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By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - We hear it all the time in sports. It's not how you start; it's how you finish. While it may be an old saying, it certainly applies to this year's Penn State women's hockey team.
The Nittany Lions' regular season concludes with series at No. 8 Robert Morris and home against Syracuse, currently the top two teams in the CHA.
Coming off a sweep at Lindenwood last week, these series give the Lions a chance to see how they match up with the competition.
"It gives us a lot more confidence," sophomore defenseman Kelsey Crow said. "Going into these next two weekends, we're going to come out much harder and we're going to stick to our game plans and stick to what we're doing best."
With the CHA tournament less than three weeks away, the next couple weeks will be telling of how the Nittany Lions will fare in Buffalo.
They are currently slotted as the No. 3 seed and, pending a win over one of the bottom teams in the conference, they would face either Robert Morris or Syracuse in the second round and presumably the other in the championship game if they advance.
"You want to play these teams at the end of the season," interim coach Dean Jackson said. "It gets you really prepared for that playoff, that one-game elimination. To play No. 1 and 2 really sets the tone and gets our team in the mindset of that playoff format right now."
"It really gets us in the mindset that this is playoff hockey and this is what it's going to be like," freshman forward Brooke Madsen said. "We need to come out hard every shift."
As far as this weekend against Robert Morris is concerned, the Nittany Lions are continuing to trust the process and hope to ride that momentum from the aforementioned sweep.
"It's a pretty consistent theme for us, just be disciplined within our systems," Jackson said. "We just want to continue to keep it simple but with pace that's going to be difficult to play against. We believe that what we have in place is difficult for our opponent to counter. When you have confidence in that as well, it makes a big difference."
Penn State also has to be smart on the offensive end, considering Robert Morris goalie Jessica Dodds is one of the best in the CHA, sporting a .922 save percentage.
"With her or anyone else, I don't think it's any mystery," Jackson said. "You want to play percentages. You have to shoot the puck to score goals. We want to get pucks on net, force her to make a save, and control some rebounds under pressure."
The Nittany Lions are looking for a bit of redemption as well, letting the two games earlier in the season against Robert Morris slip away from them at Pegula thanks to strong performances from forwards Brittany Howard and Jaycee Gebhard.
"They're a well-coached team, every player is a threat," Crow said. "It's not like we can take a shift off. Even though we probably want to focus on them, we're not going to change what we do because of them."
"We just have to come out faster and stronger than them and limit their time with the puck in the offensive zone," Madsen said.
The series at Robert Morris begins tonight at 7 p.m. and concludes tomorrow at 3 p.m. The Nittany Lions are currently one point ahead of fourth-place Mercyhurst in the standings.