|Lucy Yeatman and Nina Elia look for a strong finish to the regular season|
No. 15 Penn State (4-16-2/4-8-2 ECWHL) vs.
No. 1 Liberty (16-1-0/Independent)
Saturday, February 13th at 7:00 p.m.
Sunday, February 14th at 12:45 p.m.
Pegula Ice Arena
University Park, PA
The defending national champion Flames visit Pegula Ice Arena for the first time to close Penn State's 2015-16 home slate
Halfway There: Although it certainly hasn't resulted in a ton of wins just yet, the Lady Ice Lions' offensive output has been operating at a very solid clip this semester. The team has scored four or more goals in seven of 11 games in the spring, and three in two others. The 37 total goals compares to 29 in 11 games during the fall (16 of which came during the season-opening weekend at Massachusetts and Northeastern) and the second half per-game rate of 3.36 would rank a respectable 10th in ACHA Division 1 if carried over the full season.
Creeping the Leaderboard: Somewhat quietly, the recent resurgence of the PSU offense has boosted senior forward Darby Kern into a tie for second in the national scoring race, with a 23-16-39 line identical to that of Rhode Island superstar Sydney Collins. Although tracking down first place this late in the season (UMass' Brittani Lanzilli, with 47) seems like a longshot for the player who led the division with 61 points last year, Kern's production has thrust her back into the conversation for league and national honors. Kern's most recent point, of course, was a second-period power play goal against Rhode Island last Sunday that gave her 100 in her two-year ACHA career. Riley O'Connor (8-15-23), who recently moved back to Kern's line, is tied for 18th in D1 scoring, with URI's Brenna Callahan. Claire Gauthier (3-11-14), PSU's only other double-digit point getter, is tied for 55th. One surprising source of offense of late has been Anna Marcus, as the defenseman-turned-forward-turned-defenseman has seven points in 11 games since returning from studying abroad this semester. Marcus had nine points in 26 games last year, mostly as a center.
Game Day (Again): It's been quite a while since the inaugural Lady Ice Lions' season in 2012-13, when the team manged to schedule just 12 regular-season games (nine of which were actually played) and went more than a month between contests three different times. This weekend's games mark the fifth weekend playing of the last six overall, part of what will ultimately be a six-in-seven run following the ECWHL playoffs next weekend. What's more, as many of four of those weekends will have involved four games, a team record fixture-congestion clip that will end up with either 15 or 16 games played in a 44-day span.
Playoff Push: Rhode Island's sweep of Penn State last weekend cemented the final ECWHL regular season standings, despite the fact that two league games remain, a series between UMass and Northeastern this weekend. URI has clinched the regular season title, followed by the Minutewomen in second, and then Vermont, PSU and NU. That reality also sets the league playoff schedule for next weekend, with all games being played in Amherst, MA's Mullins Center (the defending conference champion hosts the following season's playoffs).
Friday, February 19: 4. Penn State vs. 5. Northeastern, 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, February 20: 2. Massachusetts vs. 3. Vermont, 4:00 p.m.
Saturday, February 20: 1. Rhode Island vs. PSU/NU, 6:30 p.m.
Sunday, February 21: Consolation Game, 9:00 a.m.
Sunday, February 21: Championship Game, 12:00 p.m.
Should the Lady Ice Lions lose to Northeastern in the Friday game, the squad's playoff run would end. However, a win guarantees two more games, first in the semifinals against Rhode Island, then in either the championship (with a win vs. URI) or consolation (with a loss) game on Sunday. Because the ECWHL only has five teams, its champion does not receive an automatic bid to the ACHA National Tournament. That, along with PSU's ranking well outside of the top eight, makes it probable that the league tourney will conclude the 2015-16 season. However, no Penn State team - in nine tries by the Lady Icers and one by the Lady Ice Lions - has ever won the ECWHL tournament, making that a worthy goal in and of itself. The current team also missed out on the College Hockey East playoff title in its one other conference-membership season, 2013-14, after winning the regular season crown.
Name: Liberty University
Location: Lynchburg, VA
Series History: Liberty leads, 4-0-0. Most recently, the teams met on January 17th in Virginia, where early goals from Kern and Gauthier gave the Lady Ice Lions a surprise 2-0 lead after the first period. Darian Dempsey and Jackie Saideh added tallies in a wild middle frame that ended on a 4-4 score, before the Flames added four unanswered to win 8-4. Burrell, McDonald, Jickling and Chelsey Greenwood each put up three-point games for LU. Penn State has held leads in all four games between the teams, including multi-goal leads in three of the four and third-period leads in two of the four (with the other two entering the third tied).
Since Last Time: The defending champs have been the ACHA's dominant team this year, as their 16-1-0 record (including wins over Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Grand Valley State) can attest. Their sole loss came to GVSU, but only because of a forfeit due to a roster issue after the Flames had won in overtime on the ice. Most recently, LU polished off second-ranked Adrian by 1-0 and 4-1 scores last weekend. Although top scorers like Carrie Jickling (36 points), Catharine Burrell (35 points and speedster Lauren McDonald (17 points) are well known to Penn Staters by now, Liberty's hallmark has been defense. The Flames have surrendered three or more goals exactly once this year - notably, to the Lady Ice Lions in the first meeting - while goalies Rosie Kelly and Kelly Hutton have combined for seven shutouts. C.J. Tipping and Brittany Hymers are mainstays on the defense corps, which has been accented this season by the addition of Kjrstin Hoberg, a transfer from NCAA Division III SUNY-Canton.
Trivia: Liberty's newly renovated and expanded LaHaye Ice Center has a capacity of 3,000, making it larger than 14 of the 36 arenas presently hosting NCAA Division I women's hockey.
Head Coach: Paul Bloomfield
Goals Scored Per Game: 4.82
Goals Allowed Per Game: 1.06
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