Unsung Stars Shine as Penn State Opens ECWHL Playoffs with Win

Sophie Paolizzi scored her first career goal in Friday's win

It's often said that successful playoff runs bring out unlikely heroes. So far, so good as the Lady Ice Lions already have several of those - and more importantly, an ECWHL playoff win on the board thanks to a 4-0 first-round defeat of Northeastern Friday night at Massachusetts' Mullins Center.

First up among the fresh blooded was Sophie Paolizzi, who buried her first career goal with 6:26 remaining in the first period to make the score 2-0 Penn State, following a Cassie Dunne strike by roughly five minutes. The freshman from West Chester, PA coolly banged home a great setup from Rachel Cole (Cole's second career point) from the slot to just left of the Northeastern goal.

As everyone knows, Nina Elia has played the part before. She owns what still can fairly be regarded as the single biggest goal in team history, a double-OT putback that felled defending national champion Wisconsin-Stout in the 2013 ACHA Division 2 semifinals. So while goal scoring never has been the senior's primary mode of contribution, it still wasn't all that surprising when she deflected home from Kelly Watson (helped a bit by a misplay from Huskies goalie Anne Marie Dion) to close the game's scoring with 1:43 left.

Allyssa Long has been an unsung hero all semester for Penn State. The big but flexible senior has brought desperately-needed stability to the blue and white crease. She delivered the team's biggest win this year, an overtime result against UMass, in her first start and now has two shutouts to her credit, both against the Huskies. This time around, Long made 28 stops, many with a high degree of difficulty as Northeastern floated standout forward Estelle Ip in the neutral zone as the game went on in an attempt to generate transition chances.

There was, of course, plenty of the typical as well, namely Darby Kern. Although her stat line - one goal, two assists - won't go down as a career best, Kern beasted the ice every time she touched it, falling victim to several phenomenal stops by new second-team all-league pick Dion (who closed with 51 of them in all) that kept her from what could have been a much bigger night, even by Kern-against-the-Huskies standards.

After several near misses, she finally cashed in a 3-0 tally just 18 seconds into the third period, on a sweeping rebound try, with Liz Tuorinsky collecting the sole helper. It wasn't the most artistic of her 58 goals, but it performed an important task in helping to salt away the game that, despite Lady Ice Lion dominance, still hung uncomfortably close to that point.

PSU finished with 55 shots, a season-best total, compared to the 28 that headed towards Long. The Lady Ice Lions' penalty kill was spotless in three tries, while the power play came up empty in its only attempt.

Up next, Penn State has a markedly tougher task: ECWHL regular season champion Rhode Island in the semifinals, on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. Vermont and UMass will face off in the other semifinal, preceding PSU and URI at 4:00 p.m. On Sunday at 9:30 a.m., the losers of those two games will play for third place while the winners compete for the championship at noon.

Box Score

First Period
1. Penn State, Cassie Dunne (Darby Kern), 11:08; 2. Penn State, Sophie Paolizzi (Rachel Cole), 6:26.
Second Period
1. Northeastern, Coryrose LeBlanc (2:00 tripping), 17:38; 2. Penn State, Darian Dempsey (2:00 interference), 11:25.
Third Period
3. Penn State, Darby Kern (Liz Tuorinsky), 19:42; 4. Penn State, Nina Elia (Kelly Watson, Darby Kern), 1:43.
3. Penn State, Liz Tuorinsky (2:00 body checking), 15:49; 4. Penn State, Lucy Yeatman (2:00 tripping), 0:52.
Penn State: Allyssa Long: W, 28 saves/28 shots. Northeastern: Anne Marie Dion: L, 51 saves/55 shots.

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