Friday, January 4, 2013

The Grind Returns

NCAA Men: at Connecticut
NCAA Women: vs. Chatham (NCAA DIII)

NCAA Men: Freitas Ice Forum, Storrs, CT
NCAA Women: Greenberg Ice Pavilion, University Park, PA

NCAA Men: Friday, January 4 at 7:05 p.m. and Saturday, January 5 at 7:05 p.m.
NCAA Women: Friday, January 4 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, January 5 at 7:00 p.m

NCAA Men: UConn video ($), Friday PSU audio ($), Saturday PSU audio ($), UConn audio (free), Friday live stats (free), Saturday live stats (free)
NCAA Women: PSU video ($), TYT live blogs (free), Friday live stats (free), Saturday live stats (free)

UConn relies heavily on goalie Garrett Bartus.

The Penn State men (9-10-0 all games, 8-9-0 NCAA, 6-8-0 NCAA DI) have proven that they can beat one of their soon-to-be-rivals from the almost-here Big Ten. Now they need to prove that they can sustain that level of quality on the week-in, week-out basis that is the hallmark of good teams.

The first round of that test will come this weekend at Connecticut, the Nittany Lions' eighth different Atlantic Hockey opponent of the season. For what it's worth, PSU is 5-6-0 against AHA opposition, a mark that would be good for seventh in the 12-team conference.

The Huskies (5-8-2, 4-6-1 AHA) are tied for eighth in that league, although that's an incomplete view of the program. UConn, long ridiculed as a school uncommitted to its hockey program, will be stepping things up by joining major-conference Hockey East for the 2014-2015 season. In that transition, they'll be ramping up their scholarship count from zero to the maximum of 18. In addition, their plan for Hockey East games is to use Hartford's 15,635-seat XL Center (the former home of the NHL's Whalers) while exploring a renovation and expansion of their existing 2,000-seat rink or even possibly constructing a new facility altogether.

So in a weird way, the two blue-and-white clad programs will be growing up together, coming from decidedly different backgrounds but attempting to compete regularly with college hockey's big boys within a season of each other in the future. PSU took a step towards that end in beating Ohio State last Saturday, but UConn took a similar step in winning 3-1 at future HEA rival Merrimack on November 10th, a win that joins an impressive 2-2 tie against Union, a team presently ranked 13th in the country.

The Merrimack win came just five days after 25-year head coach Bruce Marshall announced an indefinite medical leave of absence, temporarily handing the reins to assistant David Berard. In that light, it's been a decidedly up-and-down season for the boys from the Nutmeg State's flagship.

It seems fair to say that power play goals will be at a premium this weekend, as the Huskies are one of only three teams ranked behind PSU in conversion rate while on the advantage, with five goals in 60 tries compared to the Nittany Lions' six in 69. That stat underscores a general lack of UConn offense this season, as their 1.93 goals per game are also ranked in the nation's bottom five. Senior Sean Ambrosie and sophomores Trevor Gerling and Cody Sharib lead a balanced attack with four goals apiece, although Connecticut's 29 goals this season have been scored by 12 different players.

When a team's offense is struggling, the defense and goaltending is forced to step up, and luckily for the Huskies, they have a stud goalie in the form of senior Garrett Bartus. The workhorse is part of the 24th best scoring defense in DI, thanks to a 0.917 save percentage and a 2.54 goals against average. The defense tandem of senior Alex Gerke and freshman Tyler Cooke (a teammate of PSU's Jake Friedman with the EJHL's South Shore Kings in 2010-2011) is a big part of the effort as well.

Despite 16 shots on Chatham goalie Megan Buchanan last season, Tess Weaver was unable to score - but she'll have another shot at putting one past Buchanan this weekend.

After a fairly brutal schedule to close the fall semester (Robert Morris, Lindenwood, Mercyhurst, St. Lawrence) the women get a bit of a reprieve to open the spring with NCAA Division III Chatham.

In the Cougars (1-7-0, 0-6-0 ECAC West), Penn State (5-12-1, 1-8-1 CHA) has an opponent that has won exactly one NCAA hockey game since February 20, 2010 - November 17th's 5-2 win at Buffalo State.

CU, a women's school of 2,300 undergraduates, has an 11-179-5 NCAA record in ten-plus seasons of varsity hockey and usually fills out portions of its schedule with ACHA opponents. That included the Lady Icers last season on November 4th and 5th, 2011, with the two teams skating to a pair of draws. The first was scoreless, with Katie Vaughan earning a 33-save shutout, while the second ended 2-2 thanks to Denise Rohlik and Elizabeth Denis goals. Present NCAA team members combined for an assist (by Lindsay Reihl), 32 shots (16 by Tess Weaver) and 12 penalty minutes (eight by Katie Murphy) in the the two games.

Cougars head coach Jason Evans is someone familiar to Penn State hockey as the former coach of Robert Morris' ACHA program, back when the Colonials were good. His tenure at RMU included a meeting with the Icers at the 2007 ACHA national tournament in which heavily-favored PSU was pushed to overtime. Morgan Becer leads Chatham's nine rostered forwards with two goals and four points, while besieged goalie Megan Buchanan faces an average of 47 shots per 60 minutes between the pipes. Sophomore blueliner Gina Abrego is another Cougar to watch.

The weekend and its anticipated blowouts should provide a soft landing back in the season's grind. The team that has been out of action since a 4-2 loss at St. Lawrence on December 8th that saw the Nittany Lions claw within one through Hannah Hoenshell's goal with eight minutes left only to surrender a late power play goal for the final margin.

Things get considerably tougher after this weekend, with Josh Brandwene's gang heading to Union on January 11th and 12th, followed by a trip to CHA rival Syracuse on January 25th and 26th.

1 comment:

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