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Alumni Smiddy and Rossi Invited to Historic NWHL Free Agent Camps

Madison Smiddy was invited to a camp for the Buffalo Beauts of the newly-formed NWHL



Madison Smiddy and Heather Rossi are looking to take the next step in their hockey careers, and simultaneously take a step into the history books.

Smiddy, a newly-graduated Lady Ice Lions defenseman, and Rossi, who starred in goal for the Lady Icers from 2009 through 2011, were invited to free agent camps hosted by professional teams in the newly-formed National Women's Hockey League (NWHL) this month. Rossi's invite was from the New York Riveters on the 16th and 17th, while Smiddy was tabbed by the Buffalo Beauts for their skate on the 23rd and 24th.

Those camps, as well as ones hosted by the circuit's other two franchises, are a first step towards making it on to a 2015-16 NWHL roster.

Upon its launch this spring, the NWHL and founder/commissioner Dani Rylan made immediate headlines with the promise to pay players a minimum of $10,000 per year, up to a $270,000 salary cap for each team. The presence of salaries is an unprecedented departure from other North American women's hockey leagues, including the competing Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL), which recently completed its eighth season and includes five teams (four in Canada, one in Boston).

The inaugural NWHL campaign will feature 18 games per team beginning on October 17th and running through March. At the conclusion of the season, the four squads will compete for the Isobel Cup, which is named for Lady Isobel Gathorne-Hardy (née Stanley), considered to be among the first women to play hockey. Her love of the game is said to have inspired her father, Lord Frederick Stanley of Preston, to donate the famed Stanley Cup awarded to the National Hockey League's champion.

Smiddy, of course, wrapped up her collegiate career in 2014-15 with a stellar season highlighted by her selection to the U.S. National University Team that competed at the World University Games in Granada, Spain back in February. The product of the Honeybaked program starred overseas - despite sitting out of a stat-padding 9-0 rout of Spain, she finished tied for fourth in defense scoring and tied for 15th in plus-minus among all tournament players. That list included numerous entries from the senior national teams of countries like Russia and Japan, which recently finished fourth and seventh at the 2015 IIHF World Championships, as well as stars from Canadian university teams, a healthy source of the CWHL's talent.

In ACHA play, she fired home three game-winning goals among her ten points, including against defending national champion Miami on January 18th and in overtime at Northeastern on November 22nd, helping the Lady Ice Lions to Penn State's first Division 1 national tournament since 2010.

The Michigander dressed 20 times for PSU's NCAA team as a sophomore and junior, posting eight total points. Her rate of 0.4 points per game rate was 58 percent better than the next best Nittany Lions blueliner during that period.

Heather Rossi
Rossi had a collegiate career that could best be described as "nomadic." The Kunkletown, PA native played for the NCAA team at Robert Morris (PA) as a freshman in 2006-07 and posted a 0.911 save percentage in 11 games before moving on to then-ACHA program Lindenwood in 2008-09. She helped the Lions to their third of four national championships before finishing her career at Penn State.

While a Lady Icer, Rossi put together a spectacular 2009-10 season, collecting second-team All-American recognition while taking nearly 95 percent of the team's crease minutes and helping to power Penn State to its second ACHA National Tournament since 2004. On March 12, 2010, she blanked Liberty 1-0 for what is still PSU's last victory at the Division 1 tourney.

As a senior, she formed arguably the ACHA's finest goaltending tandem with Katie Vaughan, who would go on to star for the Lady Ice Lions from 2012 through 2014. Both were part of the first U.S. World University Games team in 2011, which finished fourth in Erzurum, Turkey. Rossi's 34-for-36 effort against a Finland team that included several players from the bronze medalists at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics like Michelle Karvinen, Saara Tuominen and Venla Hovi was arguably that squad's highlight.

Rylan will be the Riveters' general manager, while Linda Mroz will run the Beauts. Former NHLer Ric Seiling and Shelley Looney coached at the Buffalo camp, with 1998 Olympic gold medalist Looney recently serving as one of Smiddy's assistant coaches at the World University Games.

Smiddy and Rossi are two of a handful of ACHA players taking a shot at the pros. Lady Ice Lions opponents Hayley Williams (Miami) and Kristen Levesque (Rhode Island) - both of whom also joined forces with Smiddy on Team USA at the World University Games - each attended three camps, including those in New York and Buffalo, as well as one hosted by the Connecticut Whale on May 9th and 10th. Katie Keeports, a second-team All-American and a first-team All-Tournament pick at Delaware in 2009-10, was also present in Stamford, CT.

The NWHL's free agent camps are not a direct tryout for the teams, but they are an opportunity to get valuable exposure to management. Players have until August 17th to sign for the 2015-16 season, and signees can include those not in attendance at a free agent camp.

Should Rossi and/or Smiddy make the final cut, they would join a club of Penn Staters who have played professionally in North America that presently has a membership of just one: 1998-2002 Lady Icers superstar Andrea Lavelle. Lavelle signed with the Beatrice Aeros of what was also called the National Women's Hockey League (that NWHL, unrelated to the present NWHL, ran from 1999 through 2007 and is considered a forerunner to the CWHL) during the 2002-03 season. She played with a bevy of legends in her native Ontario, including Hockey Hall of Famer Geraldine Heaney and Olympic gold medalists Gillian Ferrari, Cheryl Pounder and Sami Jo Small. Despite that collection of talent, the Aeros lost to the Calgary Oval X-Treme in the NWHL's 2003 championship game.

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