Friday, January 13, 2012

New England State of Mind

Both the men's and women's teams are taking on New England-based opponents this weekend - one home, one away. Since that's all the connection I need to write a shared preview piece and without further ado...

Blue and White Battle

Rhode Island, which will battle the Icers at the Ice Pavilion Friday at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday at 3:30 p.m., is one of those teams that's really difficult to figure out. Supremely talented, particularly on the blue line with senior Dan Lassik and junior Alan Dionne, the Rams have been off the pace they've established over the last several seasons as one of the ACHA's top programs.

Lassik's good...when he's not cheap-shotting Justin Kirchhevel at the end of games, anyway. There was also the time he was abused by Mike Broccolo at nationals last year...

At the end of November, they had lost 10 of 13 to dip below .500 at 10-11-0. While injuries were the culprit early, the continued struggles stumped long-time coach Joe Augustine.
"We've been playing a little different system the last few weeks and I actually think it's been working, but we don't have anything to show for it in the win-loss column... Unfortunately, we've been in all these games. I feel bad that we don't have anything to show for our hard work. The guys have been working really hard."
While the news has gotten better since then with wins in five of the last six, there's still a long way to go - their 15-12-0 record and No. 20 ranking have them planted squarely on the nationals bubble. Even the wins of late have been of somewhat questionable merit: two each against unranked doormats Cortland and Villanova, and one against West Chester, part of a split last weekend (WCU is 3-1-0 against URI this season).

The most obvious way to help that situation, of course, is a road win against the current No. 1 team. The Rams will undoubtedly be amped to give that a shot.

URI failed to punch a hole in Penn State in the Brad Boss Ice Arena half of the season series back in October. From a Rhody perspective, those games were notable for David Macalino's scoring all four of the team's goals in 6-2 and 4-2 losses. They were also notable for the lack of production from the power play. One of Macalino's tallies was on the advantage, but it was the Rams' only success in twelve weekend attempts (and even that was cancelled out by a Dom Morrone shorty).

Not surprisingly Macalino leads the team in goals, with 19. Dionne's 25 assists and 34 points are tops, while Justin Bishop and Mike Radziszewski also chip in a good amount of offense.

Far From Sacred

When the Lady Icers travel to Fairfield, CT to battle the NCAA Division I Sacred Heart Pioneers Friday at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday at 2:00 p.m., it represents the last time a Penn State hockey team will be considered to be "playing up" against an NCAA opponent.

And as crazy as it might sound, these DI games are not completely out of reach for Penn State either.

Sacred Heart, despite calling itself DI since 2003, largely holds that designation as a technicality. In fact, one has to go back to December 17, 2008 to find a win against another DI team, 3-2 over Robert Morris. Their schedule this season consists of a mash-up of blowout losses to DI teams (10-0 to Brown twice, 6-0 and 8-1 to Maine, 9-2 to Union) and an 8-6-1 record against NCAA DIII. Notable among those DIII results are a pair of one-goal games against Neumann on January 7th and 8th. The Pioneers split that home series despite going -13 and -11 in shots. PSU, of course, played a one-goal game against Neumann on December 9th while going -17 in shots.

That's not quite it though. Sacred Heart has also played the ACHA's very own Rhode Island Rams, winning 3-0. The Lady Icers are 1-3 against URI this season, losing 2-1 and 3-1 on the first weekend of December but splitting a pair of 4-2 results last weekend at the Ice Pavilion after adding NCAA transfers Jess Desorcie and Taylor Gross.

If you chase Nicole Palazzo all over the ice, you're gonna have a bad time.

Senior captain Nicole Palazzo, listed on defense but frequently playing up front, is the Pioneers' unquestioned leader. And she has a knack for big goals, scoring three shorthanded and two game winners among her eight this season. In fact, one goal falls into both categories - a mid-third period effort that stood as the final margin in the win over Neumann. Palazzo's 13 assists frequently end on the stick of freshman Melissa Robbins, who is gunning for the Cy Young with a 9-1-10 stat line that represents the team lead in goals. Another senior and freshman - Jamie Mey and Meaghan Souza - are also important to the Pioneer attack.

To be sure, a Penn State win would still represent a rather large upset. Just don't tell that to an improving PSU squad. And don't forget to track the live stats for both games, available here.

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