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BLOG: 2017-18 Schedule Unveil



Running updates on the 2017-18 schedule as the games are announced

The ACHA champions will again be crowned at the OhioHealth Ice Haus in Columbus, OH

WRAPPING IT ALL UP
September 24, 2017 | 5:31 p.m.

Every Lady Ice Lions season, of course, ends with a pair of tournaments on the schedule, one automatic and one requiring qualification: the ECWHL playoffs and the ACHA National Tournament.

ECWHLs are tentatively scheduled for February 16th through 18th, and will once again be held in Amherst, MA at the Mullins Center (in what would be PSU's third trip there in 2017-18), as the playoffs are always hosted by the defending league champion. The word "tentatively" is particularly important in this case, as it's not yet clear what format the tournament will take - or if it will even be played at all. With only three teams remaining in the conference (Penn State, Massachusetts and Rhode Island) and four games between each set of opponents, there has been discussion about simply letting the ECWHL regular season champion stand as its overall champion.

The league does not get an autobid to the ACHA tournament automatic bid (conferences need at least six teams to receive an autobid), so any resolution on the fate of playoffs would simply involve the usual awarding of the trophy and assigning of bragging and banner rights.

Speaking of the ACHA National Tournament, it will take place in Columbus, OH for the second straight year as part of an ACHA effort to centralize every division's tournament in one city, with March 14th through 18th standing as the date range specific to Women's Division 1. Last season, most tournament games were played at one of three OhioHealth Chiller rinks around the Columbus area (the Easton location was used for the women's tournaments), with the championship games brought downtown to the OhioHealth Ice Haus, adjacent to the Columbus Blue Jackets' Nationwide Arena (Men's Division 1 was an exception, as all games in their tournament were played at the Ice Haus).

The format will remain the same as 2016-17: the top eight teams qualify, and are then paired off for a best-of-three first round according to seeding (1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6, 4 vs. 5), with the winners of those series advancing to the semifinals and, obviously, the championship game with an additional win.



THE OTHER RAMS
September 17, 2017 | 5:38 p.m.

The 2017-18 regular season will close with a pair of home games against Western Women's Collegiate Hockey League opponent Colorado State at Pegula Ice Arena. The first game will be played at 9:00 p.m. on February 10th with a quick turnaround to 9:30 a.m. on February 11th.

Penn State's annual senior night will take place on the 10th and celebrate just two players: captain/president Riley O'Connor and alternate captain/treasurer Tarika Embar. It's an abnormally small class compared to the usual four or five, but not unprecedented in that department, as the 2012-13 team did not have any seniors (and even if it had seniors, it didn't have a home game to honor them).

As for the opponent, these will be Penn State's first-ever games against Colorado State and just the third and fourth against any WWCHL team since the league's 2014 founding, following a series against CSU rival Colorado in 2015-16. The Rams, while never a nationals qualifier, have generally been regulars in the ACHA's top 15 over the past few seasons before a drop to 6-17-1 overall last year. Their hope is that sophomore defenseman Emily Kruger, a Minnesota native who tied for the team's scoring lead in 2016-17, will take another step forward to drive a squad whose top players tend to be in the first half of their careers.

Other key players on third-year head coach Loch Miller's roster include senior Sarina Perret, who is the club's president and chipped in 11 points last year, including a goal in CSU's biggest result, a 2-2 tie with eventual league champion Minnesota. Starting goalie Mackenzie Roberts will look to resume her role and continue to give the Rams a chance each time out - the extremely-busy netminder made 795 ACHA-recorded saves one year ago, a number that topped both ACHA women's divisions, ahead of second place Meg Lydick and her 751 (Lydick's PSU-record count is 842, but includes a pair of non-ACHA games). Sophomore Elizabeth Stepanek is another piece of Colorado State's young core and offered three goals and 12 points as a freshman.



URI's Monica Darby had five goals and seven points against Penn State last season

RHODE TRIP
September 15, 2017 | 2:24 p.m.

Penn State will close out its two-opponent, eight-game ECWHL conference schedule on February 2nd and 3rd with a series at Brad Boss Arena against Rhode Island.

While PSU has struggled with the Rams on just about every sheet of ice over the years, there's at least some case to be made that the away games have actually been more friendly than those at Pegula Ice Arena. The team's sole victory against Rhody in the post-2012 era came at Boss on November 9, 2014, with then-freshman Riley O'Connor scoring the winner in what was the Lady Ice Lions' first true attention-grabbing result after returning to ACHA Division 1 that season.

Penn State is 1-6-0 overall in Kingston, scoring 2.29 goals per game while surrendering 4.43. At home, the numbers are actually more bleak: an 0-4-0 record with 1.00 goals for and 4.25 goals against per game. Notable milestones achieved at URI include Darby Kern '16's 100th career point on February 7, 2016 and Rhode Island native Katelyn Trask's first career goal on October 29, 2016, PSU's most recent game in the Ocean State.



NO FREEDOM FROM LIBERTY
September 12, 2017 | 11:24 a.m.

The Liberty Flames will repay Penn State's October trip to Lynchburg, VA with games in Pegula Ice Arena on January 26th at 10:15 p.m. and January 27th at 9:00 p.m.

There's nothing inherently odd about that exchange. PSU has played Liberty at least twice in every single season that both schools have been present in ACHA Division 1 (a span that goes back to LU's creation in 2006-07 and excludes only the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons, when the Lady Ice Lions played in D2), and four times more often than not. But in 2017-18, with Liberty standing as a late "western" fill-in at the UMass Showcase in early November, the non-conference opponents now have five scheduled meetings - one more than Penn State has with conference rivals Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

The idea of playing one team five times in a season is hardly unprecedented, since most ECWHL playoff games are fifth overall meetings under the current league format. Penn State has played URI five times in each of the last two seasons and met UMass five times in 2014-15 (with the fifth meeting occurring at the ACHA National Tournament in that case, not the ECWHL playoffs). PSU played both California (PA) and Delaware a whopping six times in 2013-14, including (in both cases) four regular season contests and subsequent meetings at the College Hockey East playoffs and at nationals. However, this is the first time in team history that the blue and white has had five scheduled games with any one team prior to the postseason.

Liberty's perpetually active club sports media personnel posted a team preview video on Monday:





QUICK U(MASS)-TURN
September 9, 2017 | 5:24 p.m.

Penn State will play its third and fourth games in five against Massachusetts when the Minutemen visit Pegula Ice Arena on January 19th and 20th to open PSU's spring semester schedule. The first game has been set for 10:15 p.m., while puck drop for the second has not been finalized.

The series represents a return of UMass' annual trip south to a more conventional spot on the Lady Ice Lions' schedule. In 2014-15 and 2015-16, the Minutemen opened the spring at PSU. Last year, due to concerns from Bill Wright's squad about returning to school off of winter break a week before classes resumed, it was moved to mid-October relatively late in the process. It would be a stretch of highest magnitude to correlate calendar dates to wins and losses, but for whatever it's worth, PSU is 2-2-0 in home games against UMass in the January spot and went 0-2-0 in the October series last year.

The ECWHL champs, for their part, will be in the middle of their own schedule oddity. According to UMass' newly-posted schedule on their brand-new website, they will visit Rhode Island in early December, between their two series against Penn State. Following their contests at Pegula, they will then host the Rams the following weekend - therefore plowing through all eight of their conference games in the three-team ECWHL consecutively.



THE LAKE SHOW
September 7, 2017 | 2:03 p.m.

It won't take long for the new team at Mercyhurst to offer a return visit for Penn State's trip to Erie on October 28th and 29th, as the Lakers will make their way to Pegula Ice Arena for a game on December 8th at 10:15 p.m. to close PSU's fall semester schedule.

MU is still mostly an unknown quantity: they don't yet appear on Pointstreak, and the team's website remains blank. What is known, however, offers plenty of intrigue.


The player on the left is Meg Young, an Erie native who played at Davenport last season. On the right is Maddy Kessy, who does not attend Mercyhurst, but instead is actually in the Penn State system and enrolled at PSU's Behrend campus in Erie (as an unaffiliated team in their first year, the Lakers are allowed to pick up players from other local colleges).

Two glaring storylines revolve around Kessy and Young. Most obviously, Kessy being at a Penn State campus means that, in a sense, she will be playing against her own school - and possibly her future team, should she eventually end up at University Park. Additionally, both Young and Kessy have played for the Steel City Selects program that produced current Lady Ice Lions Rachel Cole, Tarika Embar and Sydney Foy. Although Cole and Embar are a couple years older than the rest of the group, Foy, Kessy and Young have all overlapped at points, most recently last season when Foy and Kessy helped Steel City to the USA Hockey national semifinals at the 19U Tier 2 level.

Suffice it to say that if the rest of the Mercyhurst roster approaches the level set by Young and Kessy, the Lakers will be extremely competitive very quickly.

Elsewhere, the schedule has been finalized for the UMass Showcase set for November 3rd through 5th. Penn State will open with Davenport at 8:00 p.m. on the 3rd and will face off with Michigan the next day at 3:00 p.m. The showcase was unable to secure a third western team to oppose eastern squads PSU, Rhode Island and UMass, so Liberty has jumped into the fray to round out the field and will play the Lady Ice Lions on the 5th at 7:00 a.m. It will be the third game in a three-week span between Penn State and the Flames.



UMass' Brittani Lanzilli is often happy at the end of games

ONLY GONE FOR A MINUTE
September 2, 2017 | 5:28 p.m.

Penn State will make its second trip to Amherst, MA in three weekends - but its first to play reigning ECWHL champion and ACHA semifinalist UMass - on November 17th and 18th, with game times still to be determined.

It's a somewhat awkward reality, not just because of the travel situation, but also because the two games against the Minutemen combined with the two against Rhode Island the previous weekend represent one full cycle through, and half of, PSU's 2017-18 conference schedule. With former ECWHL teams Vermont and Northeastern both dropping to ACHA Division 2 after last season and none of New England's possible D2 elevations materializing, the league nevertheless persists as a three-team battle royale between the Lady Ice Lions, URI and UMass.

No matter how many teams have been in the ECWHL of late, UMass has been its team to beat. The Minutemen have won three straight ECWHL playoff titles, and four of the last five, thanks in large part to the exploits of Brittani Lanzilli. Lanzilli, the 2015-16 Zoe M. Harris Award winner, is already one of the most decorated players in ACHA history with her senior year still remaining. In addition to the Zoe Harris win, she's a two-time All-American and was a member of the World University Games bronze-medal-winning U.S. National University Team this past winter.

Another UMass senior from that edition of Team USA is goaltender Amber Greene. Greene, a former player on Penn State's NCAA team, transferred to her home-state flagship last year and became one of the ACHA's best netminders. Nobody is more aware of that than PSU, which has yet to score on Greene (the Lady Ice Lions did manage three goals on UMass last season, but all came against backup goalie Sam Baturin on November 19th, before Greene entered the contest to stem a Penn State rally). Other key Minutemen expected back are Jojo Olson, who enjoyed a breakout 38-point season as a sophomore, underrated Meghan Lawler, rangy defenseman Tatum Schulz and New Jersey native Kelly Dolan, one of just two true out-of-state players on the team last season.

While Penn State did drop all four meetings a year ago, it doesn't take too much searching before that to find PSU's last series win: on January 9, 2016 at Pegula Ice Arena. Darian Dempsey '17 scored twice, including the overtime winner, in a 4-3 victory. Allyssa Long '16 got the win in her first career start with 28 saves. Among returning players, Riley O'Connor is the team's clear leader in games against UMass with four goals and ten points over her career, while Meghan Miller has a 2-2-4 line.



THE RHODE BACK
August 31, 2017 | 4:08 p.m.

Although Liberty has recently gained some traction as Penn State's biggest rival, ask most within the program and they'll likely point to Rhode Island as the team they most love to hate.

The Rams' annual trip to central Pennsylvania will take place on November 10th and 11th at 10:15 p.m. and 10:00 a.m., respectively.

Rhody's status (or lack thereof, depending on your perspective) stems largely from their series dominance not just in recent years, but dating to the ECWHL's founding in the 2003-04 season. URI won the first seven playoff titles in conference history, generally plowing through most league teams with little difficulty during that period. While UMass has generally reigned as the ECWHL's queens of late, the Lady Ice Lions have nevertheless struggled more with Rhode Island. Since PSU's 2014 return to the ECWHL, the Rams have won 12 of 13 meetings, including five-game sweeps in 2015-16 and 2016-17, as well as ECWHL playoff semifinal wins at the end of all three of Penn State's modern ACHA D1 seasons.

If PSU is to reverse its fortunes, it will have to do so against a pretty familiar cast, as most of the Rhody squad is expected back, save for graduated standouts Jackie Keable and Janessa Courtney. Among the anticipated returners from a 2016-17 group that wound up tenth in the ACHA rankings are 43-point scorer Monica Darby, two of last season's top freshmen nationally in Madison Balutowkski and Brynne Costa, do-everything winger Casey McCormick, steady defenseman Michelle Monet and underrated goalie Abbey Torres.

The second game of the series, notably, will take place at Galactic Ice in Altoona due to Penn State's football team playing a home game that day (Pegula Ice Arena does not sell ice opposite PSU football games). The Lady Ice Lions are 3-1-0 all-time at their occasional auxiliary home, most recently dropping a 3-0 decision to UMass on October 15, 2016.



Penn State will get another shot at Morgan Baird and Michigan in November

SHOWCASE SHOWDOWN
August 24, 2017 | 6:51 p.m.

From November 3rd through 5th, Penn State will head to a familiar site - Amherst, MA and UMass' Mullins Center - to do a somewhat unfamiliar thing: participate in a showcase.

The Minutemen actually pioneered showcases in women's college hockey, hosting the very first true mid-season showcase (dubbed the "UMass White Out Tournament") after the founding of the ACHA's women's divisions, during the 2003-04 season. In the present day, the less-creatively-titled UMass Showcase involves six teams, three from the eastern U.S. and three from the midwest and west, each of whom plays three games against the teams from the opposite region. So, while ECWHL rivals UMass (obviously) and Rhode Island will join the Lady Ice Lions in representing the east, the familiar foes won't play against each other that weekend. The other half of the field will include Michigan and Davenport, both out of the Central Collegiate Women's Hockey Association, and a third team to be determined.

Opponent-specific dates and times have yet to be determined as well.

PSU is 0-1-0 in the modern era against both the Wolverines and Panthers. On January 28, 2016, Darby Kern '16 scored her 50th career goal early in a Thursday night affair at Pegula Ice Arena before Davenport stole the victory with two third-period tallies. This past January at Michigan, Penn State again scored goal one, through Meghan Miller, but UM scored goals two through eight in an eventual rout. Considering that those two schools wound up ninth and 14th in last season's final ACHA ranking, both could prove to be important opponents as the Lady Ice Lions try to climb towards national contention.

The last time Penn State participated in an in-season showcase was 2008-09, when the Lady Icers opened the year at the Great Lakes Women's College Hockey Showcase in Dimondale, MI. PSU kicked things off with a win over Ohio State, but then lost consecutive contests to Michigan State, Western Michigan and (coincidentally) Michigan, with 2011 World University Games team member Emily Nelson scoring in overtime for the Wolverines.



KEYSTONE CONNECTION
August 18, 2017 | 12:51 a.m.

Following the brutal opening stretch of four games against last year's two national championship game participants, the Lady Ice Lions will enjoy a week off before visiting Mercyhurst in Erie, PA on October 28th at 2:00 p.m. and October 29th at 12:00 p.m.

Mercyhurst's club team is a brand new squad this season, so the personnel is a mystery and the history has yet to happen. One of the few known quantities around the Lakers is that long-time MU men's ACHA team coach and manager Tom McKinnon has overseen the development of the program. McKinnon, who began with the men's team in 2005, has led Hurst to three ACHA National Tournament appearances at the Division 1 level: 2006, 2012 and 2016. With that sort of top-level stability and the growing amount of hockey talent available in western Pennsylvania, there's little doubt that the Lakers have the ability to become a very strong team in time.

From the Penn State side of things, Mercyhurst offers a leisurely in-state road trip, a luxury that has been non-existent since the team's return to ACHA Division 1 in 2014. While the 2012-14 Division 2 era offered conference tilts with commonwealth foes California and West Chester (along with barely-out-of-state Delaware), PSU has only played six away games in Pennsylvania or a bordering state since then. Five took place in 2014-15 - a regular season weekend trip to Ohio State and Miami, followed by three games at the ACHA National Tournament in York, PA - and they were joined this past February by a contest in Hershey, PA against NCAA Division III's Lebanon Valley College. If nothing else, the weekend will offer one of the east's hardest-traveling teams a respite from the 12-15 hours on a bus a road series typically entails.



Meg Lydick made 173 saves against Liberty last season

BACK TO VIRGINIA
August 14, 2017 | 7:31 p.m.

After opening the campaign at home with defending national champion Miami, the Lady Ice Lions will hit the road to battle the only other team to win an ACHA Division 1 title since 2012-13: Liberty. The Flames, one of Penn State's most familiar opponents, have also been more or less undisputed as the nation's second-most-successful team in recent years. Beginning with that 2012-13 season and their championship game loss there, Liberty has been in the ACHA semifinals for five consecutive seasons, including the 2014-15 title.

Game times are set for October 14th at 6:00 p.m. and October 15th at 11:00 a.m. from Lynchburg, VA's LaHaye Ice Center.

Liberty's status is one PSU knows all too well, as the blue and white has not defeated the Flames' D1 squad since January 28, 2012 when Jess Desorcie scored four times in a 5-1 victory (it's important to note, of course, that Penn State spent the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons in ACHA Division 2, artificially inflating that timeline). Since then, there have been plenty of moments - arguably and at times, the Lady Ice Lions have challenged LU more than any team besides Miami - but zero wins in the last ten tries. Included in that run are a heartbreaker at 2015 nationals where Penn State held a late lead until the eventual champs tied the game with 5:46 remaining, before winning with 35 seconds to go in overtime and, more recently, a stretch of four games this past January and February when a struggling PSU squad produced surprisingly competitive scorelines and showed that it is perhaps ready to turn a corner.

Since last season, LU has endured a major change, as Paul Bloomfield (the team's only head coach in its 11 seasons) stepped down and was replaced by the Liberty men's D2 team's coach, Chris Lowes.

Lowes will inherit what can still fairly be called a young team. While this coming year's freshmen have not been announced yet, last year saw a school-record 13 rookies, who are now sophomores. On the more veteran side, speedster Lauren McDonald (LU's leading scorer last season) is expected back, as are two remaining key cogs to the team's recent success in forward Chelsey Greenwood (who scored the tying goal in the aforementioned 2015 ACHA National Tournament game) and All-American defenseman C.J. Tipping.

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