January 9, 2014

Weekend Preview: Crucial Matchups Highlight Weekend Slate

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This weekend marks the end of the majority of non-conference games for CHA teams. After Tuesday, just four non-conference games remain on the schedule amidst a six-week gauntlet that will see all six teams face each other for at least two games.

Syracuse and RIT will meet on Friday night for the only conference game of the weekend. Mercyhurst will face nationally-ranked Cornell in their final non-conference action, while Penn State hosts Colgate for two games before the Raiders head to Syracuse for a midweek matchup with the Orange.

 

Syracuse at RIT (Ritter Arena; Rochester, N.Y.)

The battle for New York in-state supremacy, and a rematch of last year's CHA semifinal, kicks off this weekend with the first of four meetings between Syracuse and RIT over the final stretch of the season.

The matchup is crucial in the CHA standings. RIT is currently in third, just one point ahead of Syracuse. The teams will play Friday in Rochester, next Friday in Syracuse, and then meet again for a true home-and-home to close out the season on February 21st and 22nd. The game will be broadcast on Time Warner Cable Sports in the upstate New York region, check local listings.

Syracuse enters riding a three-game winning streak, including a sweep of Vermont in Burlington last weekend. The Orange captured a 4-3 victory on Saturday with a power play goal in the final 10 seconds on regulation, and earned a 3-2 win Sunday despite giving up a two-goal lead in the third period.

A pair of defensemen lead the Orange offensively. Nicole Renault and Caitlin Roach each have 14 points on three goals and a team-high 11 assists. Freshman Jessica Sibley leads all Syracuse forwards with 13 points (7G, 6A). The offense is averaging 2.55 goals per game for the season, but the Orange has scored 11 times over the last three games. Syracuse is 8-1-1 when scoring three or more goals this season. Renault and Roach also lead all CHA defenseman in scoring, and are tied for second in the league in power play points with nine each.

Jenesica Drinkwater recorded both wins last weekend to move to 6-0-1 on the season. She recorded 26 saves in both contests, and was a big part of the reason the Orange never trailed the Catamounts in either contest. She now qualifies for conference and national rankings, having played more than a third of the team's minutes. She currently has the second best win percentage in CHA (.857) and fifth best in the nation. She also ranks third in CHA with a 2.00 goals against average, 17th among all Division I goalies.

Kallie Billadeau has started 13 games this season for the Orange, posting a 4-7-2 record with a 2.12 GAA and .933 save percentage. Her goals-against average dips to 1.89 in six CHA contests.

RIT went 0-1-1 at Union last weekend with a 1-1 tie and 2-1 overtime loss. The tie in game two snapped a four-game losing skid for the Tigers. Three of the four losses came against nationally-ranked teams, and three of the four were road contests. This weekend will be the first home game for the Tigers in 48 days.

Kolbee McCrea and Kourtney Kunichika pace the Tigers offense with 14 points each. McCrea has a team-high 10 goals, while Kunichika's nine assists are tied for the team lead. Three other players have reached double-digit points, Marissa Maugeri (5-8-13), Erin Zach (3-9-12) and Morgan Scoyne (1-9-10). The offense is averaging 2.09 goals per contest. Kunichika is sitting on 49 career goals, and has one goal in five career games against Syracuse.

Ali Binnington has started 18-of-22 games this season for the Tigers, earning an 8-8-2 record with a 2.20 GAA and .928 save percentage and three shutouts. In eight CHA starts she is 4-3-1 with a 1.62 GAA and .948 save percentage with one shutout.

Syracuse took the regular season series last year, 3-0-1, with three 2-1 victories. They also took a 2-1 overtime victory in the CHA semifinals from the Tigers.

 

No. 3 Cornell at Mercyhurst (Mercyhurst Ice Center; Erie, PA)

The 14-5-2 (7-2-1 CHA) Mercyhurst women's hockey team is back in action this weekend when they welcome nationally-ranked Cornell (12-1-2, 8-0-2 ECAC) to the Mercyhurst Ice Center for two games, Friday and Saturday. This will be the Lakers second series of the season against an opponent in the national rankings. They won the first matchup (1-0-1) against then-No. 3 Clarkson in October.

Mercyhurst closed out 2013 by winning seven straight, including all six contests since falling out of the national rankings themselves in the final poll of November.

Head coach Michael Sisti has the Lakers clicking on all cylinders. On their current winning streak, Mercyhurst is outscoring opponents 35-8, and 26-2 in their last four contests. They lead the league in goals per game at 3.48, and claim four of the league's five top scorers. Senior captain Christine Bestland leads all CHA players in points (33) goals (13) and assists (20). Her 1.57 points per game margin is sixth best in the nation, and she is tied for the national lead in short-handed goals with three.

Three other Lakers have eclipsed the 20-point mark for the season – Emily Janiga (11-14-25), Christie Cicero (9-13-22) and Shelby Bram (5-17-22).

At the other end of the ice, junior Amanda Makela has started 19-of-22 games in goal this season, posting a 12-5-2 record with a 1.76 GAA, .933 save percentage and five shutouts, tied for second-most in the nation. As a team, the Lakers scoring defense ranks seventh in the nation, allowing an average of just 1.62 goals per game.

Makela and the defense will have their work cut out for them against the Big Red's second-ranked offense, which averages 3.93 goals per game. Junior Emily Fulton leads the nation in points per game (1.73), with nine goals and 17 assists in 15 contests. Jillian Saulnier leads the team in goals with 13, and her 24 points are second best.

Goaltender Lauren Slebodnick has played a majority of the minutes, going 10-0-2 in 13 starts with a 1.88 GAA and .922 save percentage. She also has two shutouts on the year. The Big Red have yielded an average of just 1.87 goals per contest to opponents.

Both teams are outscoring opponents by more than twice their total goals allowed, Mercyhurst 73-34, and Cornell 59-28. Special teams will be key for both squads, with Mercyhurst putting their power play, which ranks 11th in the nation at 17.4% (19-of-109) again Cornell's fifth-ranked penalty kill (90.1%). On the other side of the equation, Cornell's second-best power play (20/71, 28.2%) will face Mercyhurst's eigth-ranked penalty kill (89.1%).

The Lakers were shutout by Cornell in a 4-0 loss last January, but claimed their revenge in the NCAA tournament with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Big Red in the quarterfinal round. This will be the final non-conference action of the season for the Lakers. After this series they start a 10-game run through their five CHA foes, starting at home against the league-leading Robert Morris Colonials on January 24th and 25th.

 

Colgate at Penn State (Pegula Ice Arena; State College, PA)

Penn State returns home this weekend to host Colgate (4-13-2, 2-8-0 ECAC) for two games in Hockey Valley. The Nittany Lions (3-16-2, 1-9-0 CHA) have played eight of their last nine on the road. They will look to get their young offense back on track after being shut out in a program-record four-straight contests. The offense is averaging 1.43 goals per game this season.

Shannon Yoxheimer leads the Nittany Lions in scoring with 11 points (5G, 6A), while Taylor Gross leads the team with six goals, and has the second-most points with 10. The offense has received contributions from 17 different players, and 60 of 74 total points have come from freshmen and sophomores.

Nicole Paniccia and Celine Whitlinger continue to split time in goal. Paniccia is 0-9-2 with a 3.61 GAA 11 starts, while Whitlinger is 3-7-0 with a 3.91 GAA in 10 starts. Each netminder maintains a save percentage above .900, despite the Nittany Lions giving up an average of over 41 shots on goal per game.

The Raiders offense, averaging 1.53 goals per contest, is lead by Miriam Drubel, who leads the team with 6 goals and 14 points. Her 8 assists are also tied Nicole Gass, whose nine points are second on the team.

Three goalies have seen considerable time for the Raiders, lead by senior Brittney Brooks, who is 2-6-1 in eight starts, with a 2.39 GAA and .914 save percentage.

Colgate also ranks 11th in the nation on the penalty kill at 87.4%, killing off 76 of the 87 times they've been shorthanded this season.

This will be the first meeting between the two programs. Colgate is 1-2-0 this season against CHA opponents. The Raiders split with RIT, and lost one game to Syracuse, 2-1.

 

Syracuse at Colgate (Starr Rink, Hamilton, N.Y.)

Syracuse will travel to Colgate on Tuesday for their second meeting of the season with the Raiders. They took the first meeting, 2-1, at the War Memorial Arena in Syracuse in November. The game will be broadcast on Time Warner Cable Sports in the upstate New York region, check local listings.

Prior to the contest, the Orange will play one game against RIT this weekend, and Colgate will have two contests against Penn State, Saturday and Sunday.

Syracuse is 1-1 in midweek games this season, beating Colgate and losing to nationally-ranked Cornell. Both of those contests have also been televised on Time Warner Sports.

The Orange are 3-5-1 all-time against the Raiders, though they have won the most recent two meetings, one earlier this season, and the only matchup of last year.