PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's hockey program enters its second season at
the Division I level, but like the first season, 2013-14 will certainly have
After nearly half of their games were decided by two or fewer goals in 2012-13, the Nittany Lions are looking to take another step forward and improve upon their 7-26-2 record from last year. Leading scorer Shannon Yoxheimer (14 G, 17 A) and goaltender Nicole Paniccia (3.11 GAA) both return, along with 21 other players from last season's roster, including captain Taylor Gross.
The open practice session ended coach Brandwene reminding his team that each day they should look for improvements in one another and then pointed out they should take advantage of the amenities that Pegula Ice Arena has to offer to sharpen their on-ice and academic skills.
We talked Paniccia about a variety of subjects after coach Brandwene and the players met with the media.
Building Towards the Future
The program is still in its infancy and that means a roster that is loaded with freshmen and sophomores, but head coach Josh Brandwene thinks that his team is ready to move the program forward in 2013-14.
Penn State has 28 players on their roster this season and only nine of them are juniors or older. The 15-person sophomore class makes up over half of the roster and the addition of four freshmen round out the list. That means that almost 70-percent of the players are underclassmen.
However, those sophomores logged a lot of time on the ice as true freshmen, which gives Brandwene and his coaching staff a stable of players to teach the newcomers the system and acclimate them to college hockey.
"We are ahead of where we were last year," said Brandwene. "One thing that I have noticed is that the learning curve has shrunk. There are times in practice that our younger players will as a question and an older player will step in and answer it. We (the coaching staff) no longer have to answer it, because our older players are helping our younger players learn the system."
Playing For Hockey Valley
When the question about the excitement level for hockey in Happy Valley was posed to the three players representing their team they all had the same reaction; ear-to-ear grins.
"It is so awesome seeing people walking around with Hockey Valley shirts on," said sophomore Jill Holdcroft.
The excitement for Penn State hockey is at an all-time high right now. It equals - in most cases surpassing - the enthusiasm shown during the inaugural campaign in 2012-13. The Cathedral on Curtin that is Pegula Ice Arena takes the fan and student-athlete experience to a new level with the pristine sheet of ice on the main rink and the atmosphere that will make it one of the top draws on campus.
Penn State was the new kid on the block in 2012-13, but the second-year program is looking to establish rivalries within their conference, College Hockey America, and the region in 2013-14.
Head coach Josh Brandwene has put together a schedule that will test his squad. The 2013-14 campaign features eight games versus teams ranked or receiving votes in the top-25 and all of Penn State's games will come against Division I opponents, unlike the 2012-13 schedule.
Also, 20 of their 34 contests will be played against team's that had a .500 or better record last season.
"We have a great league schedule, as we will every year," said Brandwene, "and we can't wait to develop rivalries with those opponents. I love everything about our non-conference schedule. We are going to be tested by great competition every single time we step out on the ice. That (the schedule) is a real opportunity that stands in front of us."
Returning the Farm
Penn State brings back 24 of 27 players from their inaugural season, including their leading point scorer, Shannon Yoxheimer, top defender Micayla Catanzariti, and goalkeeper, Nicole Paniccia. They return 100 percent of their minutes in net and 96 percent of their points on a team that played 15 games decided by two goals or fewer.
Yoxheimer led the team with 14 goals and 17 assists, banking 31 points during her freshman season, and State College native, Jill Holdcroft ranked second on the squad with 10 goals. Catanzariti blocked a team-high 57 shots on the defensive side, helping Paniccia post a 3.11 goals against average and 1,028 saves.
Follow GoPSUsports.com's Greg Campbell on Twitter @SID_Greg