By: Sean Flanery, GoPSUsports.com Student Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following a three-goal loss to Princeton on Tuesday night, the Nittany Lions are now set to prepare for their toughest home-test to date in No. 7 Mercyhurst.
This past Tuesday night, Penn State (7-17-1) fell to Princeton (7-12-2), in what was the first game of a five-game home stand, by a score of 3-0. In the two team's only meeting of the season, the Tigers took the lead late in the first period and never looked back.
"To be honest, I don't think today [Tuesday] was our day," said junior goaltender Nicole Paniccia regarding the loss to Princeton. "It wasn't Penn State hockey, but we're ready to go hard this week and get ready for Mercyhurst."
Now, as the team moves forward, what may very well be their hardest home series of the season lies ahead.
Friday night, Penn State will welcome in-state foe No. 7 Mercyhurst University (19-5-1) to Happy Valley in the two teams' second meeting of the season. In early December, when these two teams met for the first time, the Nittany Lions fell by scores of 5-0 and 7-1. However, despite what the box scores might say, this series marked somewhat of a turning point in Penn State's season.
In the second game of the first series, Penn State showed a lot of fight as they battled with the then-fourth ranked team in the country ending the first period dead-locked at one goal apiece. Despite eventually losing the game by a large margin, Penn State learned how to fight for an entire period even against what may be a more talented opponent.
Since the first Mercyhurst series, Penn State has played in countless games decided by only a few goals, or less, and has showed signs of a newfound team confidence that is apparent on the scoreboard.
"Today aside, our six Division I games prior [to tonight] have been decided by one or two goals," said Penn State head coach Josh Brandwene after the Princeton loss. "Princeton is the first game at this level that we haven't had a chance to get our goalie pulled since early December, so the progress is there. We want to keep working and getting better. I'm proud of this young team. I like the way we're coming together. We want to continue to improve every day as we head into playoff time."
Currently, the team holds down the six and final seed in College Hockey America, but trails Lindenwood by a mere two points for the fifth spot. The CHA playoffs are a month away and only eight conference games separate the Lions from determining where their final seeding will be.
"They're big, definitely," said freshman forward Micayla Catanzariti regarding the eight conference games. "The goal is to keep getting better every game and I think our main focus right now is just the end of the season; playoff time. So, I think we are going to take those games and we are just going to keep getting better and when the playoffs come around I think we are going to surprise a lot of people."
When the puck drops this Friday evening at 7 p.m. in Greenberg Ice Pavilion, the Nittany Lions may be facing-off in what is their toughest home-series of the season.
However, this series may prove to be another great learning experience for the young team, just as it was the first time around in early December. It may very well be what the Lions need to help propel them to a higher CHA Tournament seed over the next month.