Friday, November 2, 2012

Bigger Than It Looks

In some ways, this is a boring home weekend jammed in before a huge one where 2012 NCAA tournament team Air Force and 2012 CHA tournament champ Robert Morris come to the Ice Pavilion.

But in other ways, and quite frankly ones more important than optics, it's vital.

The Calm Before the Storm

For the women (2-5-1, 0-3-1 CHA), who will play Sacred Heart (3-4-0, 1-3-0 NCAA Division I) tonight at 7:30 p.m. and tomorrow at 2:00 p.m., there's a simple reality that has followed and will follow them all season: first-year DI programs with 17 freshmen don't have much room for error. That sentence can refer to moments within games - for instance, the missed clearing attempt that led to the tying goal in a draw with RIT the last time out - or it can refer to the schedule as a whole.

Home games against Sacred Heart that precede games against the reigning league champs and six straight road games to close out the fall semester certainly qualify as "no margin for error" in the larger context.

Jeanette Bateman scored her first career goal two weeks ago at Sacred Heart

The Nittany Lions and Pioneers, of course, met just two weeks ago and split. SHU held on for a 2-1 win on October 19th before Penn State bounced back the next day behind six different goal scorers. It should be said that PSU held a decisive shooting advantage in both games.

Still, Sacred Heart is sort of the Alabama-Huntsville of women's hockey. They struggle to schedule as an independent, and as a result, generally play a mix of DI, DIII and ACHA teams (recall that they hosted - and split with - the Lady Icers last season). In their only game since their hosting PSU, they were blanked 4-0 by DIII St. Anselm. Make no mistake, even as a first-year DI with 17 freshmen, Penn State is ahead of Sacred Heart on the food chain. And given that reality, anything less than a home sweep would hurt, particularly considering what the next five weeks has in store. In short, it's a possible get-right weekend, and the Nittany Lions need to take advantage of it.

Penn State, as usual, will rely heavily on CHA Player of the Month nominees Shannon Yoxheimer (six goals, two of which came against SHU) and Nicole Paniccia (2.64 GAA, 1.51 in the two games with SHU) to continue to build on the momentum from that 2-2 tie with favored RIT last Friday. On the other hand, no Pioneer has more than three points in their five games, although the one with three is Sara Hanna, who recorded two of them - featuring a game-winning goal - against PSU.

Dirt on Their Shoulders

The men, on the other hand, have some things to prove against an NCAA Division III team.

I could probably end the post right there, couldn't I?

The Nittany Lions (4-2-0, 4-1-0 NCAA DI), on balance, have been a pleasant surprise this year. Following an opening overtime loss to AIC - one that could easily be written off to drawing the hot goalie card in the form of 61-save man Ben Meisner - PSU has rolled off four straight wins against DI competition. Included in that run are the back half of the AIC series, the huge win at RIT's homecoming in front of 10,556 fans and a sweep at Army and at Sacred Heart last weekend. No, those teams aren't Boston College, Michigan and Cornell (even RIT, a solid program most of the time, has been disappointing so far), but for PSU to be consistently reeling off wins against any DI program is a major achievement six games into the NCAA era.

But there's that one game.

That game, of course, is a 3-0 shutout at the hands of DIII Buffalo State (1-1-1, 0-1-1 SUNYAC), Saturday night's opponent, on October 19th at the Buffalo State Sports Arena. From a BSC perspective, the game was a program definer in front of a record crowd. From a PSU perspective...ugh. I'm sure you'll appreciate my leaving out the finer points of what transpired that evening.

Casey Bailey and Penn State's forwards will again seek to swarm an opposing goaltender - although hopefully with better results than against Ben Meisner and AIC in the last men's game at the Ice Pavilion.

One of the more curious aspects to that game is that the Bengals are not an elite DIII program like St. Norbert, Oswego, Norwich or even future opponent Neumann. In fact, since opening their season with the win over PSU, they've only managed a loss and a tie at home against SUNYAC rivals Brockport and Geneseo. But for that one night, they were world beaters.

Guy Gadowsky has admitted to a possible focus issue in that game, with the showdown in Rochester looming the next day. And while the rematch might set up in a somewhat similar fashion with Air Force in town next weekend, it's probably a safe bet that PSU will be out for blood. Here's what the coach told the media Thursday afternoon on that point.
"It's interesting, we're not going to say much but we're interested in the response from the locker room. I think they might be pissed and I think they'll want to atone for what happened last time."
At momentum-shifting points in games, David Glen, Kenny Brooks and Curtis Loik tend to be on the ice. The trio (which was actually broken up in the last game, against SHU) has added offense to their usual grinding efforts that don't always appear on the scoresheet, with six goals and 14 points so far. P.J. Musico has starred in net - he's been the goalie for all four of PSU's wins - and he's been aided greatly by defensemen Nate Jensen, Mark Yanis and Luke Juha. From Buffalo State's standpoint, they'll need another big game from Kevin Carr in net if they hope to shock the higher-division team for a second time.

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