Friday, September 27, 2013

Jumping In With Both Feet

After the ACHA Division 1 team at Penn State Berks gave us a taste of real-life hockey action last weekend - a road split at Indiana (PA) - Penn State hockey largely hits its 2013-2014 stride beginning today. While neither NCAA team opens up until the women head to Vermont in a week, take a look at the schedule of games for all of the ACHA squads over the next three days:

Friday, September 27
Men's D3: Penn State Behrend at RIT, 7:30 p.m.
Men's D2: Penn State at IUP (D1), 7:35 p.m.
Men's D1: Slippery Rock at Penn State Berks, 7:45 p.m.
Men's D3: Rutgers-Camden at Penn State Brandywine, 9:15 p.m.
Women's D2: Liberty at Penn State, 10:15 p.m.

Saturday, September 28
Men's D3: IUP (D2) at Penn State Altoona, 3:50 p.m.
Men's D1: Slippery Rock at Penn State Berks, 4:00 p.m.
Men's D3: Penn State Brandywine at Shippensburg, 6:00 p.m.
Women's D2: Liberty at Penn State, 6:30 p.m. (at Altoona, PA)
Men's D3: Fredonia at Penn State Behrend, 7:30 p.m.
Men's D2: IUP (D1) at Penn State, 10:15 p.m.

Sunday, September 29
Men's D1: West Chester at Penn State Berks, 4:30 p.m.

Not bad, eh?

I encourage anyone able and looking for an activity this weekend to get out and support at least one of those teams. The WD2 Women's Ice Hockey Club and the D2 Ice Lions play at the Pegula Ice Arena Community Rink, of course. The WIHC's game Saturday is at Galactic Ice Rink in Altoona, which also happens to be home ice for Penn State Altoona. The Ice Lions' game at IUP tonight will take place in Indiana's S&T Bank Arena. Penn State Berks is based in the Body Zone Sports and Wellness Complex in Wyomissing, while Penn State Behrend calls the Mercyhurst Ice Center in Erie home. If you're in the Harrisburg-Hershey area, Shippensburg will host Penn State Brandywine at the historic Hersheypark Arena, while Brandywine's home game will be at Ice Line in West Chester.

For my part, I'm going to try something possibly crazy, but definitely unprecedented in a couple different ways.

A quartet of those games listed above are in the cards for TYT, which will tie the blog's weekend record for attendance at Penn State games originally set January 11th through 13th. The first game will be the Women's Ice Hockey Club's season opener against Liberty tonight, the first intercollegiate hockey game of any kind played in Pegula Ice Arena.

On Saturday, a never-before-attempted tripleheader is in order, beginning with a tough season opener for Altoona against IUP's Division 2 team. Immediately after that, the WIHC will play a rematch with Liberty on the same sheet of ice. The conclusion of that game should come quickly enough to grab a soft pretzel and a coffee for dinner and head back up I-99 to see the Ice Lions play their home opener, the first men's intercollegiate game in Pegula Ice Arena, against IUP's Division 1 team. Sometime in there, I hope to write posts about all of those games (this is all pretty meaningless to you without that, after all).

Should I survive, it will be a story for the grandkids. I've certainly watched and even attended three (or more) hockey games in a day before - any ACHA National Tournament is an obvious example - but never with the level of engagement that will be required tomorrow.

Here's a brief look at each of the games on the docket.

The WIHC has the highest of aspirations for the coming season

Women's D2: Penn State vs. Liberty

On paper, to put it bluntly, the Women's Ice Hockey Club should roll. Penn State is loaded up this year as seniors Carly Szyszko, Katie Vaughan and Allie Rothman are back for one more shot at a national championship after falling just short in last year's title game and in two previous seasons as ACHA D1 Lady Icers.

Although Mandy Mortach, the team's hard-nosed second-leading scorer in 2012-2013, will not return, nearly everyone else does. The list includes Smash Sisters Tara Soukup and Ashton Schaffer on defense, dynamic forward Devon Fisk and other key players like Mary Kate Tonetti, Elizabeth Denis, Nina Elia, Taylor Nyman, Jackie Saideh and Sarah Eisenhut, one of the best goalies in the nation, but with the misfortune of being stuck behind the highly-acclaimed Vaughan. A sound group of six new players will give PSU incredible depth as well, bolstering their status as a title favorite.

Liberty is on the other end of the spectrum. The Flames were 0-12-0 last season and scored just seven goals in those contests, and a pair of exhibition shutout losses to the Carolina Lightning U16AA squad two weeks ago gave little hope for improvement. Second-year head coach Sara Niemi will look to her goaltender, younger sister Leanne Niemi, to keep Liberty in range.

Altoona coach Tom Lantz hopes his team will have a late-game edge

Men's D3: Penn State Altoona vs. IUP (D2)

Altoona, as with all two-year commonwealth campus teams, is a unique coaching challenge because every player is either a freshman or (figuratively speaking) a senior. Tom Lantz doesn't have the luxury of multi-year rebuilds, and only sees limited gains from individual players along their respective development curves before needing to bring in an entirely new team.

The good news in that department, as Toontown attempts to bounce back from a disappointing 2012-2013, is that one of this year's "seniors" is explosive forward Conlan Sodrosky, and another is stalwart defenseman Brian Kruser, both of whom were recently named alternate captains. Although he slumped a bit late in his freshman season, Sodrosky showed that he produces points in bunches, as his 19 in 16 games included outings of five, three and three. The team made headlines in the offseason by acquiring the services of Penn State football legend Derrick Williams as a strength and conditioning coach, and it's hard to believe that Altoona's training with a former NFL player won't pay dividends in those tight third periods.

Indiana's D2 club will present an obvious challenge as a team in a higher division. Last year, the Crimson Hawks split a pair of games against members of Altoona's conference, College Hockey East, beating Saint Vincent College 4-1 and losing to Pitt-Johnstown by the same score. Ryan Dougherty, who scored 12 times in 14 games a year ago, will lead the IUP offense.

The Ice Lions are counting on Creek Lewis to score - often - from near the blue paint

Men's D2: Penn State vs. IUP (D1)

Second-time first-year Ice Lions head coach Ryan Behnken, although also playing an Indiana team one step up in division, has a set of problems a little bit different from Lantz. After a couple seasons of reaping residual benefits of the Icers' transition to NCAA status in the form of players like Mike Broccolo, Joe Zitarelli and Mac Winchester, those guys have now graduated. Second-team All-American defenseman Brandon Russo, another former Icer, didn't graduate - but he did transfer to Canisius to play for the Golden Griffins' NCAA Division I team. So in a sense, it could be said that 2013-2014 is the first year for whatever the "real" program will be going forward, as PSU attempts to follow up on a pair of dominant seasons ending with nationals bids.

That's not to say that the Ice Lions are barren. Far from it. Junior power forward Creek Lewis remains one of D2's best scorers, and he's complimented quite nicely by Taylor Vincent, an 18-goal man as a freshman last year. Ryan Urban, Franky Reluzco and Fredrik Linge are also names to watch up front, while senior standouts Chris Dinsmore and Max O'Malley will be expected to help a somewhat inexperienced blueline corps grow into the part as the season progresses. Teddy Steinhart is the presumptive starter in goal, although he'll be pushed hard by senior Martin Gudewicz and freshmen Michael DeGaetano and Matthew Erlichman.

Much like the Ice Lions, the Crimson Hawks (who, unlike most teams discussed here, have already started their season and carry a 1-1-0 record, as mentioned at the top of the post) face a few holes to fill. Top scorers Jeff Cupelli and Chase Keibler have departed, leaving Tyler Fitzgerald and Adam Kondraski under pressure to increase their production. Ryan Lord returns in goal, although he struggled a little bit in his first outing of the season, a 5-4 loss to Penn State Berks.


  1. Who is on the Icer team?

    1. Nobody now...the Icers were the former ACHA D1 team that ultimately transitioned to the NCAA and are now known as the Nittany Lions. The guys I mentioned in the post were all casualties of that process at some point but wound up as important players on the Ice Lions.

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