WEEKEND PREVIEW: Conference Play Rolls On
Conference play rolls on this weekend with Syracuse travelling to nationally-ranked Mercyhurst, Lindenwood facing off with league-leading Robert Morris, and Penn State back on the road at RIT after an eight-game homestand.
For the third-straight week three CHA teams received votes in both national polls. Mercyhurst remains in the top-ten, while Robert Morris received more votes in both polls after a weekend split with the Lakers. Robert Morris sits just four points out of a spot in the top-ten of the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Poll, and seven points out of the tenth spot in the USCHO.com poll. Syracuse also received votes in both polls for the third-straight week.
Syracuse at No. 10/10 Mercyhurst (Mercyhurst Ice Center)
The 6-4-0 (2-0-0 CHA) Syracuse Orange travel to Erie this weekend to take on tenth-ranked Mercyhurst University in a rematch of last year's CHA championship game. Syracuse enters riding a five-game winning streak, while 6-4-1 Mercyhurst is coming off of a series split with Robert Morris last weekend, their first CHA action of the season.
The Syracuse offense is averaging 2.70 goals per game, second best in CHA. The Orange is paced by a blueliner – sophomore Nicole Renault leads her team (and all CHA defensemen) in scoring with 10 points (1G, 9A). Captain Margot Scharfe and freshman Jessica Sibley are tied for most goals amongst the Orange with 4 each.
Mercyhurst captain Christine Bestland is currently second in the league in scoring with five goals and 10 assists on the year. Emily Janiga (5-4-9 pts) is riding a six-game point streak, and notched the 50th marker of her career during a three-point weekend against Robert Morris, earning her CHA Player of the Week honors for the second time this season.
Kallie Billadeau and Jenesica Drinkwater have each picked up wins in Syracuse's last two series. Both have a GAA under two, and three wins on the year. Billadeau has been in net for all four of Syracuse's losses, but still maintains a .943 save percentage and has allowed more than two goals only twice this season. They will have their work cut out for them against the team that has led College Hockey America in offense every season for the last decade.
At the other end of the ice, junior Amanda Makela (6-4-1) maintains a 1.73 GAA and .935 save percentage and has four shutouts on the year, including one against the highest scoring team in CHA, Robert Morris, last Friday. Julie DiTondo saw her first action of the season last Saturday in relief of Makela, and stopped all eight shots she faced. Makela has backstopped the league's top team-defense. The Lakers are allowing just 1.64 goals per game this season, and also claim the league's best penalty kill (91.2%), despite leading the league in penalty minutes.
Mercyhurst swept last year's season series, and also defeated Syracuse in the aforementioned CHA Championship game. The teams will faceoff Friday at 7 p.m., and Saturday at 2 p.m., at the Mercyhurst Ice Center.
Lindenwood at Robert Morris (84 Lumber Arena)
The Lindenwood Lions (0-10-2, 0-1-1 CHA) get their crack at league-leading Robert Morris (9-3-0, 3-1-0 CHA) this weekend in Moon Township, Pa. Lindenwood went 0-1-1 against RIT last weekend, while Robert Morris split with Mercyhurst.
Kendra Broad leads Lindenwood with five points this season (2G, 3A). She also has six career points against the Colonials (4G, 2A). Lyndsay Kirkham also has six (1G, 5A) in her career against RMU, while Alyssa West and Jocelyn Slattery each have five.
Robert Morris rookie Brittany Howard leads the league in scoring, and the nation in scoring amongst rookies, despite being shutout last weekend against Mercyhurst. It was the first time she has been held off the score sheet since her first collegiate game. She racked up 17 points (4G, 13A) during a nine-game scoring streak before last weekend. Rebecca Vint has a team-high six goals for the Colonials. Kristen Richards has tallied three goals and seven assists herself, making Robert Morris the only team in the league to have two players into double-digit scoring.
Nicole Hensley has started all 12 games this season for Lindenwood. She carries an overall GAA of 3.98, and a 1.92 average in CHA contests. She owns a .910 save percentage for the season, and had a 2.11 GAA and a .954 save percentage against Robert Morris last season. Hensley made 90 saves in the triple overtime game against Robert Morris in game one of the CHA Tournament.
Jessica Dodds and Courtney Vinet continue to split time in net for Robert Morris. Vinet is 2-3 with a 2.21 GAA and is 1-1 in CHA contests, including a shutout of Penn State and loss last weekend to Mercyhurst. Dodds, a freshman, remains unbeaten, now at 7-0-0, one of just two goalies in the nation with a perfect record and more than two appearances. Dodds carries a league-best 1.56 GAA and .931 save percentage overall. She has three shutouts thus far, and conference wins against Penn State (shutout) and Mercyhurst.
RMU has won 59.0% of their faceoffs this season, and have the top offense in CHA, averaging 3.00 goals per game. They also boast the league's second-best defense in terms of scoring, holding opponents to an average of 1.83 goals per game.
The Lions and Colonials have met ten times over the last two seasons. Robert Morris holds a 7-3 advantage in those games. All three Lindenwood victories came last year, when they won the four-game season series, but the Colonials rebounded to sweep Lindenwood in the CHA tournament last March.
Penn State at RIT (Ritter Arena)
The 2-9-1 (0-4-0 CHA) Nittany Lions are back on the road for the first time in over a month this weekend with a trip to RIT (5-5-1, 1-0-1 CHA). Penn State is coming off of two losses to Syracuse last weekend, including an overtime heartbreaker on Sunday afternoon. RIT went 1-0-1 at Lindenwood last weekend to open their CHA schedule.
Penn State had eight players tally at least one point last weekend, and are led offensively by captain Taylor Gross (4G, 4A) and Shannon Yoxheimer (3G, 5A) with eight points each.
The RIT offense is led by Kourtney Kunichika, who has nine points (5G, 4A) through 11 games. Kunichika needs one goal to reach the 50-goal mark for her collegiate career. Kolbee McCrea, who is second on the team in scoring with 7 points (4, 3), needs two goals to reach the same milestone. Senior Melissa Bromley is one game shy of 100 for her career.
Celine Whitlinger and Nicole Paniccia have split time evenly in goal for Penn State, combining for a 3.63 GAA and .910 save percentage. Whitlinger has earned both of the team's wins this season.
Ali Binnington has played a vast majority of the minutes in net for the Tigers, including all five of their wins and the 1-1 tie against Lindenwood. She has a .208 GAA, .927 save percentage and three shutouts in nine appearances, and was named the CHA Goaltender of the Week for her performances last weeekend against Lindenwood.
Penn State is the least penalized team in College Hockey America this season, taking an average of just over eight PIM per game. Despite this, the Nittany Lions have conceded 15 goals on 47 times short-handed (68.1%), while RIT has had the second-best powerplay in the league, cashing in on 21.3% of their opportunities this season.
Last season RIT took the series, 3-0-1, as well as two one-goal victories over the Nittany Lions in the CHA Quarterfinals.