|Junior Lindsay Reihl could hardly be blamed for wanting to pop one of these between the teeth of ACHA voters - she's now been unjustly shut out of nationals for a second time in a row.|
For a second consecutive year, the Lady Icers have been snubbed from the ACHA National Championship Tournament by the slimmest of margins and under dubious circumstances. Early Thursday morning, this season's fourth ranking was released, with the top eight teams given bids to nationals in Wooster, OH March 8-12. Those teams are: 1. Robert Morris (IL), 2. Michigan State, 3. Rhode Island, 4. Minnesota, 5. Liberty, 6. Michigan, 7. Northeastern and 8. Massachusetts. Penn State was the first team out, in the 9th position.
As you may recall, PSU was also one spot short of nationals last season after being ranked at 7th (hypothetically, in the tournament) in the second-to-last ranking. What happened in that situation?
Well, for one thing, the World University Games happened. The Lady Icers sent as much personnel over to Turkey as anyone - four players and a head coach. And not just any four players either, as both goaltenders, Heather Rossi and Katie Vaughan, were included in that group. And thanks in large part to the efforts of those two, forward Denise Rohlik, defender Lindsay Reihl and coach Mo Stroemel, the first-ever women's WUG team finished fourth. A pretty decent endorsement for the level of hockey played in the ACHA if you ask me, something for which every coach, player and fan in Women's D1 should be thankful.
Meanwhile back home, the Lady Icers predictably struggled while a series of non-goalies took turns between the pipes. First, it was leading scorer Carly Szyszko helping PSU to a 5-1 win over California (PA). However after that, No. 2 Robert Morris (IL) and then-No. 3 Michigan State came calling, and the results weren't pretty. As those games progressed, Szyszko gave way to Julie Horn, who then gave way to Lindsey Shuler.Essentially, Penn State was burned for sending two elite-level goalies over to Turkey and making the entire ACHA look good.
This season the circumstances may have been different, but the the injustice was the same. I firmly believe the Lady Icers were punished for their imminent departure from the ACHA and for the fact that said departure involved a large number of games against NCAA opposition (which I still maintain was a wise decision that will pay dividends down the road). Penn State's rank lagged all season relative to performance. At first, I thought that once the second semester rolled around and the team's ACHA workload increased that the poll would correct itself. I can sincerely say, however, that I saw the writing on the wall when the poll previous to this had the Lady Icers 11th (up just one spot) despite wins against Rhode Island, NCAA Division I Sacred Heart and top-ranked (at the time) Northeastern during the period considered.
Lest you think my rantings of coming from a place of bias, consider that on the ACHA's ranking page for Women's Division 1, five criteria are given for weighing teams. Just for fun, let's see how Penn State compares with Massachusetts, a team that made it to nationals by finishing one spot ahead of the Lady Icers.
- Overall record. PSU's is 10-13-3-1 (W-L-T-OTL) while UMass's is 8-10-2-1. Using a system awarding two points for a win and one for a tie or overtime loss, UMass has a slightly better points percentage (.452 vs. .444).
- Strength of schedule. Penn State played 11 games against NCAA Division I or III teams. End of conversation - and I think the difference is easily more than enough to wipe out the tiny difference in overall record.
- Record vs. Ranked Teams (Top 5, Top 10). Using the third ranking (the one which would have informed the decisive fourth ranking), UMass has a 5-7-1-0 mark against the top five and a 6-9-1-1 record against the top ten. The Lady Icers were 4-6-0-0 against the top five and 5-6-1-0 against the top ten. Call this one a push since Massachusetts has a better top five record and PSU has a better top ten record.
- Games with common opponents. There are three opponents shared by the two teams, each for the same number of games: Northeastern, Rhode Island (four games each) and Liberty (two games). UMass was 3-6-1-0 in those ten games, while PSU was 4-6-0-0. Score this one for the Lady Icers.
- Women's Division 1 record. UMass: 8-10-2-1, PSU: 9-6-1-0. No complicated math needed.
There is one positive, I suppose. Soon enough, Penn State will be in a better place than the ACHA and its system of tournament bids via winks, handshakes and general cronyism. Good riddance.