Tuesday, March 5, 2013

D-Day in DC for WIHC

To say the least, it's been quite an interesting inaugural season for the ACHA D2 Women's Ice Hockey Club. The light schedule that is the norm for any first-year outfit was hammered by circumstances - Winter Storm Nemo wrecked a scheduled series at D1 Buffalo on February 9th and 10th, and a scheduled game against Slippery Rock at the Ice Pavilion on February 22nd was called off when SRU couldn't assemble a team to make the trip (put that together with a cancelled game on December 15th, and the WIHC never got to use the orange barn for a competitive game in its final season). The result of all of this: the team has played just nine games this year, none since January 27th, and will now attempt to win five in four days at the 2013 ACHA National Championships, which will run from Thursday through Sunday in Ashburn, VA, near Washington, DC.

The good news is that based on the games that were played, PSU earned one of the eight bids to nationals by finishing in the top four of the East Region (the top four from the East and West Regions in the season's final poll are invited). And they've also proven that they deserve to be taken seriously as a title contender, with exhibit A being their 2-1 win at East No. 1 West Chester on January 26th. Familiar names from the former Lady Icers D1 program like Carly Szyszko, Katie Vaughan, Allie Rothman and Ashton Schaffer have merged with dynamic newcomers like Devon Fisk, Mandy Mortach, Tara Soukup and Taylor Nyman to form one of the division's best teams.

The first step in turning contention into reality will come during the preliminary round on March 7th and 8th. Each team will play three of the four squads in the opposite region during this round, with the matching seed on the other side off of the schedule. So for East No. 4 Penn State, this means games against West No. 1 Alaska (Thursday, 1:00 p.m.), West No. 2 Wisconsin-Stout (Friday, 10:45 a.m.) and West No. 3 North Dakota State (Friday, 5:30 p.m.). After the preliminaries, the four best-performing teams will advance to the semifinals on Saturday, with the championship game on Sunday.

Here is a capsule look at each of the teams blocking PSU's road to glory. For more on nationals, including a full schedule, standings and a link to FastHockey.com's webcasts of the games, be sure to visit the WIHC website's ACHA Tournament Central.

Note: All records and statistics below only include ACHA-sanctioned games.

East Region

1. West Chester

Record: 13-2-0
Head coach: David Japchen
Goals scored per game: 5.87
Goals allowed per game: 1.13

Versus Penn State:
Lost 1-2 on January 26th
Won 3-1 on January 27th

Preliminary round schedule:
March 7 vs. Minnesota-Duluth, 1:15 p.m.
March 8 vs. North Dakota State, 8:45 a.m.
March 8 vs. Wisconsin-Stout, 8:00 p.m.

DVCHC website team page:

Leading scorers (goals-assists-points):
Becky Dobson (44-21-65 in 15 games)
Kirsten Baron (14-11-25 in 15 games)
Lindsay Howard (7-12-19 in 15 games)
Colleen Tweedy (6-7-13 in 15 games)
Amanda Vito (6-7-13 in 15 games)

Aly Golia (13-2-0, 1.13 GAA, 0.941 Sv%)

Simply put, it's impossible to find a more impressive-looking team headed into the tournament than WCU. Although Cal was ranked first in the East Region for most of the season, the Rams split a pair of regular season games with the Vulcans, then dominated a semifinal meeting in the Delaware Valley Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs en route to the league title (their only other loss, of course, was to Penn State). They boast D2's leading scorer in Becky Dobson, who averages just under a hat trick per game, as well as goalie Aly Golia, who joins PSU's Katie Vaughan and Sarah Eisenhut in D2's top three for both goals against average and save percentage.

2. California

Record: 14-2-0
Head coach: Gregg Kaminski
Goals scored per game: 3.56
Goals allowed per game: 1.44

Versus Penn State:
Won 2-1 (OT) on October 6th
Won 2-0 on October 7th

Preliminary round schedule:
March 7 vs. North Dakota State, 3:30 p.m.
March 8 vs. Minnesota-Duluth, 11:00 a.m.
March 8 vs. Alaska, 7:45 p.m.

Team website:

Leading scorers (goals-assists-points):
Megan Cooper (11-14-25 in 16 games)
Alli Paratore (8-17-25 in 16 games)
Kelsey DeNardo (17-6-23 in 15 games)
Dana Bowersox (9-6-15 in 16 games)
Melissa Heisler (5-8-13 in 16 games)

Top goaltender:
Maria Sciacca (13-2-0, 1.32 GAA, 0.939 Sv%)

The Vulcans, an emerging power in D2, gained the nation's top spot in the poll this season for the first time in program history but, as mentioned, faltered in two of three meetings with West Chester (as well as against Delaware last month) to drop to second in the east in the final ranking. Impressively, Cal has earned a sweep at D1 Buffalo by 2-0 and 3-2 scores on October 20th and 21st, as well as a 4-2-0 ACHA record against teams at the tournament - the two wins over Penn State are joined by 1-1-0 marks against WCU and UD.

3. Delaware

Record: 11-3-0
Head coach: Bobby Crystle
Goals scored per game: 4.64
Goals allowed per game: 2.07

Preliminary round schedule:
March 7 vs. Wisconsin-Stout, 3:15 p.m.
March 8 vs. Alaska, 8:30 a.m.
March 8 vs. Minnesota-Duluth, 5:45 p.m.

Team website: http://www.udelhockey.com/w2/

Leading scorers (goals-assists-points):
Danielle Malysa (16-5-21 in 13 games)
Mari O'Leary (7-7-14 in 13 games)
Kimberly Blasnik (7-7-14 in 13 games)
Kaitlyn Smith (4-10-14 in 13 games)
Kelley Philbin (7-6-13 in 13 games)

Sarah Ehrlich (10-3-0 record, 2.21 GAA, 0.888 Sv%)

Delaware joins Penn State as a team that, while claiming one of the east's bottom seeds, is still worthy of contender status - although they'll face a tough preliminary schedule that includes Alaska and UW-Stout, the top two western teams. Like PSU, Delaware has played tight games against West Chester and Cal this year, and in fact, gave the Vulcans one of their two losses February 9th on the strength of Danielle Malysa's goal with four seconds left in overtime (similar to how Penn State hung WCU with one of their two losses). A UD-Cal rematch at the DVCHC tournament resulted in a 2-1 Vulcans win despite Kelley Philbin's third period goal.

West Region

1. Alaska

Record: 6-0-2
Head coach: Scott Vockeroth
Goals scored per game: 4.38
Goals allowed per game: 1.25

Preliminary round schedule:
March 7 vs. Penn State, 1:00 p.m.
March 8 vs. Delaware, 8:30 a.m.
March 8 vs. California, 7:45 p.m.

Team website:

Leading scorers (goals-assists-points):
Cayla Wiita (7-9-16 in 8 games)
Rackell Kowalchuk (10-5-15 in 8 games)
Shawna Jusczak (5-2-7 in 8 games)
Brittany Stahle (2-5-7 in 7 games)

Katrina Lydon (6-0-2 record, 1.25 GAA, 0.924 Sv%)

Alaska has played a pretty light schedule this season, due of course to their geographic isolation (they did play several games against local U19 teams to supplement their eight ACHA games). It would be unfair to say the Nanooks are not battle-tested, however. Six of their eight games have come against tournament teams Stout, Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota State - and all were on the road, with none resulting in losses. UAF, which lost last season's national championship game to Stout, certainly has to be considered one of the favorites, particularly with Katrina Lydon, one of the ACHA's best stoppers, in net.

2. Wisconsin-Stout

Record: 11-5-1
Head coach: Matt Morin
Goals scored per game: 3.60
Goals allowed per game: 2.13

Preliminary round schedule:
March 7 vs. Delaware, 3:15 p.m.
March 8 vs. Penn State, 10:45 a.m.
March 8 vs. West Chester, 8:00 p.m.

Team website:

Leading scorers (goals-assists-points):
Lily Cranston (19-8-27 in 16 games)
Ashley Gibson (14-13-27 in 11 games)
Kara Fritsche (6-5-11 in 16 games)
Kerry Blomberg (8-2-10 in 9 games)
Alex Westman (3-3-6 in 16 games)

Kaye Collier (9-5-1 record, 2.13 GAA, 0.903 Sv%)

The defending ACHA national champions have a little something to prove after a loss-tie home weekend against Alaska on January 26th and 27th cost them the West Region's top seed, but otherwise, they have performed well against a tough schedule that included several D1 teams, including Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Nanooks, however, were the Blue Devils' only D2 tournament opponent, as scheduled games against Minnesota-Duluth in December were forfeited in Stout's favor.

3. North Dakota State

Record: 14-4-1
Head coach: Garrett Gulsvig
Goals scored per game: 5.16
Goals allowed per game: 2.21

Preliminary round schedule:
March 7 vs. California, 3:30 p.m.
March 8 vs. West Chester, 8:45 a.m.
March 8 vs. Penn State, 5:30 p.m.

Team website:

Leading scorers (goals-assists-points):
Kacie Johnson (29-18-47 in 15 games)
Kaylee Lothspeich (14-21-35 in 17 games)
Jacqueline Johnson (8-22-30 in 19 games)
Ellie Dahl (13-6-19 in 19 games)
Brittany Johnson (11-8-19 in 19 games)

Hannah Seitz (14-4-1 record, 2.21 GAA, 0.912 Sv%)

Following early-season struggles - NDSU started off 3-4-1 thanks in part to games against Alaska and Minnesota-Duluth - the Bison enter the tournament as one of the nation's hottest teams, as they ticked off 11 straight wins to close the regular season. They have one of the ACHA's highest-powered offenses, as Kacie Johnson's goal and point totals are second only to West Chester's Becky Dobson in D2, while Jacqueline Johnson (the leader), Kaylee Lothspeich and Johnson are all in the top five in assists.

4. Minnesota-Duluth

Record: 10-9-1
Head coach: Paul Kessler
Goals scored per game: 3.30
Goals allowed per game: 2.80

Preliminary round schedule:
March 7 vs. West Chester, 1:15 p.m.
March 8 vs. California, 11:00 a.m.
March 8 vs. Delaware, 5:45 p.m.

ACHA website team page:

Leading scorers (goals-assists-points):
Liz Smith (7-12-19 in 18 games)
Katherine Johnson (7-12-19 in 14 games)
Steph Hale (12-5-17 in 16 games)
Allison Jonas (9-7-16 in 16 games)
Mia Marturano (9-4-13 in 18 games)

Top goaltender:
Katie Gilderman (6-0-1 record, 2.00 GAA, 0.905 Sv%)

Despite an unimpressive-looking record (that is artificially deflated due to the aforementioned forfeits to Stout), UMD can boast decisive wins against North Dakota State - 9-2 and 6-1 on November 10th and 11th - have played competitively with both Alaska and D1 power Minnesota, and also carry a roster that runs 21 deep. Mia Marturano had two goals in each of the NDSU wins, but a balanced offensive effort saw eight different goal scorers in the first game, and five in the second.

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