|Historic Hersheypark Arena will host the Lady Ice Lions' first game against varsity competition on February 3rd|
Penn State Women's Ice Hockey Club head coach Patrick Fung has unveiled the team's 2016-17 schedule, one that promises to once again be among the ACHA's toughest. It features 12 games against teams that competed at the 2016 ACHA National Tournament, as well as the Lady Ice Lions' first-ever games against NCAA varsity competition.
In what's become something of an informal team tradition, the early slate is dominated with away games. Infamously, the first Lady Ice Lions team in 2012-13 played only a single game in central Pennsylvania, in Altoona against Slippery Rock. The next year was more balanced, but 2014-15 saw ten away games away from Pegula Ice Arena during the fall semester, compared to just five at home (and only one of those against an ACHA Division 1 opponent). Last season, five road games opened things up, at Massachusetts, Northeastern and Adrian.
This time around, ten of the fall semester's 14 matches are away contests, with the season's opening half featuring all of what is expected to be PSU's toughest Eastern Collegiate Women's Hockey League opposition. Following an opening series at Vermont over the weekend bridging September and October, Massachusetts will visit on October 14th and 15th before the Lady Ice Lions visit Rhode Island on October 28th and 29th. The opposite-site games will take place on November 18th and 19th when Penn State travels to Amherst, MA and on December 9th and 10th when third-year head coach Ashley Pagliarini brings her Keaney blue-clad squad to Pegula Ice Arena.
UMass, the ECWHL's two-time defending playoff champion, and URI, which took the regular season crown last year, were the league's two representatives at ACHA nationals back in March. Both schools rank in the top four in all-time tournament appearances (UMass is tied for the lead with 13, the Rams rank fourth with 12) and have combined for 12 of the 13 playoff titles in ECWHL history.
Northeastern, the remaining ECWHL opponent, will host Penn State in Boston for single games attached to the URI and UMass trips, on October 30th and November 20th. The Huskies will then drive down to Pennsylvania on February 10th and 11th, that last date slated to include this season's senior night ceremony.
The October 15th tilt with the Minutewomen, a team that features reigning Zoe Harris Player of the Year Brittani Lanzilli, will take place at Galactic Ice in Altoona. Beyond that first home game in team history against SRU, Penn State has used its occasional auxiliary rink two other times, running to a 3-0-0 record in Blair County with wins over Liberty's ACHA D2 team and Delaware in 2013-14.
Another highlight of the fall schedule is a trip to Michigan to play an ascendant Adrian program. The Bulldogs, although of much more recent vintage than the aforementioned ECWHL rivals (the team was founded in 2012), have quickly and firmly established themselves as a top program with consecutive trips to the ACHA semifinals in 2015 and 2016. The initiation of the all-time series last season saw Adrian take all four meetings.
Following winter break, the team will open the second half at Michigan State on January 21st and 22nd. The Spartans are another of the long-time ACHA blue bloods and boast 13 nationals appearances, with championships in 2003 and 2011. MSU, as with Liberty, fields a team in both ACHA divisions, and the Lady Ice Lions swept four games with the D2 Spartans during PSU's 2012-14 D2 era, including the first win in team history on October 13, 2012. The D1 version of the green and white was an occasional opponent of Penn State's previous Lady Icers program, with the last meetings during the 2010-11 season at Munn Ice Arena. Future Lady Ice Lions Allie Rothman and Carly Szyszko participated in that series, a sweep for the eventual national champs, while Fung took over the bench that weekend with regular head man Mo Stroemel away at World University Games.
The next weekend, Penn State returns home to face Liberty, a squad that has made the ACHA semifinals in each of the last four seasons, including a 2015 national championship win. The Flames are once again expected to be among the nation's strongest teams, with two-time Zoe Harris finalist Carrie Jickling returning to play out her eligibility as a grad student. Goaltender Rosie Kelly and defenseman C.J. Tipping were LU's other All-Americans last season, and both are expected back as well. The Virginians have been a bit of a bogey team for the Lady Ice Lions, as PSU has held a lead past the halfway point in four of the six meetings while coming up empty in the win column.
On February 3rd and 4th, Penn State will experience a team first: games against an NCAA Division III program, in the form of a home-and-home series with the new women's team at Lebanon Valley College. The Dutchwomen will be at Pegula Ice Arena for the back half of the series, the day after a contest at historic Hersheypark Arena. The edifice, built in 1936, is best known as the home of the American Hockey League's Hershey Bears between 1936 and 2002 - but it is also notable as the frequent site of games played by some of Penn State's earliest intercollegiate hockey teams in the 1930s and 1940s, including the first known win by any PSU team, over Lehigh on February 9, 1939. The Lady Icers infrequently faced NCAA competition over the years, with the last matchup a 3-2 overtime win over Division I's Sacred Heart on January 14, 2012.
The ECWHL playoffs, an event that will once again feature all five conference teams, will take place at UMass over the February 24th-26th weekend, while nationals will be played in Columbus, OH between March 15th and 19th.
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