Penn State Closer, But Rhode Island Extends Chain of Smokings to Ten

Darian Dempsey scored her first goal of the season on Saturday night

Perhaps one of the more frustrating aspects of any rebuilding effort is its non-linear nature and the way negative history sometimes seems to repeat itself, occasionally hiding positives and progress.

That would certainly be an understandable sentiment after Rhode Island rallied past Penn State 4-2 on Saturday night at Pegula Ice Arena to complete a series and regular season sweep of the Lady Ice Lions, dropping the hosts to 3-11-0 overall and 3-9-0 in the Eastern Collegiate Women's Hockey League. For PSU, the loss was their tenth straight to the Rams, dating back to November 9, 2014. Rhode Island is now 13-4-0 overall and 8-2-0 in ECWHL play.

The game, at least in some ways, was reminiscent of loss eight of that streak, the second half of the series between the teams in Kingston, RI back on October 29th.

Then, as now, Penn State produced arguably its best effort of the season against a ranked opponent, but ending with the No. 10 Rams finding the deciding goal early in the third period. In October, that goal came from an unfortunate bounce off of the stick of Michelle Monet 1:35 into the frame.

On Saturday, the goal was a bit sooner and prettier, as freshman Madison Balutowski took a feed from Janessa Courtney and motored past the Penn State defense down the left side before firing clean through just 20 seconds after the second intermission. Monica Darby added her fourth of the weekend in the closing minutes for the final margin, beating one lunging defenseman to the puck before dangling the other.

It was an unfortunate end to an exciting game that, prior to that, saw the Lady Ice Lions trade blows with the nine-time ECWHL champions.

The visitors went first just one minute into the game when a turnover at the Penn State line ended up on the stick of Casey McCormick. URI's junior captain drove the middle to push the defense back before leaving the puck for Lexie Stefekos for the shot and score. PSU then found life late thanks to help from consecutive penalties to Brynne Costa (body checking with 3:55 left) and Monet (tripping with 2:26 left). Although Costa's penalty, along with 31 seconds of 5-on-3 time passed uneventfully, Cassie Dunne was able to capitalize on the back end of the long advantage, in taking a Meghan Miller pass and wheeled through the zone before firing a backhander past Rams goalie Abbey Torres with exactly one minute left in the first period.

For Dunne, the goal was a notable one, as it helped her tie the current-era team records for power play goals in a single season (four, shared with Madison Smiddy in 2011-12 and Darby Kern last season) and in a career (five, shared with Smiddy and 2014 graduate Carly Szyszko).

The break did little to stem Penn State's momentum. Thirty-two seconds into the middle period, a beautiful Miller stretch pass set Darian Dempsey in with one URI defender back. After fighting through a stick check to get in clean behind everyone, the senior from Michigan fired home her first of the year to give Penn State the lead.

Rhode Island, however, had an answer around the midway point of the period. Balutowski - in somewhat of a recurring theme over the weekend series - lost the coverage in a high-danger part of the Lady Ice Lions zone, where Costa found her to set up both the goal and the Rams rally that would follow starting roughly 11 game minutes later.

PSU managed the Dunne goal in four attempts on the power play, while killing the only call that went against them, a first-period cross checking minor to Liz Tuorinsky. Goalie Meg Lydick stopped 33 shots in the blue and white crease, while Torres followed up her shutout on Friday with 15 saves on 17 shots against her.

The team will now experience a different brand of stress, in the form of finals week, before heading into winter break. A return to game action is scheduled for January 20th with a trip to visit Michigan, followed by a series at Michigan State on January 21st and 22nd.

Box Score

First Period
1. Rhode Island, Lexie Stefekos (Casey McCormick), 19:00; 2. Penn State, Cassie Dunne (Meghan Miller), 1:00 (power play).
1. Penn State, Liz Tuorinsky (2:00 cross checking), 14:42; 2. Rhode Island, Monica Darby (2:00 roughing), 12:23; 3. Rhode Island, Brynne Costa (2:00 body checking), 3:55; 4. Rhode Island, Michelle Monet (2:00 tripping), 2:26.
Second Period
3. Penn State, Darian Dempsey (Liz Tuorinsky), 19:28; 4. Rhode Island, Madison Balutowski (Samantha Evans, Brynne Costa), 10:24.
5. Rhode Island, Caitlin McGuirl (2:00 interference), 4:48.
Third Period
5. Rhode Island, Madison Balutowski (Janessa Courtney), 19:40; 6. Rhode Island, Monica Darby (unassisted), 3:17.
6. Rhode Island, Monica Darby (2:00 tripping), 1:30.
Penn State: Meg Lydick: L, 33 saves/37 shots; Rhode Island: Abbey Torres: W, 15 saves/17 shots.

Penn State Lady Ice Lions: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram