By Jackson Thibodeau, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The 2013-14 Penn State women's hockey season was monumental in numerous capacities. The young, aspiring program took leaps in its second year of existence with numerous individual and team accolades--displaying its inevitable destiny to grow in coming years.
"Our program has made tremendous steps since day one, both on and off the ice," said senior assistant captain Jenna Welch. "The opportunity of a lifetime lies at our fingertips. I can see this program accomplishing something big in the future."
The Nittany Lions completed their inaugural season in Pegula Ice Arena with a 4-29-3 overall record and a 1-18-1 record in College Hockey America play. Despite the uneven tilt in results, the Blue and White showed grittiness and resilience throughout the season, providing promise for the future.
"There have been a lot of underclassmen stepping up as leaders and they're a very hard working group of girls," said senior captain Taylor Gross. "I am very confident in the girls on the team now and I am so excited to see them grow as players and people even more than they already have."
The season officially came to a close for head coach Josh Brandwene's squad the first weekend in March after the Lions were swept by RIT in the first round of CHA playoffs. Just like many of the games throughout the regular season--the Lions hung with their opponent until the final whistle in the playoffs.
At season's beginning in October, Penn State leaped out to a promising start. With a tie and a win in the first weekend at Vermont, the team returned to Pegula Ice Arena for an eight-game home stand to christen the state-of-the-art facility and in the second ever women's hockey game in the new arena, Penn State earned its first home win behind a third period power play goal from freshman Laura Bowman.
Midway through the second full season of Division I play, the offense hit a bit of a lull, but regained its stride in the tail part of the schedule.
"I think that our offense performed very well this year besides the drought in the middle of the year," Gross said. "We improved throughout the entire year."
In all, 12 Nittany Lions registered a goal while 19 student-athletes tallied at least one point. By far the most promising aspect of the offensive unit was the production from younger players.
Bowman, a freshman, led the team in goals with 10 and ranked second with 16 points, earning her a spot on the CHA All-Rookie Team. Fellow freshman Amy Petersen ties for fourth on the team with five goals and 15 points, with sophomore Hannah Hoenshell leading the way in points for the Blue and White with 17.
Despite the success from the underclassmen, the senior leaders wished they had seen even more from the whole team.
"For the most part I feel like we did a decent job [converting our scoring chances], but we definitely could have capitalized on a few more opportunities to bury the puck," Welch said. "Just watching the way we moved the puck in the playoffs compared to the beginning of the season says a lot about the work ethic of our team and coaching staff in trying to improve every day."
Defensively, Penn State displayed composure from top to bottom all year. Graduate student Lindsay Reihl mentored freshman Kelly Seward throughout the season as they challenged one another to become better overall players every single day.
"Overall, our defense has a lot of depth," Gross said of her teammates.
The team totaled 594 blocked shots this season to help out goalkeepers Nicola Paniccia and Celine Whitlinger. The nearly-600 blocks dwarfed the opponents' total of 398. Seward led the way for the Blue and White with 57 blocks to her name in a very impressive freshman season and her counterpart Reihl ranked second 55.
In Paniccia's senior campaign, she saved 773 shots while posting a .913 save percentage in 22 starts. Oddly enough, Whitlinger's save percentage matches that of her senior mentor as the sophomore turned away 559 opponent shots and earned three of the team's four wins.
Sky's the Limit
The maturity and determination within this young team and even younger program provides light for the future in Hockey Valley. Penn State was awarded the Team Sportsmanship Award by the CHA at season's end while Gross earned the Individual Sportsmanship Award in the conference.
Players and coaches will look back at monumental events like move-in day to Pegula Ice Arena, the first game in the 'New Den' and a record-breaking crowd in the Lions' Skate for the Cure game. All of these point towards a bright future for the second year program.
"I will always be so appreciative of the opportunity to have played at this amazing university," Welch said. "The experience I had here has helped build me into the person I am today, and is one I will remember for the rest of my life. I encourage the girls to always remember how blessed they are to have this opportunity and enjoy every second of being at Penn State."