Seniors Sparkle, But Vermont Forces Lady Ice Lions Into Late 3-3 Tie

Nina Elia and her classmates excelled on Saturday night

For any team in any collegiate sport, there are certain hopes and expectations attached to senior day, the traditional ceremony honoring a graduating class prior to the last (or fourth-to-last, in this case) home game of the season.

And, for the most part, the Lady Ice Lions got exactly that against Vermont on Saturday evening at Pegula Ice Arena. Although two of the five honorees - goalies Allyssa Long and Sumire Clevenger - didn't play, the other three excelled in their typical ways.

First up was Nina Elia. Although never a big scorer, she came out inspired on her night and made the sound but difficult plays that have become her hallmark: forcing grey-zone turnovers ending in transitional chances by scorers like Meghan Miller, for example. She even got involved in the offense, as in one point where she wheeled two zones, then left a drop pass for Rachel Cole before charging to the net and getting a solid swing on a rebound. Taking cues from the alternate captain, PSU played a dominant first period despite a 0-0 score, outshooting Vermont 18-8.

Darby Kern has never had much issue correcting 0-0. The Lady Ice Lions' other alternate owns most major team scoring records and added to her 50 goals entering play, twice. The first came early in the second period, cutting to the middle where Rachel Cole found her with a great setup (Cole, on the other end of her career as a freshman, recorded her first point on the play, while Elia grabbed the secondary helper).

Lilly Henjes equalled things up for the Catamounts through two, but Kern struck again to restore the edge on a glorious and unassisted goal. The big left winger kept a turnover in the offensive zone at the line, then stickhandled through UVM's coverage to get a closer look before potting.

The final senior, of course, was captain Jackie Saideh, one of the team's co-founders along with Elia. The Massachusetts native is a smart, adaptable player: defense and forward, scoring and checking are all within her skill set. On Saturday, her scoring came to the fore, from her favorite spot, right near the front of the cage. Anna Marcus lasered a pass in from the line, and Penn State's 8 pushed her squad's lead to 3-1 with exactly 11 minutes left.

So far, so good. The fact that an encounter between Riley O'Connor and Vermont's Emily Ford were sent off for matching roughing calls on the score was almost an afterthought.

Ford, however, is one of the ACHA's most talented players and the black-clad senior had scored exactly half of her team's goals this season entering the game, generally in quick bursts coming from seemingly nowhere. And that's exactly what happened once again. The former recruit to UVM's NCAA Division I team struck immediately after exiting the penalty box and then again just under two minutes later - both spectacular and unassisted solo efforts - to spoil Penn State's senior night, at least halfway.

With the 3-3 draw after the last 12 minutes of the game (including overtime) proved fruitless for either bench, PSU moved to 3-13-2 on the season, while Vermont is now 4-8-4. Perhaps more crucially, the result enabled the visitors to hang on to third place in the ECWHL with a 4-3-4 league mark. The Lady Ice Lions are 3-5-2 in the ECWHL.

Hanna Scanlon made her third career start for Penn State, and her first since November, and excelled in making 40 saves on 43 Catamount shots. Meghan King stopped 45 of 48 PSU tries on the other end, while each team came up empty on their only power play.

The Lady Ice Lions will close the four-day, three-game weekend on Sunday afternoon against Vermont, with puck drop scheduled for 12:45 p.m. After that, the team will head back on the road for games with Northeastern and Rhode Island from February 5th through 7th.

Box Score

First Period
1. Vermont, Emily Ford (2:00 body checking), 16:09.
Second Period
1. Penn State, Darby Kern (Rachel Cole, Nina Elia), 16:29; 2. Vermont, Lilly Henjes (Bethany Kelly), 8:31.
2. Penn State, Darian Dempsey (2:00 hooking), 16:05.
Third Period
3. Penn State, Darby Kern (unassisted), 11:52; 4. Penn State, Jackie Saideh (Anna Marcus, Claire Gauthier), 11:00; 5. Vermont, Emily Ford (unassisted), 8:43; 6. Vermont, Emily Ford (unassisted), 6:51.
3. Vermont, Emily Ford (2:00 roughing), 11:00; 4. Penn State, Riley O'Connor (2:00 roughing), 11:00.
Penn State: Hanna Scanlon: T, 40 saves/43 shots. Vermont: Meghan King: T, 45 saves/48 shots.

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