March 9, 2014

Mercyhurst Earns Tourney Invite for Tenth Straight Season

Courtesy of Mercyhurst Athletic Communications

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ERIE, Pa. - The Mercyhurst University women's hockey team extended its NCAA record and will be making an appearance in the NCAA Division I women's hockey tournament for a tenth consecutive season after learning of its fate on Sunday evening. The Lakers will enter the tournament as the #7 seed and will travel to Ithaca, New York to square off against second-seeded Cornell University next weekend.

The game is scheduled for Saturday, March 15 from the Lynah Rink on the campus of Cornell University with the faceoff tentatively slated for 3:30 p.m.

Top-seeded Minnesota will host Boston University, third-seeded Clarkson will host Boston College, and the fourth-seeded Wisconsin Badgers will host Harvard in the other quarterfinal matchups next Saturday.

A nervous group of players, coaches, and staff members gathered at the Mercyhurst Ice Center to watch the selection show on NCAA.com, which began just a couple of minutes after 6:00 p.m. A large uproar broke a nervous silence when the Lakers' name appeared on the screen for an NCAA-record tenth consecutive time.

"It was tough to sleep last night," said senior forward Christie Cicero during an interview with members of the local media on Sunday. "Being a senior, I certainly didn't want my career to end with a loss in the conference championship. But, now that we know we are one of the final eight, it's an amazing feeling knowing that we get to come back to work and get ready for Cornell."

It was a joyous occasion for the Lakers, who, just 24 hours prior to making the NCAA tournament, had a somber feeling when they lost the CHA Championship game to the Tigers of RIT on Saturday afternoon by a 2-1 final in double overtime at the Mercyhurst Ice Center. It was just the second time in a dozen seasons that the Lakers lost in the CHA title game.

The NCAA quarterfinal game will be a rematch of last season's first round contest when the Lakers stunned the Big Red in overtime at Lynah Rink by a 4-3 final. Jenna Dingeldein scored at the 4:49 mark of the overtime period to send the Lakers to their third appearance to the Frozen Four in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mercyhurst lost to Boston University in the semifinals last season by a 4-1 final.

Mercyhurst holds a 14-5-1 advantage over Cornell in the all-time series, but the Lakers are just 3-5-1 in the last nine contests against their rival from the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference. It will mark the third time that these two have met in the NCAA postseason with each team winning an overtime contest in the previous two. Mercyhurst stunned Cornell last season in the quarterfinals while the Big Red stunned Mercyhurst, 3-2 in overtime, in the NCAA Semifinals back in 2010 in Minneapolis.

The Lakers (23-8-4) and the Big Red (24-5-4) played a pair of games at the Mercyhurst Ice Center earlier this season. Game one of the series ended in a 4-4 overtime tie back on January 10, with Cornell's Jessica Campbell scoring with 5:06 left in regulation to send the game to overtime. The next afternoon, the Big Red jumped out to a 5-2 lead past the midway mark of the second period and held off the Lakers, 6-4, after sealing the contest with an empty-netter.

Senior Christine Bestland, a top-ten finalist for the 2014 Patty Kazmaier Award, leads Mercyhurst with 20 goals and 31 assists for 51 points this season. She had two helpers in the series against Cornell earlier in the year. Junior Amanda Makela has seen most of the work in goal and sports a 21-7-4 overall record with a 1.79 goals against average and a .927 save percentage.

Cornell is led by Jillian Saulnier, a top-three finalist for the 2014 Patty Kazmaier Award. She had two goals and three assists in the series against the Lakers and has 28 goals and 27 assists for 55 points this season. Lauren Slebodnick has seen most of the action in goal and is 17-1-3 with a 2.27 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The winner will advance to the NCAA Frozen Four, which is being held at the TD Sports Bank Center in Hamden, Connecticut, hosted by Quinnipiac University on March 21 and March 23.