WEEKEND PREVIEW: Three Key Games for CHA Teams

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RIT at Syracuse (Tennity Ice Pavilion, Syracuse N.Y.)

RIT and Syracuse will meet for the second time this season, and the second time in a week, on Friday night. RIT won the first game on home ice, 4-3, on the strength of a short-handed breakaway goal with just over a minute remaining from freshman Cassie Clayton. The Tigers currently sit in third place in the CHA standings, three points ahead of Syracuse.

The win last Saturday snapped a five-game winless streak (0-4-1) for RIT. Before the victory, RIT most recently went 0-1-1 at Union with a 1-1 tie and 2-1 overtime loss.

Kolbee McCrea and Kourtney Kunichika pace the Tigers offense with 15 points each. McCrea has a team-high 11 goals. Kunichika scored her sixth of the season, and the 50th of her career, in the win last weekend.

Four other players have reached double-digit points, Marissa Maugeri (5-9-14), Erin Zach (4-9-13), Morgan Scoyne (1-10-11) and Celeste Brown (7-3-10). Scoyne's 10 assists are the most on the team. The offense is averaging 2.55 goals per contest.

Jetta Rackleff earned her first CHA win last weekend against Syracuse with a 31 save performance. Ali Binnington has started 18-of-23 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.

On Tuesday, Syracuse earned a 2-0 win over Colgate in their final non-conference game of the season. The Orange has won four of its last five, with the only loss coming last Friday against RIT.

A pair of defensemen lead the Orange offensively. Nicole Renault and Caitlin Roach each have 16 points on three goals and a shared team-high 13 assists. Freshman Jessica Sibley leads all Syracuse forwards with 13 points (7G, 6A). Melissa Piacentini has scored in three straight games, and now has seven goals, and seven assists, on the season. The offense is averaging 2.55 goals per game for the season. Syracuse is 8-2-1 when scoring three or more goals this season. Renault and Roach also lead all CHA defenseman in scoring, and are tied for the league lead in power play points with 11.

Jenesica Drinkwater stopped all 24 shots Tuesday to earn her first shutout of the season. She is 7-2-0 on the year, including a 3-1-0 mark since taking over for starter Kallie Billadeau, who suffered a season-ending injury. Drinkwater currently has the second-best win percentage in CHA (.778) and sixth best in the nation. She also ranks second in CHA with a 2.00 goals against average, 14th among all Division I goalies.

After this weekend, both teams close out the season with 10 CHA games, including a home-and-home series against each other in the final two games. The third and fourth place teams host the first round of the CHA tournament, with the top two seeds getting a bye.

 

No. 8 Robert Morris at No. 10 Quinnipiac (TD Bank Center, Hamden, CT)

The Robert Morris Colonials are back in action this weekend when they travel to Connecticut for two games against another nationally-ranked team, the Quinnipiac Bobcats. Robert Morris moved up to eighth in the national rankings despite being inactive last weekend. It is the highest ranking in program history, and a win this weekend would tie the program record for wins in a season, set by the 2011-12 Colonials, who won the school's first CHA regular season title.

Robert Morris extended their current unbeaten streak to 11 games (10-0-1), the longest active streak in the nation, with a sweep of St. Lawrence in their last series, January 4 and 5.

Freshman Brittany Howard has been a spark for the Colonials offense all season. She recorded two points in her second collegiate game, including the team's first goal of the season, in a 3-2 overtime win, and has only been held off the score sheet three times since. Her 31 points (12G, 19A) are second in College Hockey America. She leads all Division I rookies in points, goals and assists, and her 1.48 points per game ranks eighth nationally among all D-I women.

The Colonials have a balanced attack, with six players reaching 11 points or better so far this season, with every regular starter contributing at least one point, including goalie Jessica Dodds. Rebecca Vint's 21 points and 11 goals are both second on the team. The junior currently sits at 98 career points on 49 goals and 49 assists. Thea Imbrogno, who reached the 100 point plateau herself earlier this season, is third on the team with 19 points (8G, 11A). Senior captain Kristen Richards has a team-high 13 assists and 19 points, while freshman Maeve Garvey and senior Anneline Lauziere each have 11 points. Lauziere's two goals and nine assists are both team-highs among defenseman.

Dodds has earned the starting spot for the Colonials, racking up a 15-0-1 record with a 1.43 GAA, .938 save percentage and four shutouts. She ranks seventh or better in all of those categories nationally, and is first in win percentage and third in wins while remaining one of two unbeaten netminders in Division I. Courtney Vinet has also proved capable this season, posting a .500 record in six starts with a 2.00 GAA and .923 save percentage with one shutout.

As always, special teams will be pivotal in this series. The matchup pits Qunnipiac's eighth-best powerplay (18.4%) against the Robert Morris penalty kill, which is tied for seventh-best in the nation at 88.9%.

Quinnipiac (16-3-5, 7-3-4 ECAC) is coming off of a 1-1 weekend, falling to Rensselaer on Friday before defeating Union 1-0 on Saturday. The Bobcats have spent the majority of the season in both national rankings; they first entered the USCHO.com Poll on Oct. 21 and the USA Today / USA Hockey Magazine Poll on Oct. 15. Quinnipiac holds a win over nationally-ranked Boston College (3-2 on Nov. 15), and has also tied Cornell (1-1 on Nov. 2). Senior forward Kelly Babstock leads the team with 37 points (15 goals, 22 assists), while junior forward Shiann Darkangelo paces the Bobcats in goals with 16. Chelsea Laden, a junior, has started the majority of games between the pipes for Quinnipiac, posting a record 14-3-5 with a goals-against-average of 1.16.

This will be Robert Morris' third series against a nationally-ranked opponent this season, and first since climbing into the top-ten themselves. They split both previous matchups, losing the first game but rebounding to earn a split against both Boston University and CHA rival Mercyhurst. Under head coach Paul Colontino, the Colonials are 7-9-2 against nationally-ranked opponents. Robert Morris has never beaten Quinnipiac in eight meetings. They suffered two one-goal losses to the Bobcats last season at 84 Lumber Arena.

After this weekend, Robert Morris will close out the season with five CHA series, beginning with two games against Mercyhurst next weekend. The Colonials currently hold a two point lead over the Lakers in the College Hockey America standings.