Penn State Primed For 2016-17 Season Opener at ECWHL Rival Vermont

This weekend marks Kelly Watson's first games as Penn State's captain

Penn State (0-0-0/0-0-0 ECWHL) at
Vermont (0-0-0/0-0-0 ECWHL)
Friday, September 30th at 6:00 p.m.
Saturday, October 1st at 10:00 a.m.
Friday: Gutterson Fieldhouse; Burlington, VT
Saturday: Collins Perley Sports & Fitness; St. Albans, VT
The Lead
A rejuvenated Penn State team opens the 2016-17 season looking for a bounceback campaign, beginning with a visit to the opponent that defeated them to end 2015-16.
Mixlr (audio)

Game Notes

Among the Stars: As her junior season gets underway, center Riley O'Connor already has accumulated some pretty lofty numbers. Her 42 career points are just one behind the combined Lady Icers/Women's Ice Hockey Club total of former captain Carly Szyszko (2010-14) for third on the all-time charts. While the next rung is a significant distance from there - Devon Fisk (2012-16) sits second with 84 - it's certainly not beyond the reach of O'Connor, whose 19 goals are also good for fourth place and trail Szyszko by three. Meanwhile, linemate Claire Gauthier is the other active player in the team's top ten for career scoring with 35 points, two behind Cara Mendelson (2011-12, 14-15) for fifth place. Rachel Cole, Madison Dwyer and Jordan Chiavacci are the returning players still looking for a first career goal, with Dwyer and Chiavacci also seeking their initial points.

Young Guns: With the graduations of Fisk, Ashton Schaffer, Nina Elia and Jackie Saideh during or following 2015-16, Penn State will enter a season for the first time without any members of the inaugural 2012-13 team remaining on the roster. Furthermore, only three - seniors Anna Marcus, Cassie Dunne and Lucy Yeatman - are still around from the 2013-14 squad that matched the ACHA Division 2 runner-up finish of the year before. Between those two realities and an all-time high of nine freshmen joining up this fall, it's probably fair to say that the Lady Ice Lions have never been younger. It's possible that all nine freshmen dress this weekend, including expected starting goalie Meg Lydick, highly-rated defensemen Trisha Cierniak and Kate Lombardozzi, and dynamic winger Katelyn Trask.

Bouncing Back: There's no way around it: 2015-16 was definitively the worst on-ice season of the post-2012 WIHC era with a 5-20-2 record, and among the worst in Penn State's entire ACHA run. However, a quick turnaround this year has never been out of the question, and proof lies no further than the school's own history. PSU's previous high for losses, 19 by the 2008-09 Lady Icers, was immediately followed by a trip to the ACHA National Tournament in 2010. Goaltender Heather Rossi took Second Team All-American honors in 2009-10 to help lead the way, while other standouts included Alicia Lepore (20 goals, 27 points), Katharine Gausseres (13 assists) and Sam Summers, who scored the only goal in what is still PSU's last win at the ACHA D1 tourney, a 1-0 result over Liberty on March 12, 2010.

The team may have to borrow jerseys from the ACHA Men's Division 2 Ice Lions this weekend

Thanks, Guys: For many in hockey, the true holiday season occurs not in November and December but in August and September, when the season's new equipment and merchandise arrives. However, the Lady Ice Lions are still waiting on delivery of one of the big presents: the new jerseys for this year's freshmen. Fortunately, should they not arrive before the scheduled departure for Vermont early Friday morning, a backup plan has been secured, as the team will borrow jerseys from the men's ACHA Division 2 Ice Lions. The jerseys in question, seen above, will still be the familiar road blue with white accents, but with a larger and unadorned Penn State logo as the crest and two layers of trim around the back and sleeve numbers. The limitations of available numbers mean that some of the players with more exotic digits - O'Connor and Sophie Paolizzi with 65 and 45, for example - might have to make a temporary change.

For Her Founders, Strong and Great: The Women's Ice Hockey Club is in the process of attempting to locate as many alumni as possible from both the post-2012 WIHC era and the 1996-2012 Lady Icers era with the eventual goals of coordinating a Penn State ACHA alumni weekend and communicating relevant news. Anyone who played for either team is encouraged to fill out the WIHC's alumni information form in order to help stay in touch.

The Opponent

Name: University of Vermont
Nickname: Catamounts
Location: Burlington, VT

Series History: Penn State leads, 3-2-1. For geographic reasons, PSU-UVM is the least-played ECWHL matchup, as the teams only clash twice per regular season instead of the more-standard four. The Lady Ice Lions' last trip to Burlington - on September 27 and 28, 2014 - also represented the team's first games in ACHA D1, and a 3-0, 5-4 sweep was the outcome, with Darby Kern potting an overtime winner in the second game. The Catamounts then took a series win on the return trip to Pegula Ice Arena last season, painfully including a 3-3 senior day draw that saw Penn State's 3-1 third-period lead evaporate thanks to a pair of quick Emily Ford strikes, before UVM won the next day's game 5-3. The teams have also met in consecutive ECWHL third-place games with the team winning the regular season series also taking that contest in dominating fashion: PSU in 2014-15, the V-Cats in 2015-16.

About Vermont: The Catamounts always present as something of a knuckleball team, a squad that's never contended for an ECWHL title or ACHA nationals appearance, but is always talented enough to ruin the chances of others with an eye on those achievements. The biggest, most obvious concern for UVM as they seek to improve their 5-11-4 mark of a year ago: replacing the production of the now-graduated Ford, a former selection for Team USA at World University Games who scored exactly half of Vermont's 42 2015-16 goals. Helping the cause will be Ford's former linemate Carly Tashman (four goals, a team-high nine assists last year), as well as Lilly Henjes, a native of Kennett Square, PA who spent 2014-15 at NCAA Division III University of New England. Meghan King, a midseason addition who went on to win placement on the All-ECWHL first team, returns in goal.

Trivia: Vermont's Gutterson Fieldhouse, a frequent host of major women's hockey events, was the site of the first nationally-televised women's hockey game in the United States, a December 17, 1997 pre-Olympic showdown between the U.S. and Canada. The northern neighbors took a come-from-behind 5-4 win shown on Lifetime, although the Americans got the last laugh with a gold medal in Nagano, Japan two months later.

Head Coach: Robert Lehouiller
Goals Scored Per Game (2015-16): 2.10
Goals Allowed Per Game (2015-16): 6.90

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