers have never met, although the Lady Icers took 11-6 and 7-0 decisions over GVSU on September 29th and 30th, 2007 at the Great Lakes Women's College Hockey Showcase. Chelsea Sacks and Jess Waldron ran show in Mo Stroemel's third and fourth games as the team's head coach, posting 6-5-11 and 4-4-8 lines, respectively.

About Grand Valley State: A member of the brutally-tough Central Collegiate Women's Hockey Association, the Lakers are headlined by World University Games selections Kendra Myers, a center, and Corey Robison, a defenseman. Both were among Team USA's best players in Spain and are among GVSU's stars stateside. It's Katie Danto, however, who leads the squad in scoring with ten goals and 19 points, while Lauren Allen backstops one of the nation's best defensive teams with a 1.92 goals against average and a 0.939 save percentage. The Lakers have gone 2-2-2 against Pool A teams Michigan and Adrian this year, but have lost their other five games to the top eight, all to Miami and Liberty. Perhaps GVSU's most impressive accomplishment, however, is a 4-1-1 mark against Michigan State, a reality largely responsible for keeping the perennially-powerful Spartans away from York.

Head Coaches: Darrell Gregorio and Sean McKernan
Goals Scored Per Game vs. Tournament Teams: 2.18
Goals Allowed Per Game vs. Tournament Teams: 3.00

Team Website:

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