Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Stretch Run

Tess Weaver and the Nittany Lions are looking for position on defender Brett Lobreau and Lindenwood.

NCAA Men: vs. Alabama-Huntsville (8-18-2 all games, 3-17-1 NCAA, 1-16-1 NCAA DI)
NCAA Women: vs. Lindenwood (3-23-2, 3-9-2 CHA)

NCAA Men: Greenberg Ice Pavilion, University Park, PA
NCAA Women: Greenberg Ice Pavilion, University Park, PA

NCAA Men: Friday, February 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, February 9 at 7:30 p.m.
NCAA Women: Friday, February 8 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, February 9 at 2:00 p.m

NCAA Men: Friday: TYT live blog (free), PSU video ($), PSU audio ($), PSU live stats (free); Saturday: PSU video ($), PSU audio ($), PSU live stats (free)
NCAA Women: Friday: TYT live blog (free), CHA video ($)PSU live stats (free); Saturday: CHA video ($), PSU live stats (free)

I probably don't need to use too many words in explaining the importance of the final home series of the season for the women. For starters, Saturday's Senior Day ceremony will honor forward Kate Christoffersen, a player who, safe to say, probably never expected to see a Senior Day as a member of an NCAA hockey team back when she was a freshmen (her concussion issues that nearly ended her career give that story a nice twist too).

Second, take a look at the current CHA standings.

Robert Morris
Penn State

The bad news: with just six games remaining, PSU has a ceiling of 15 points, one the Nittany Lions - realistically - probably won't hit. However...

Fifth place is very much attainable with a sweep of Lindenwood, which would pull PSU within a point with road series at RIT and Robert Morris completing the regular season. LU closes with Robert Morris at home and Syracuse on the road. Avoiding last place in a year one where everyone automatically tabbed the Nittany Lions for the basement? Yeah, that's a very tangible achievement for a program that has shown plenty of intangibles so far.

Now, whether fifth place is desirable considering that the current standings would lead to a CHA tournament series at RIT, and Penn State very nearly beat the Tigers before setting for a tie back in October...well, that's a different argument, I guess. I'm not one of those "lose for the draft pick" types, so to me, fifth place is always better than sixth place. Regardless of the standings, getting a couple wins on the board would be nice in and of itself for a PSU team that last beat another DI team on November 17th, in earning a split at Lindenwood with a 3-2 win powered by Emily Laurenzi's winner with 5:50 remaining.

The Lions, not exactly DI veterans themselves, will also be looking for continued progress following a stunning tie-win series with RIT last weekend. After beating only Sacred Heart among DI teams in their first varsity season in 2011-2012, and only Penn State in the first semester of this year, the Lions have now chipped off Robert Morris in addition to RIT within the last month. And like PSU, they still have a shot at upward mobility in the standings. So really, it's a pretty big series for both teams, one which should be fantastic to watch.

Lindenwood is led offensively by Alison Wickenheiser (team highs of nine goals and 17 points), Kendra Broad (seven goals, 13 points) and Allysson Arcibal (eight goals, 12 points). Wickenheiser and Arcibal combined for ten shots and five points in the Lions' 5-1 win over PSU on November 16th. Freshman Nicole Hensley, a former teammate of PSU defender Jeanette Bateman with the Colorado Select, receives the majority of time in goal and has a very respectable (all things considered) 4.06 goals against average to go with her 0.910 save percentage.

Huntsville goalie John Griggs faces 36.8 shots per 60 minutes.

Independent League MegaBowl

Men's team members - led by captain Tommy Olczyk - have taken to Twitter with the hashtag #IndependentLeagueMegaBowl to hype their series with Alabama-Huntsville.

Really though, can you blame them? This is a team that, despite a very successful first NCAA season in a lot of ways (14-15-0 in all games, 10-13-0 in NCAA games and 8-11-0 against NCAA Division I), has absolutely nothing to play for at the end of it. Seventeen days from now, after completing a series at Wisconsin, the season will just sort of awkwardly...end. It's quite an appropriate bookend for the Ice Pavilion, actually: for the first time since the rink's opening season of 1980-1981, the highest-level PSU men's team will not close the season with a national championship or conference tournament.

Penn State and UAH, as everyone knows, are the only two independents in NCAA Men's Division I. Next year, both will be in conferences. No team in their right mind will ever choose to be an independent unless in transition to something else (the case with PSU, obviously), and under that reality, multiple independents at any one time is fairly unlikely in the future. So yeah, we're deciding the independent championship for the rest of eternity here, no big deal.

The saga of Alabama-Huntsville's program has been well-chronicled, both here and elsewhere, so I'll just distill it down to the (admittedly lengthy) bullet points.
  • From 1979 through 1985, UAH was a non-varsity power, winning the 1982, 1983 and 1984 club national championships (the Icers also claim a 1984 title from a separate tournament). It's probably not accurate to call them a former Penn State archrival - it was really more a case of two top teams frequently meeting in big games. UAH beat PSU in the final for their 1983 title, to give one example.
  • In 1985, the Chargers moved to NAIA status for one season, then to NCAA Division II, then to Division I from 1987-1992 (compiling a 63-81-8 record during that time) as the NCAA temporarily eliminated DII for hockey.
  • Division II was restored in 1992, and UAH moved back and was extremely successful, winning national championships in 1996 and 1998.
  • The NCAA once again chopped DII - this time for good - for the 1999-2000 season, and the Chargers moved back to DI and College Hockey America. UAH was also successful in the CHA, winning the league tournament in 2007 and 2010 to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
  • However, the story takes a sharp turn due to the instability of the CHA. During UAH's time in the conference, Findlay and Wayne State dropped varsity hockey, while Air Force, Bemidji State, Robert Morris, Niagara fleed to other leagues, causing the CHA to fold. UAH applied to join the CCHA, but was rejected (some actually blamed Penn State for this, which is BS on a number of levels).
  • Huntsville, expectedly, has struggled mightily as an independent, winning just nine games in three years. Recruiting has dropped off, a full schedule is nearly impossible, particularly for home games (UAH has hosted ACHA teams five times this year, including three ACHA D3 opponents, as a result), the head coach's office has had a revolving door (after knowing only Doug Ross from 1982 through 2007, Danton Cole, Chris Luongo and current boss Kurt Kleinendorst have held the job since), and revenue is difficult to come by without a conference arrangement.
  • In response to all of that, then-Alabama system chancellor Malcolm Portera announced the cancellation of the program in October, 2011. The funeral didn't last long though, as Portera retired a couple months later and new chancellor Robert Altenkirch reversed the decision.
  • Still, without a conference, UAH's days were likely numbered - fortunately, we didn't have to find out, as the program was accepted into the new-look WCHA for next season in January. Rejection from the WCHA likely would have meant a death blow for the scrappy program that has somehow survived quite a few of them.
So that's where we are - two programs facing exciting new beginnings in conferences next year, but with nothing at all to play for at the end of this season. Bring on the Independent League MegaBowl.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post and wonderful blog, I really like this type of interesting articles keep it u.
    Toshiba Laptops