By Patrick Anglin, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As it has been said all year, the Penn State women's hockey team isn't afraid of any opponent. They know they are a young program, but are proud of the direction that they are headed. Spearheaded by a formidable defense, they believe they are close to taking the next step. Senior Christi Vetter believes it's a result of the team's burning desire to outwork everyone else.
"I think one word that really describes our girls is grit," Vetter said. "We're grinding it out on the walls, in the corner, and we're busting our butts. We need to keep striving to be the grittiest team out there. We're going to push each other like we always have, and we're almost there."
The mantra for the team the entire season has been to hustle for a full three periods no matter the score, and that was apparent in their intense efforts in both the 3-1 loss and 1-1 tie against Mercyhurst this weekend. Sophomore goalie Daniella Paniccia credits the team's mentality and identity for their success.
"We're a blue-collar team, we're good at facing adversity," Paniccia said. "We've built an identity as a hard-working program. Like coach always says, we have to play hungry hockey."
Head coach Jeff Kampersal is a firm believer in his players, and notes their continuous improvements, He agrees that the girls are working hard, and that it is showing on both ends of the ice, especially on the defensive side.
"We have flashes of really good defense," Kampersal said. "Our goal is to let up only 7 shots or less a period, and we're right around that. We're pinning hard and being physical."
The defense has been adjusting on the fly and playing hard against solid offensive teams, something that can be seen in their recent performances. As Kampersal has previously lauded, the team's shot-blocking is one of its best assets. The team recorded 40 blocks over the weekend against Mercyhurst. Vetter credits the goalies for helping the team get in position to block shots.
"We talk to the goalies and they give us pretty good advice," Vetter said. "They now how to block shots."
Both goalies for the team played this weekend, senior Hannah Ehresmann on Friday and Paniccia on Saturday. Each posted strong performances in their starts, Ehresmann recording 25 saves while Pannicia totaled 34.
"The sport should almost be called goaltending," Kampersal said. "It's such an important position."
Both girls have been playing excellent as of late, and Pannicia's 34 saves was a new season high for her.
"Some games the shots just add up," Pannicia said. "It felt like a fast-paced game, those are my favorite games with lots of shots. It's easier to stay focused."
Coming up, the team has a long road stretch ahead, not returning to Pegula to play until next calendar year. To be successful on that stretch, the girls will need to continue to learn from their experiences and play a tough, physical style of hockey led by their tenacious defense.