Friday, November 16, 2012

PSU and Lindenwood: Two of the Same?

Freshman goalie Nicole Hensley, a former teammate of PSU defender Jeanette Bateman, has been arguably the most important player while under constant pressure for 0-10-0 Lindenwood this season.

In this inaugural Division I season, the Nittany Lion women (4-7-1, 0-5-1 CHA) aren't likely to find a better way to measure their progress as a first-year program than in the four scheduled games against Lindenwood, the first two of which are tonight at 8:00 p.m. and tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 p.m. at the Lindenwood Ice Arena in Wentzville, MO.

The reason is obvious, and probably already known to most of you. But for those who may be unfamiliar, LU made a transition identical to the one now underway at PSU just one year ago. The Lady Lions - like their male counterparts - were an ACHA juggernaut, winning national championships in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010. LU faced the Lady Icers six times during their shared ACHA tenure and won each contest, including one at the 2007 ACHA national championships. Nittany Lion seniors Lindsay Reihl and Kate Christoffersen played in each of the other five including the most recent, a 2-1 loss at the Ice Pavilion on October 3, 2010 that saw 54 saves from current ACHA women's team goalie Katie Vaughan.

Though Lindenwood may have started from a higher ACHA plane, Penn State had a sizable advantage through its transition process - specifically the amount of time to prepare for the move. PSU, of course, made its elevation announcement on September 17, 2010 and played its first NCAA Division I game on October 6th. Lindenwood made its announcement six months later, on March 25, 2011, and played its first DI game one year earlier, on September 23, 2011 (they chose to make their debut at Wisconsin, which is either brave or stupid, depending on your outlook). Six months simply isn't enough time to make a full transition, which is possibly reflected by the fact that Penn State already has more wins against DI competition than LU by a 4-2 count. A quality series from PSU this weekend to go with another at the Ice Pavilion on February 8th and 9th would reinforce the idea that Josh Brandwene, his staff and the team have done a phenomenal job getting things off the ground - even to the point where they've passed programs with a head start.

The games, additionally, are a chance for to solidify a position in the CHA standings, as PSU is a point up on the Lions thanks to a tie with RIT on October 26th, but sixth-place Lindenwood has a whopping four games in hand (technically, a sweep would boost Penn State all the way to second place, as both RIT and Robert Morris are playing non-conference games this weekend, although both the Tigers and Colonials would have several in hand as well).

Senior captain Brett Lobreau, who already has a 5-0-0 career record against Penn State (including two goals and an assist), leads the Lady Lions defense.

Here's the thing, though: Lindenwood likely sees things the same way, as an opportunity to collect wins against a first-year program following a brutal start to this season, and indeed their entire NCAA DI existence. LU, as mentioned, made the move from ACHA to NCAA last season and struggled mightily. They ended up 11-21-0, but 2-18-0 against other DI teams, beating only Sacred Heart (and SHU went from December 17, 2008 through October 19, 2012 between wins against DI opponents... I won't mention the game that ended that run, though).

This year, the Lady Lions are 0-10-0 (0-2-0 CHA), though it needs to be said that LU has upgraded quite significantly from last year's transitional schedule, part of which included joining the CHA along with PSU and RIT. The opponents so far: Ohio State, Minnesota State and St. Cloud State on the road, Wisconsin and Mercyhurst at home. Yikes. Not surprisingly, playing a bunch of national powers and schools from the nation's best conference - both, in Wisconsin's case - has led to a bunch of unflattering statistics.

Lindenwood allows 5.5 goals and 53.2 shots per game while scoring a mere 0.9 on 21.7 shots. The Lady Lions have yet to score a third-period goal this season and have spent exactly 19 minutes, 32 seconds with the lead. The team's top scorer is Alison Wickenheiser, who has three points on a goal and two assists (Allysson Arcibal and Lyndsay Kirkham hold the runner-up slots with a pair of goals each). Freshman goaltender Nicole Hensley, actually one of the team's bright spots so far, has not faced fewer than 41 pucks in any game that she's started and finished.

Does any of that matter, particularly in light of LU's schedule? No, not really. The only statistic that matters, as the cliche goes, is two, the number of wins possible from the weekend. For Lindenwood, two would represent a possible turning point in their DI history. For Penn State, two would simply represent another few milestones (first CHA wins and sweep, first road sweep, a proven measure of growth against another new NCAA program, etc.).

In light of those contrasting statements, maybe measurement isn't necessary after all.

Thanks to (clockwise, from top left) Lindsay Reihl, Erica Wynn, Mo Stroemel, Vince O'Mara, Allysson Arcibal and Samantha Redick, this weekend will be an informal 2011 World University Games reunion.

There are always connections between teams in the tightly-knit hockey community, but Penn State and Lindenwood seem to have an inordinate amount of them. Consider:
  • Junior defender Chelsea Witwicke was two years ahead of Paige Jahnke at Roseville High School. The two won the Minnesota state AA championship together in Witwicke's senior year of 2009-2010. Witwicke started her college career at Niagara but transferred to LU when the Purple Eagles dropped women's hockey after last season.
  • Junior forward Jocelyn Slattery played with Taylor Gross, Nicole Paniccia and Jenna Welch at Connecticut from 2010 through 2012 (2011 in the case of Gross).
  • Junior forward Arcibal, senior forward Erica Wynn and junior forward Samantha Redick all played with Reihl on Team USA at the 2011 World University Games in Erzurum, Turkey. The four helped the U.S.' first-ever WUG women's entry to a fourth-place finish. By the way, director of hockey ops/video coach Mo Stroemel coached the team and was assisted by LU head coach Vince O'Mara.
  • Freshman goalie Nicole Hensley and freshman defender Chloe Williams played with Jeanette Bateman with the Colorado Select program.
  • Freshman defender Rachel Weich played with Emily Laurenzi at National Sports Academy.

I just named 15 of the 50 rostered players in the game (30 percent) on a pretty superficial flyover. Win or lose, I suppose the good news is that the teams can probably have an incident-free pizza party afterwards.

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