Generally speaking, when one of your season highlights is a loss, you're probably not having a great season.
For new coach Josh Hand and the Ice Lions though, it was a loss that unofficially announced their contention for the ACHA Division 2 national championship. On October 8th Lindenwood, the dominant program in Division 1 over the last several seasons, stepped in to fill a vacancy in the Division 2 showcase. This was no stripped-down exhibition-version LU squad (Colin Long and Grant Gorczyza both played, to name two big guns), but the Ice Lions made them wish they kept their scheduled off day by carrying a 5-3 lead into the third period. Some questionable officiating then contributed to four unanswered Lindenwood goals, but still, point made. A letdown defeat to Southern Illinois-Edwardsville followed the next day, but other than those two games, PSU has not lost this year.
PSU's 8-0-0 mark in MACHA games (of 17-2-0 overall) looks even more impressive when you consider that the Ice Lions have not allowed more than two goals against any team in the league and have only scored fewer than four once. That "once" deserves some context though: it was a season-defining 3-1 win against Maryland-Baltimore County.
It would be great enough to beat one of the southeast region's powers, one that has been to the national tournament each of the last two years. But throw in the fact that UMBC is No. 2 in the southeast region with PSU at No. 3 - the top two teams in each region automatically go to nationals, third through tenth play in a regional tournament for two more bids - and the fact that the Retrievers ended the Ice Lions' season last year in that regional tournament, and the win becomes large almost beyond words.
It was former Boston Bulldogs star Creek Lewis who opened the scoring against UMBC with a shorthanded goal, then added an assist to captain Jim Recupero seven minutes later to give PSU what would prove to be an adequate amount of scoring. Leading scorer Lewis and Recupero along with former Icer Joe Zitarelli have driven the offense all season, although the effort has been large on balance with 21 different goal scorers on the team's 123 total, including six with nine or more. Recupero was at the center of probably the most dramatic moment of the season to date - an overtime winner in the D2 showcase against DePaul on October 7.
That's not to write off a defense that has only given up more than two goals twice all season (in the two losses). What could have been considered a thin unit coming in has been ably anchored by Mac Winchester (another name familiar to Icers fans), Tyler Starn, T.J. Laessig, Chris Dinsmore and Steve Aloia. Tom Badali sports a goals against average just north of one, and he's spelled by Ryan Demuth.
Looking ahead, PSU only has eight regular season games left. A home game against Pittsburgh on January 7 opens the spring semester (a return trip to the Steel City takes place on February 3). The following weekend brings a trip to Virginia to play MACHA South schools Virginia Tech and Liberty. Home games against Delaware (January 21), Rowan (January 28), Monmouth (February 4) and Saint Joseph's (February 11) round out the schedule. Of note: PSU has already played each team except Pitt and Liberty, and only November's 4-1 and 3-1 wins over the Hokies were closer than a four-goal margin.
Following that are the MACHA playoffs (February 17-19) and the ACHA southeast regional tournament (February 24-26), although PSU would prefer to not have to participate in the latter event. The national championship tournament will be hosted by Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, FL from March 16-20.