Coming In Hot: Top-Ranked Liberty Visits Pegula Ice Arena To Face PSU

Riley O'Connor scored twice against Liberty last season

Penn State (3-14-0/3-9-0 ECWHL) vs.
No. 1 Liberty (14-4-1/Independent)
Friday, January 27th at 10:15 p.m.
Saturday, January 28th at 9:15 p.m.
Pegula Ice Arena
University Park, PA
The Lead
For the first time in almost one year, Penn State takes on the challenge of the ACHA's top-ranked team

Game Notes

Not Dunne Yet: Cassie Dunne, presently overseas for the World University Games tournament (Team USA's first game is 1:30 a.m. Sunday against Russia), set a new mark late in last Sunday's game at Michigan State with her fifth power play goal of the season, and the sixth of her career. Both are new team records in the Lady Ice Lions era, eclipsing the season mark shared by Madison Smiddy '15 and Darby Kern '16 as well as the career total of Smiddy and Carly Szyszko '14 (Smiddy, coincidentally, was herself a World University Games team member in 2015). With Dunne out of the lineup for the next four games, head coach Patrick Fung will - stating the obvious - have some work on his hands re-configuring the PSU power play.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest: Liberty, this weekend's opponent, reclaimed the top spot in the ACHA rankings on Tuesday, meaning that Penn State will face the nation's top-ranked team for the first time since the Flames' last visit to Pegula Ice Arena, on February 13th and 14th, 2016. In all, the Lady Ice Lions are 1-3-0 against number ones at the ACHA Division 1 level with the victory, a historic one, coming on January 18, 2015 at Miami - a contest that saw a key goal from Riley O'Connor, as well as an assist of former captain Jackie Saideh '16 by Anna Marcus. Taking things back a bit further, while ACHA Division 2 does not have a consolidated national ranking, PSU was 3-1-0 against regional number ones in the D2 era, with all four meetings occurring at the ACHA National Tournament. In 2012-13, the Lady Ice Lions defeated West No. 1 Alaska in the pool round before falling to East No. 1 West Chester in the championship game. The following year, a pool win over West No. 1 North Dakota State was immediately followed with a semifinal victory against East No. 1 California (PA).

Mega Busy: Last Saturday against Michigan State, freshman goalie Meg Lydick faced a whopping 68 Spartan shots, stopping 64. Both marks represent new team single-game records, surpassing the 54 saves on 55 shots of Mary Kate Tonetti '15 at Massachusetts on October 11, 2014. Both goalies were tough-luck losers in spite of the prolific performances, as Penn State did not manage a goal in either game. This season, the Mid-State Mustangs product has 546 saves, well on track to threaten Katie (Vaughan) Pucci's modern-era single-season record of 769 in 2011-12. Lydick already ranks third on the career charts, trailing Pucci (1742) and Tonetti (802).

Closing Kick: Away from Penn State's series in Michigan last weekend, ECWHL rivals Massachusetts and Rhode Island opposed each other in Amherst, MA, with the Minutewomen taking the series through a win and a tie. Those results clinch the ECWHL regular season title for UMass and also lock in URI as the second place team. The Lady Ice Lions (3-9-0 in the ECWHL) will now attempt to grab third place, with at least one win in their final two league games - versus Northeastern on February 10th and 11th - being the minimum necessary for that. The Huskies (2-8-0 in the ECWHL) have four conference games left, as they travel to URI prior to facing PSU. Current third-place team Vermont (3-7-0 in the ECWHL) also has four games left, with Rhode Island and UMass. Finishing in third carries two benefits. First, it allows a team to skip the first day of the league playoffs, which pit fourth and fifth place against each other. Second, the third-place team draws the lower second seed in day two's semifinals, URI, while the winner of the fourth vs. fifth game has to face top-seeded UMass.

The Opponent

Name: Liberty University
Nickname: Flames
Location: Lynchburg, VA

Series History: Liberty leads, 6-0-0. The Flames swept three meetings during the 2014-15 season, all in one-goal contests, with two of the three (including a contest at the ACHA National Tournament) needing overtime. Last season, things took a sharper turn in LU's favor - two Flames routs at Pegula Ice Arena last February were preceded by a contest at LaHaye Ice Center in January that saw a 4-4 game after two periods turn into an 8-4 Liberty win. Dunne, Liz Tuorinsky, Riley O'Connor and Darian Dempsey are the active WIHCers who have scored on the Flames, although both Dunne (World University Games, of course) and Dempsey (shoulder) are out for this weekend.

About Liberty: After some initial young-team shakiness - the Flames roster includes 13 freshmen - the 2015 national champions have found their stride of late, most recently sweeping top-ranked defending national champion Miami to claim the summit of the polls for themselves. LU, in fact, is 4-0-0 against the other two top-three teams, having swept No. 2 Adrian back in November, although losses to lower-ranked teams like Grand Valley State and Michigan might be another indication of the team's youth. Despite the bevy of freshmen though, most of the Flames' production has come from the familiar vets, like two-time player-of-the-year finalist Carrie Jickling, who leads the way with 19 goals and 30 points. Speedster Lauren McDonald offers a team-high 17 assists among her 26 points, while familiar names Catharine Burrell, Chelsey Greenwood and C.J. Tipping round out the top five. Nadia Rupoli has supplanted Kelly Hutton and Rosie Kelly to be the Flames' lead goaltender and has posted a 0.933 save percentage.

Head Coach: Paul Bloomfield
Goals Scored Per Game: 4.79
Goals Allowed Per Game: 2.42

Team Website: https://www.liberty.edu/campusrec/clubsports/index.cfm?PID=25959&teamID=3

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