Monday, December 13, 2010

Fall Semester Review: Lady Icers

Shouldn't all sports photos be team pictures?
Today and Friday, I'm going to take a look at how a few Penn State-affiliated hockey teams other than the Icers are doing halfway through the season. This post is all about the Lady Icers, while Friday I'll hit the Ice Lions and take a quick spin around the commonwealth campuses.

I think it's sort of forgotten sometimes that all of the excitement surrounding the addition of NCAA men's hockey is mirrored on the women's side. We're adding two varsity teams in 2012, and the women's team has the advantage of not bringing Big Ten hockey with it - most assume the women's team will join one of the existing eastern conferences, the ECAC or Hockey East, since Michigan and Michigan State don't have women's NCAA teams, making the Big Ten a non-starter on the women's side.

Somewhere, my doppelganger might be documenting all of this in "TYT: Women's Edition." If he is, I don't envy him, because it's hard to get more than superficial information. There's no Steve and Barb Penstone broadcasting on UStream. The Collegian articles exist, but not with the daily frequency the Icers get. I probably don't have a doppelganger (although this guy is a candidate). Even the ACHA website doesn't feel the need to post the rankings and says that star goaltender Heather Rossi is five-and-a-half feet taller than anyone else on the team. It's a shame, because they probably deserve more than they get in that department.

The team is successfully following up on last season's No. 7 ranking its return to the national championship tournament after a three-year absence with a 8-4-0 mark and identical No. 7 spot in the poll (as of November 5th - a new ranking is due out Friday). This probably sounds better when it's pointed out that three of the four losses came against Lindenwood, winners of four of the last five national championships. And Penn State was extremely competitive in two of those games, losing 2-0 and 2-1.

Highlights? Plenty of those to go around. On October 23rd, and sitting at 3-4-0, the Lady Icers put together a gritty, come-from-behind 4-3 win at arch-nemesis Rhode Island on the strength of third-period goals from Michelle Clarke and Chelly Deiling. That win started a five-game streak to close the semester.
“This was a big character win for [the team] because it showed that they could really buckle down,” [head coach Mo] Stroemel said.
In the very next game on November 11th, the Lady Icers had the opportunity to play in the Consol Energy Center, the brand-new home of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and blasted California (PA) 5-1.
“We walked past the Penguins locker room [before the game],” said [Dana] Heller, a junior forward and a Collegian photo staff member. “There was a giant mural of Pens players from the past.”

Penguins center Tyler Kennedy and defenseman Deryk Engelland were part of the pregame festivities before Kennedy dropped the ceremonial first puck — to Heller.
Hard not to be at least a little in awe of that environment, but Penn State scored the last three goals of the game to crack open what had been a close game through the first 40 minutes.

According to junior defender Lydia Scott, the Lady Icers are right where they need to be at the semester break.
“[Winning against Elmira was] really important because we can end[ed] the semester 8-4 which we’ve never done before,” Scott said. “I think that will give us a lot of momentum going into our games in January, even though we have a month off."
The Lady Icers open the spring with seven straight home games, starting with a pair of big ones that will determine first place in the ECWHL, January 7th and January 8th against Rhode Island. Those seven games and the six after that lead up to the ECWHL playoffs on February 26th and 27th and hopefully a return trip to the ACHA national championships from March 10th through March 13th.

The road to Kalamazoo will be tricky, however, as it will not include some key players and a head coach for four games. For the first time, USA Hockey is sending a women's team to compete at the World University Games, held from January 27th through February 6th in Erzurum, Turkey, and the ACHA is supplying the players. Included on the team: head coach Stroemel, defender Lindsay Reihl, forward Denise Rohlik and goalies Rossi and Katie Vaughan...wait, both goalies listed on PSU's roster? Is that a good idea?

Maybe not, but in the big picture, going behind the 8-ball for four games might be worth the trade for this kind of excitement:
“It was the first or second week of school, and I was just sitting in my apartment and Mo called me,” Reihl said. “He was saying, ‘How are your classes? How is the year starting off?’ And then he was just like, ‘Oh, and do you want to come to Turkey with us?’ I just jumped up and started screaming. I was so happy. And I said, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ ”
Vaughan couldn’t contain excitement when she heard the news about playing at the well-known international event. When she received the call from Stroemel, she screamed into his ear.

“It’s been my dream since I was six years old to play for team USA and to wear that jersey,” Vaughan said. “It means the world.”
“I think it’s a big honor to be the first coach to take the women’s team over,” Stroemel said. “I think that anytime you are selected to take a national team for USA Hockey, it’s a pretty big deal. There is a lot of pressure, but there is also a lot of recognition that goes along with it.”
“This is so amazing,” [Rohlik] said. “I can’t believe that I was actually selected to do this. This wasn’t something that I really saw happening in my hockey career, at least not now. I’ve been playing for four years, and I just never saw this ever happening.”
The defense rests, your honor.

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