Red October: Penn State to Open Season with Defending Champ Miami

Penn State stunned No. 1 Miami in the only previous meeting between the teams

Generally, teams play for the national championship at the end of the year. Penn State, while no exception, will now also have a national championship-level series to kick off the season.

On October 6th and 7th, the Lady Ice Lions will drop the puck on 2017-18 by hosting three-time ACHA national champion Miami at Pegula Ice Arena. The RedHawks' titles include 2013-14, 2015-16 and last season, when MU defeated Liberty in the final in Columbus, OH.

Game times are still to be determined.

PSU has only faced Miami once before, but it was one of the most memorable contests in team history. On January 18, 2015 in Oxford, OH's Goggin Ice Center, the blue and white stunned the RedHawks by a 4-3 count. Defenseman Madison Smiddy scored the game's opening and closing goals, the latter coming on a 5-on-3 advantage with 3:16 remaining. Jackie Saideh and Riley O'Connor had the other two Penn State markers, Darby Kern was credited with a trio of assists, and Mary Kate Tonetti made 33 saves.

The magnitude of the victory is fairly easy to communicate. MU was first in the rankings (and had been since the beginning of the previous season) and coming off of its first national title. Furthermore, the RedHawks were on a 31-game unbeaten streak (dating to January 24, 2014) and a 25-game unbeaten streak at home (dating to October 18, 2013). Their roster featured the reigning Zoe M. Harris Award winner (future NWHL and CWHL professional player Hayley Williams), the reigning ACHA National Tournament MVP (Kaley Mooney) and the reigning ACHA Coach of the Year (Scott Hicks).

Williams, Mooney, Hicks and three other Miamians were picked for the 2015 U.S. National University Team, which departed for the World University Games in Spain one week after the game. In summary, it's fair to argue that the result had a lot to do with why Penn State qualified for the ACHA National Tournament in 2014-15, the first season of the team's return to ACHA Division 1.

Both rosters have changed quite a bit since then, of course. O'Connor and Tarika Embar are the only Penn Staters remaining who participated in the game, while Miami just graduated arguably the most decorated class in ACHA history including Mooney, who went on to win her own Zoe M. Harris Award last season, three-time World University Games pick Katie Augustine (the only American owner of two WUG hockey medals ever, as she was on both the 2013 and 2017 bronze medal squads), 95-goal-scorer Rachael Booth, underrated team captain Izzy Smith and two-time All-American goalie Emalee Wills.

Expected key returners for the RedHawks include defenseman Nicole Matthews, who had two points in the 2014-15 PSU-MU meeting, and former NCAA Division I recruit Ireland Mooney, Kaley's sister. Hicks has developed a deserved reputation as one of the nation's best recruiters and will undoubtedly enter the year reloaded, likely with the top rankings position in hand, and with sights set on the ACHA's first three-peat since Lindenwood ran off a trifecta from 2008 through 2010.

The Lady Ice Lions are 1-3-0 since 2014-15 against defending ACHA Division 1 national champions, with the Miami win followed by three losses to 2014-15 champ Liberty two seasons ago.

Improving that record would signal, even after the season's first weekend, that Penn State is primed for a return to its place among the ACHA's elite.

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