By: Sean Flanery, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Since wrapping up the regular season portion of its inaugural campaign, Penn State (7-24-2) and head coach Josh Brandwene have had a week of practice to prepare for the team's first appearance in the College Hockey America Tournament.
The CHA women's conference has been in existence since the fall of the 2002 season and was then comprised of four teams. Now, the league has slowly lost a few teams, but also gained some to now account for six of the nation's Division I women's programs. This past fall, Penn State, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Lindenwood all made their CHA debuts.
With the CHA now being comprised of six teams, the format of the postseason tournament has undergone a few changes. The No. 1 and No. 2 seeds will now get a bye in the first weekend of action while the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds will do battle with the No. 6 and No. 5 seeds, respectively.
"It's an interesting element of the series that we just played [RIT] pretty recently," said Brandwene. "They've got a great team and they've had a great season. I have tremendous respect for coach McDonald and the job he's done with that program. They're the third place team and the pressure is on them to move on."
Penn State finished the season stronger defensively than it started it, but struggled offensively down the stretch. However, the regular season is now in the past and it doesn't matter how many goals anyone has scored, or allowed up to this point. All that matters now is what each team does in the playoffs. Penn State will make its' tournament debut when it travels to play RIT in a best-of-three series beginning Friday at 2 p.m. inside Ritter Arena.
"[Our players] have worked so hard," said Brandwene. "They've been so competitive and the beauty of it is everybody's worked really hard. All programs have worked really hard during the regular season and it's sort of a reset button heading into playoffs, so anything can happen. We've got the underdog mentality and we're going to go up there with everything to gain and nothing to lose and give it our best shot."
All tournament seeds are based upon how the teams faired throughout conference play with the tiebreaker coming from head-to head records between the tied teams.
College Hockey America Tournament Breakdown
1. No. 9 Mercyhurst (26-6-1, 17-3-0 CHA) 34 points:
= The Lakers are led by forward Christine
Bestland who posted a season total of 66 points (26 Goals, 40 Assists) this
= In goal, Stephanie Ciampa led the CHA in goals-against average (1.40), winning percentage (.944), and ranked second in save-percentage (.935).
= The Lakers had won 10 consecutive CHA titles coming into this season.
= Mercyhurst's conference record dating back to 2002 is 114-5-9.
= This season, the Lakers posted a goals-per-game average of 4.3 while limiting opponents to a 1.7 average.
This season, Mercyhurst proved once again why it is regarded as one of the most elite Division I women's hockey programs in the country. Under the direction of Michael Sisti, the Lakers have dominated the conference while making eight straight NCAA tournament appearances including two consecutive trips to the NCAA Frozen Four in 2008-09 and 2009-10. The team's strength this season was their size and speed while having the help of one of the most elite forwards in the country in Christine Bestland who led the CHA with 66 points this season.
2. Syracuse (19-14-1, 13-6-1) 27 points:
= Balanced attack led by sophomore forward Nicole Ferrara (24 points; 10 G, 14 A) and senior forward Holly Carrie-Mattimoe (24 points; 9 G, 15 A).
= Junior goaltender Kallie Billadeau regarded as second-best net-minder in the CHA posted a conference best save percentage of .941.
= Syracuse's inaugural season in the CHA was in 2008-09 season.
= It took the team just three years to make a place for itself atop the CHA conference under Paul Flanagan making a trip the conference title game losing to Mercyhurst 5-4 in 2011.
In the 2012-13 campaign Syracuse battled through its' schedule with a balanced attack including five players registering 20 or more points for the season. Also, the Orange benefitted from having one of the most elite goaltenders in the conference in Billadeau who posted a 14-8 record this season. The team relied heavily on its defense while its' offense produced only an average of 2.7 goals-per-game. Syracuse played in several close games this season including 17 games decided by only one goal, which will bode well for the team in the playoffs having experience in close games.
3. RIT (14-15-5, 7-8-5) 19 points:
= Posted an average of 2.7 goals-per-game this season while holding opponents to 2.2 goals-per-game.
= The team was led by senior forward Tenecia Hiller as she registered 25 points this season (14 G, 11 A).
= The team featured a duo of goaltenders that both finished right around .500 in sophomore Ali Binnington (9-9-4) and junior Laura Chamberlain (5-6-1).
= Impressively, both net-minders averaged a 2.32 goals-against-average or better.
In the Tigers first year in the CHA and as a Division I team, they relied heavily on their defense and outstanding goaltenders to finish third in the conference thanks to a helpful head-to-head tiebreaker with Robert Morris. Head coach Scott McDonald ranks as the team's all time leader in coaching wins and led the team to its' first ever NCAA Championship as a Division III program just last season posting a 28-1-1 mark. The Tigers will host the Nittany Lions of Penn State in the first round of the CHA playoffs beginning March 1. This season, the Tigers posted a record of 3-0-1 against the Nittany Lions while outscoring them by a total of 13-4.
Morris (13-14-3, 9-10-1) 19 points:
= A terrific penalty kill unit that allowed only 18 goals in 124 power plays all season.
= Forward Rebecca Vint led the team registering 31 points on the year (16 G, 15 A).
= Goaltender Kristen DiCiocco posted an 11-12-3 record while posting a goals-against-average of 2.32.
= The Colonials are the defending CHA Tournament Champions after defeating Mercyhurst in 2012.
The Colonials will look to defend their CHA tournament title this season, but drawing the four seed could mean trouble as the team will have to play an extra series to get into the championship round. This year, the team has drawn red-hot Lindenwood who finished the season going 5-1-2 in the month of February. Robert Morris posted a 1-3 record versus the Lions this year, so the road back to the championship round will be challenging.
5. Lindenwood (7-24-3, 7-10-3) 17 points:
= Finished the season on a strong note going 5-1-2 in the month of February.
= All seven of the team's wins came in conference play, which should help in the tournament.
= Posted a goals-per-game average of 1.8 while allowing just over four goals-per-game (4.3).
= Sophomore forward Alison Wickenheiser led the team with 23 points (12 G, 11 A) in 148 shots on net.
= Freshman goaltender Nicole Hensley ranked first in the conference for shots faced with 993.
The Lions ended the season exactly how they needed to, making a push for the four seed, but ultimately fell just short by two points to Robert Morris. So, Lindenwood will have to make the trip to Neville Island, Pa. in the first weekend of the CHA tournament where the team went 1-1 against Robert Morris in the regular season while matching the Colonials goal-for-goal in that series with seven apiece.
6. Penn State (7-24-2, 1-17-2) 4 points:
= The Nittany lions made their Division I debut in early October and will be competing in the CHA tournament for the first time.
= The roster includes 17 freshmen along with a number of transfer and former club players.
= The team averaged just 2.0 goals per game in its' first season while allowing 3.2 goals-per-game.
= Freshman forward Shannon Yoxheimer led the Lions with 30 points (14 G, 16 A) and tied for fifth in the CHA in goals.
= Junior goaltender Nicole Paniccia (6-17-2) ranked as the third best goaltender in the conference posting a goals against average of 3.20 while saving .925 percent of the shots she faced, which ranks third in the CHA.
Under the direction of head coach Josh Brandwene the Nittany Lions proved that there are many ups and downs that come along with an inaugural season, but they have steadily improved over time. Now, as the tournament is finally here, Penn State will head to Rochester, N.Y. where they will square off with RIT, a team that they went 0-3-1 against in the regular season and just paid a visit to two weeks ago.