Flanery, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - This past weekend the Penn State women's hockey team traveled to Erie, Pa. where they dropped both games in a two-game series with the No. 4 ranked Lakers of Mercyhurst. Despite losing both games, the Nittany Lions improved in a few facets of the game they had previously been struggling with.
The Blue and White penalty-kill unit played well over the weekend, holding Mercyhurst's highly talented special team's unit to only three power play goals on 12 opportunities. Prior to the weekend, the Lakers had been running through opponents when on the power play, converting on 29 percent of their chances.
Sophomore center Jess Desorcie said that the team had no new game plan on the penalty kill, but a few slight movements were able to throw off Mercyhurst when they had the player advantage.
"We changed it a little bit with the forwards," said Desorcie. "For the most part it was the same unit. We just tried to get in their lanes, block their shots and cut off their cross-ice passes. It worked for us."
A big reason why the Lions' penalty kill was so impressive over the weekend was the combined play of goaltenders Nicole Paniccia and Celine Whitlinger. In the first game, a 5-0 loss, the two combined to record 55 saves, both easily surpassing the 20-save mark, and Paniccia contributed another fine effort between the pipes on Saturday, recording a program-record 64 saves in the team's 7-1 loss.
Though the box score indicated Mercyhurst got off a fair number of shots, there would have been a lot more if Penn State's defenders hadn't played as well as they did according to Paniccia.
"To be honest, I think we played really well this weekend," said Paniccia. "When you play the No. 4 team in the country and you're just starting (your program), you really can only do so much. They have some great (players) and defensively we did really well this weekend. Believe it or not, they were blocking a lot of shots and there were just shots from everywhere, like the point and in close. We played well and I don't think our team could have done anything better. It was tough."
While the play of Penn State's goaltenders was impressive, the Nittany Lions also managed to do something they have rarely accomplished this season. The Blue and White notched the first goal of the game when Desorcie recorded her third goal of the season in Saturday's affair.
Previously, Penn State had only scored the first goal in five of its games, with three of them coming against the same opponent, Sacred Heart. While the team ultimately lost Saturday's game, playing with a lead is something that this team will eventually learn to do. Any type of lead for these Nittany Lions, especially a lead on the road against the fourth ranked team in Division I, is a great learning experience for this young program.
In spite of last weekend's results, the Nittany Lions are able to regroup and come away with a few positives after facing off with one of the nation's best programs. The continued improvement of the penalty-kill unit, the play of Paniccia and back-up goaltender Whitlinger, along with playing ahead for a short time against a highly talented offense will all be things the Blue and White can reflect and build upon moving forward.
As the Lions look ahead in their schedule they will remain on the road, completing the final stretch of their six game road trip, before getting some time off for winter break.
Their next opponent, St. Lawrence, might not be highly ranked like Meryhurst, but Paniccia knows that if they can go in with a similar 'what is there to lose attitude' it will make for a good match-up.
"(St. Lawrence) is also a very good team," said Paniccia. "I think we play the best when we have that attitude of just kind of go in and do whatever we can, don't get nervous, be excited to play them and anything can happen. Upsets happen all the time, so we are kind of going into this saying you never know what could happen."
Penn State (5-10-1) will travel to Canton, N.Y. where they will face-off with St. Lawrence (8-7-1) on Friday at 7 p.m. in the first of a two-game series.