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Penn State Heads to Virginia for Games With Colorado, Liberty

A newly-renovated and expanded LaHaye Ice Center awaits the Lady Ice Lions this weekend



No. 15 Penn State (3-9-1/3-5-1 ECWHL) vs.
No. 13 Colorado (9-4-0/9-4-0 WWCHL)
When
Saturday, January 16th at 9:00 a.m.
Saturday, January 16th at 7:00 p.m.
Where
LaHaye Ice Center
Lynchburg, VA
The Lead
Following a strong weekend against Massachusetts to open the semester, the Lady Ice Lions try to keep momentum going with two neutral-site games against new opponent Colorado.
Live Video
None

No. 15 Penn State (3-9-1/3-5-1 ECWHL) vs.
No. 1 Liberty (7-1-0/Independent)
When
Sunday, January 17th at 10:00 a.m.
Where
LaHaye Ice Center
Lynchburg, VA
The Lead
Almost exactly one year (364 days, to be precise) after a landmark upset at Miami, Penn State will attempt to topple another top-ranked defending national champion on the road, this time in the form of Liberty.
Live Video

Game Notes

Last Minute-women: The Lady Ice Lions opened the spring semester with a highly-productive weekend against No. 5 Massachusetts, topping the defending ECWHL champions 4-3 in overtime last Saturday with a late comeback before settling for a split with a 6-4 loss on Sunday. Without a doubt, a major storyline of the series was PSU's sudden explosiveness coming on the heels of a goal drought that lasted nearly four full games. Just as encouraging as the eight-goal output itself was its diversity, including sources both familiar - Darby Kern had a hand in all four goals on Saturday, while Riley O'Connor grabbed two points on Sunday - and less so, as Darian Dempsey and Kelly Watson both scored their first career goals in the series, and Liz Tuorinsky potted her second and third. The results, even including the highly-competitive loss, are ones that the team is hoping can springboard a second half run back into contention.

Rise and Grind: With two early-morning games this weekend of the three being played, Penn State is hoping to continue an outstanding success rate with start times earlier than most college students prefer to wake up. Since 2012-13, the Lady Ice Lions are 8-0-0 in games beginning at 10:00 a.m. or earlier and 13-2-0 in contests before noon, with the two losses coming to Iowa State in the 2014 Division 2 national championship game and UMass on October 10th of this season. The Division 1-era wins include Rhode Island (November 9, 2014 at 11:00 a.m.), Northeastern (November 23, 2014 at 7:30 a.m., February 1, 2015 at 10:00 a.m., November 8, 2015 at 8:30 a.m.), and Vermont (February 22, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. In D2, the victim list includes powerhouses like Michigan State, Wisconsin-Stout, West Chester and California (PA).

Grind and Sleep: Similarly, Penn State has had a lot of success with quick turnarounds, as will take place on Saturday with two separate games against Colorado. The ACHA National Tournament formerly included two pool play games in one day, with PSU going 3-0-1 in those situations (including wins over defending national champion UW-Stout in 2013 and West Region No. 1 North Dakota State in 2014, while the tie versus NDSU in 2013 came with advancement and seeding already secured). The Lady Ice Lions experienced puck drops less than 12 hours apart one other time in the post-2012 era, sweeping Northeastern on November 22nd (9:30 p.m.) and 23rd (7:30 a.m.) last season. A sweep of Michigan State on October 13th and 14th, 2012 just misses the cutoff with 9:40 p.m. and 10:00 a.m. start times.

Better than Okayest: In addition to the milestones of Dempsey and Watson, senior goaltender Allyssa Long was also vital to the big weekend. Coming off of more than a semester of being injured, Long made her first two career starts (previously, her only game action was a relief stint versus Slippery Rock last season) against UMass and picked up her first win. While allowing 3 and 6 goals might not immediately point to great goaltending, combining injury, inexperience, UMass averaging 4.4 goals per game in seven previous outings against PSU and the fact that the Minutewomen feature three of the top four scorers in ACHA Division 1 all add up to a great performance by Long. With three opening faceoffs scheduled within 25 hours of each other this weekend, the Lady Ice Lions' sudden bit of goalie depth is certainly a valuable asset.

Jumping the Sharks (and the Panthers, Eagles and Rams): Sunday is the cutoff for the third in-season ACHA ranking of 2015-16, with Penn State holding a great chance of gaining spots from the current 15th position with a solid weekend. It's worth mentioning that in last season's nationals-qualifying campaign, the Lady Ice Lions languished in 11th at this point in the campaign before moving to 8th in Ranking 3 (thanks mostly to the historic upset of then-No. 1 Miami last January 18th), then surviving a crushing loss to Rhode Island in the ECWHL semifinals to wind up in 7th for the fourth and final ranking. Notably, PSU has a much tougher schedule down the stretch this season when compared to 2014-15. Among other games, this weekend is followed by a road series against No. 6 URI (February 6th and 7th), a home set with No. 1 Liberty (February 13th and 14th), and possible one-offs with the Rams and No. 5 UMass at the ECWHL playoffs. Next weekend stands as the squad's last remaining off week of the regular season, with games on four consecutive weekends through late February following it.

The (First) Opponent

Name: University of Colorado
Nickname: Buffaloes
Location: Boulder, CO

Series History: Tied, 0-0-0.

About Colorado: The Buffaloes play in the Western Women's Collegiate Hockey League along with several strong programs like Colorado State, Lindenwood-Belleville and 2013 national champion Minnesota. So far, the Buffs have proven worthy of that group with a 9-4-0 overall mark, including a 2-1 decision over rival CSU on October 25th and a loss to current No. 7 LU-B on October 11th that was essentially a one-goal decision with an even shot count until a Lynx power play goal in the game's final minute. Natalie Warnes takes the bulk of CU's goaltending duties, sporting seven wins and a sparkling 1.00/0.927 goals against average/save percentage line. Standout defenseman Whitney Thomas - a member of the 2015 U.S. National University Select Team that competed at the World University Games last winter - boasts five goals, while North Carolina native Kaye Sitterley leads the team with 11 among her 19 points.

Trivia: Thomas, as mentioned, played for Team USA at last year's World University Games tournament. Although the lineup shifted frequently in subsequent games, she opened the tournament against China as the defense partner of Lady Ice Lions alumna Madison Smiddy.

Head Coach: Jamie Hazelton
Goals Scored Per Game: 3.85
Goals Allowed Per Game: 1.23

Team Website:
http://www.coloradowomenshockey.com/

The (Second) Opponent

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

Series History: Liberty leads, 3-0-0. One of the more frustrating parts of an otherwise highly-successful 2014-15 Lady Ice Lions season was the team's inability to put away Liberty, as each meeting with the Flames saw PSU leads that ended in one-goal losses, two in overtime. The final game of the three took place at last season's ACHA National Tournament, with goals by Taylor Nyman, Kern and Claire Gauthier pushing Penn State to a 3-1 advantage late in the second period. However, LU pulled back even through Sarah Stevenson and Chelsey Greenwood, with the former adding an OT dagger to her stat line. C.J. Tipping was Liberty's extra time hero in the first game, on December 5, 2014, after Brittany Hymers scored with 52 seconds left to erase a 5-4 Lady Ice Lions lead.

About Liberty: Little from the Flames needs introduction at this point. The always-very-aggressive, always-very-Canadian squad lost star center Stevenson from last year's national champs, but return much of their core, including Carrie Jickling (whose 35 goals topped D1 last year), Catharine Burrell and Tipping. While a roster of 16 possibly lends itself to depth concerns, D1's only independent has never been shy about taking on all comers, this year including a sweep of No. 6 Rhode Island and a split with No. 4 Grand Valley State, resulting in the Flames' only loss in eight games (which, notably, came by forfeit after LU won the contest on the ice).

Trivia: Stevenson is one of three former ACHA players presently playing in one of North America's two professional women's leagues, as she skates with the Canadian Women's Hockey League's Toronto Furies and has scored twice in 18 games this year, tied for seventh on the team. She is the first ACHA alumna to ever be drafted by a women's pro league, as she was selected 17th overall in the fourth round of the CWHL draft last August.

Head Coach: Paul Bloomfield
Goals Scored Per Game: 5.38
Goals Allowed Per Game: 0.75

Team Website:
http://www.liberty.edu/campusrec/clubsports/?PID=25959&TeamID=3

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