By: Sean Flanery, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After falling in the final series of the regular season, the Nittany Lions will move forward into their first ever College Hockey America tournament appearance.
This past Friday and Saturday, Penn State (7-24-2, 1-17-2 CHA) rounded out its inaugural regular season falling by scores of 4-1 and 4-2, respectively, to Robert Morris (13-14-3, 9-10-1). Despite the results, there were a number of bright points in the final series of the regular season.
In the first game, Friday night, Penn State held a 1-0 lead for half of the game, as junior goaltender Nicole Paniccia was stellar between the pipes for the Blue and White holding the Colonials scoreless in the first 30:22 of the contest.
In the regular season finale on Saturday, the Lions held strong with the Colonials keeping it even in the first period, but a tough second period for Penn State would prove to be the two-goal difference in the game. In the first period of action, Robert Morris struck with just over four minutes remaining, but the Nittany Lions had a quick answer scoring just moments later; 24 seconds later to be exact.
"I think the best thing that we did was in the second game when they scored and we answered right away," said Paniccia. "Sometimes, when the opponent scores we'll get down and it takes us a couple shifts to get back in it, but they scored on us and instead of getting down we came right back and scored a quick goal the next shift. That was something huge for us to get over the goal and score right away."
While taking away a few pointers from the final series of the regular season, the Lions will now look to prepare for their first CHA tournament appearance where they will square off with Rochester Institute of Technology (4-15-5, 7-8-5 CHA) in the best-of-three first round.
"Right when the game ended on Saturday we told everyone it doesn't matter about records anymore," said Paniccia. "It's a clean slate, it doesn't matter how many games anyone won. Everybody starts from scratch. We are kind of just taking the mentality that anything can happen in Division I hockey. We're ready to hopefully have a few big upsets when we get to the playoffs."
In the regular season, the Tigers got the best of the Lions in three of the four games the teams played against each other. However, the Lions did manage to tally a point against RIT on Oct. 26 in Happy Valley, finishing in a 2-2 tie.
So, if there is one team the Lions know they can compete with in the playoffs it would be the Tigers. In that game on Oct. 26, where the Nittany Lions recorded their first ever CHA point with a tie, the team held a one-goal advantage for much of the game until RIT capitalized on the power play with just 1:29 remaining in the third period.
Knowing that they came so close to defeating this team should give the Nittany Lions a lot of confidence to build upon during practice this week.
Penn State junior forward Taylor Gross said the captains will have to instill a message within the team this week before traveling to Rochester, N.Y. for the first game in a best of three series on Friday at 2 p.m.
"Just relaying the fact that playoffs are crazy and anything can happen in the playoffs," said Gross. "It doesn't matter what happened earlier this season, the only thing that matters now is the next couple of games."