January 23, 2014

CHA Preview: Second Round of Conference Play

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The second round of conference play is set to kick off this weekend, with all six CHA teams competing in three matchups Friday and Saturday. Each matchup has the potential to shake up the conference standings, with just seven points separating first and fourth place heading into the weekend.

Robert Morris and Mercyhurst, separated by just two points, will battle for first place in Erie. Syracuse hosts Penn State with hopes of jumping to third in the standings. RIT, currently in third, is one point ahead of the Orange, and just four behind the second-place Lakers. Lindenwood has other plans for their trip to Rochester, however, as two wins could push them back into contention for fourth place.

After their series against Syracuse, Penn State will travel to the Garden State for a midweek matchup with Princeton. The game will close out the league's non-conference schedule. After Tuesday, each team will have eight games remaining, with points in the standings on the line in each contest.

 

No. 8 Robert Morris at Mercyhurst (Mercyhurst Ice Center; Erie, Pa.)

First place in the College Hockey America standings is on the line this weekend when league-leaders Robert Morris (19-3-2, 8-1-1 CHA, 17 pts) travel to Erie for two games against second-place Mercyhurst (14-6-3, 7-2-1, 15 pts). The teams split their first series, with Mercyhurst winning game one, 2-0, before Robert Morris rebounded for a 3-2 win the next day.

Both teams have been hot since that meeting. For Robert Morris, the win against Mercyhurst on November 9th was the start of their current 13-game unbeaten streak, during which they have won 11 contests and not given up more than two goals in a game, holding opponents to one goal or less eight times. The 13 game streak is the longest active unbeaten streak in the nation. Last weekend, the Colonials went 1-0-1 at No. 10 Quinnipiac.

Mercyhurst is 8-2-2 since the loss to the Colonials, with losses at RIT (2-1) and a 6-4 loss to nationally-ranked Cornell in their last outing.

Since the last meeting, Robert Morris has climbed into the national rankings, currently sitting in eighth in the USCHO.com, and seventh in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll. Mercyhurst has fallen out of the top 10, but continue to receive votes in both polls, making them the de facto 11th place team in the country.

By the numbers, this matchup pits the top two offenses against the top two defenses. The teams combine to claim the top nine scorers in the league, and hold the top two scoring margins, the two best scoring defenses, the two goaltenders with the lowest goals against averages, and some of the best special teams numbers.

The Robert Morris offense, averaging 2.92 goals per game, is lead by rookie Brittany Howard and junior Rebecca Vint. Howard's 32 points (12G, 20A) are second-most in the league, while Vint's 13 goals are tied for the most in College Hockey America. Vint has 26 points this season, and recorded the 100th point of her career last weekend against Quinnipiac. Five more Colonials have recorded at least ten points this season ­– Thea Imbrogno, who also recorded her 100th career point earlier this season, is third with 21 (9G, 12A), followed by Kristen Richards (6-14-20), Anneline Lauziere (4-10-14), Maeve Garvey (7-4-11) and Brandi Pollock (1-9-10).

Freshman Jessica Dodds backstops a defense that is allowing just 1.54 goals per contest, the sixth-best average in the nation. Dodds is now 16-0-2, still unbeaten in her collegiate career, and is among the nation's leaders in winning percentage (1st, .944), save percentage (6th, .942), shutouts (t-6th, 4), and goals-against-average (8th, 1.37).

Dodds and the defense will face a Mercyhurst offense currently ranked fourth in the nation in scoring at 3.52 goals per game. The Lakers have recorded at least four goals in six straight contests. Senior captain Christine Bestland leads the conference in points (35) and assists (22) and is tied with Vint for the most goals (13). Her 1.52 points per contest are fourth-most in the nation. Emily Janiga is second on the team, and third in the league, with 28 points (12G, 16A). Three other Lakers have surpassed 20 points this season ­– Christie Cicero (11-13-24), Shelby Bram (6-18-24) and Jenna Dingledein (9-14-23). Cicero, a senior, is currently on a career-long eight game point streak (6-7-13).

In addition to their high-powered offense, Mercyhurst also has the sixth-best scoring margin in the nation, outscoring opponents by an average of 1.61 goals per game. Robert Morris is tied for eighth in the same category, with a 1.38 margin.

Goaltender Amanda Makela and the Lakers defense allow opponents an average of 1.91 goals per contest. Makela is 12-6-3 on the season, with a 2.08 GAA, .924 save percentage and five shutouts, tied for fourth-most in Division I.

The Mercyhurst power play ranks ninth in the nation, converting 17.5% of their opportunities. The Robert Morris penalty kill is the sixth-best in the nation, killing off 102-of-113 (90.3%) of short-handed situations and scoring three short-handed goals. They killed off all 14 Quinnipiac power plays on the road last weekend.

The Robert Morris power play has heated up as of late, scoring at least one goal in six of their last seven contests, including four goals on 15 opportunities (26.7%) since resuming play after the winter break. The power play currently ranks 19th in the nation, at 14.3% for the year. Mercyhurst has killed off 86.6% of their short-handed situations, good for 13th in Division I, while scoring four short-handed goals.

Mercyhurst owns the all-time series, 33-6-1, but the Colonials have risen to the task lately, with a record of 7-6-1 in the last 14 meetings.

 

Penn State at Syracuse (Tennity Ice Pavilion; Syracuse, N.Y)

Penn State travels to Syracuse this weekend in search of their first program win over the Orange. Syracuse has won all six meetings, including two in State College earlier this season – a pair of one-goal victories, 2-1 and 4-3 in overtime.

The young Nittany Lions squad rebounded in their last series after being shutout in four straight games. They took Colgate to overtime twice, and earned a 2-1 win in the second game. Hannah Hoenshell scored the game winner and Nicole Paniccia made 39 saves in the victory.

Shannon Yoxheimer leads Penn State offensively with 12 points (5G, 7A), while Taylor Gross, who has a team-high seven goals, and Hoenshell, who has a team-high eight assists, each have 11 points. Freshmen and sophomores have contributed 67 of 82 points this season for the Nittany Lions.

Penn State relies on the goaltending tandem of Paniccia and Celine Whitlinger. Paniccia picked up her first win of the season against Colgate, and owns a GAA of 3.38, while Whitlinger is 3-8-0 with a 3.81 GAA. They each maintain a save percentage over .900 while facing an average of over 40 shots per game.

The streaky Orange have won five of their last six games, most recently a 5-4 overtime win over RIT, where they were able to earn two points despite squandering a two-goal lead in the final minutes of the third period. Prior to these last six games, the Orange went 1-4-1, and in six games prior to that went 5-0-1.

Freshman Jessica Sibley leads the team in scoring with 18 points, and is tied for the team-lead in goals with nine. Nicole Renault has a team-high 14 assists, and her 17 points are tied for second with Melissa Piacentini (9G, 8A). Four other Orange players have reached double digits in scoring, Caitlin Roach (3-13-16), Nicole Ferrara (7-5-12), Margot Scharfe (6-5-11) and Larissa Martyniuk (2-9-11). All four classes are represented in the top-five scorers.

Jenesica Drinkwater is 4-1 since taking over the starting duties from the injured Kallie Billadeau. Drinkwater is 8-2-0 in the season with a 2.20 GAA and .909 save percentage and one shutout. Drinkwater made 20 saves in the overtime win over Penn State earlier this season.

Penn State's penalty killing has improved in recent weeks. The Nittany Lions have posted a PK percentage of 78.1 (25-of-32, 7 GA) through the past 11 games. In that stretch PSU has held its opponents scoreless on the power play in seven games. The Penn State penalty killers will have their work cut out for them against a Syracuse power play that ranks seventh in the nation. The Orange have cashed in on 24 of 126 opportunities (19.0%), and scored at least one power play goal in seven straight games.

Penn State is 2-9-1 on the road this season, while Syracuse is 5-4-1 at home. The Orange outshot Penn State 95-40 in their last weekend series.

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

The Lindendwood Lions travel to Rochester this weekend for two games against RIT with both teams looking to gain ground in the CHA standings. The Lions currently trail fourth-place Syracuse by five points, while RIT has just a one-point lead over the Orange for third. The third and fourth place teams host the first round of the CHA tournament.

In the first series this season, RIT took game one, 3-0, and the teams skated to a 1-1 tie in game two.

The Lions have played just two games in the last 39 days. They have been off since a pair of losses at Minnesota State on New Years Eve and day. The Lindenwood offense is lead by Kendra Broad's nine points (4G, 5A). Jocelyn Slattery and Katie Erickson share the team lead in goals with five each, and are second in points with seven each.

Nicole Hensley has started 21 games in net for the Lions, and maintains a 3.40 goals against average and .917 save percentage. Hensley has made 749 saves this season, the most in Division I. In nine conference games, she has a 2.55 GAA and .920 save percentage.

Kolbee McCrea and Marissa Maugeri lead the Tigers with 17 points each. McCrea's 12 goals are a team high, and Maugeri's 11 assists are also the most on the team. Kourtney Kunichika is third on the team with 15 points (6G, 9A) and Erin Zach has 14 (4-10). Morgan Scoyne (2-10-22), Celeste Brown (7-3-10) and Lindsay Grigg (1-9-10) have also reached double-digit numbers for RIT.

Ali Binnington has played the lion's share of the minutes in goal, posting an 8-8-2 record with a 2.20 GAA, .928 save percentage and three shutouts. Binnington started both games against Lindenwood earlier this season.

The Tigers will look to take advantage of special teams, pitting their power play (21/123, 17.1%) against a Lindenwood penalty kill that ranks near the bottom of Division I. In the first series, four of five goals scored came on the power play. Lindenwood went one-for-13 with the man advantage, while RIT was three-of-14.

RIT holds the slight advantage in the all-time series, 2-1, with three ties between the two. Lindenwood is 0-1-1 in Rochester. On Saturday, RIT will wear special jerseys that will be auctioned off online as part of CHA's "Skate for the Cure". RIT will team up with AutismUp to raise money for the organization in its game against Lindenwood at 2 p.m. that day. Members of the 2011-12 RIT team that won the Division III NCAA Championship will be honored during the men's game against Niagara on Saturday night, as part of Ritter Arena's Night of Champions. Twelve current Tigers were part of that championship team.

 

Penn State at Princeton (Hobey Baker Rink; Princeton, N.J.)

The Nittany Lions have a quick turnaround after their weekend series with Syracuse. They travel to Princeton for a rare Tuesday game against the Tigers (9-8-3, 6-6-2 ECAC). Princeton is winless in their last three contests, with losses to No. 10 Quinnipiac and Union, and most recently a 4-4 tie against Rensselaer.

Penn State will put their young team to the test against a veteran squad. Princeton's top four point-getters are all seniors – lead by Denna Laing (8-7-15) and Sally Butler (2-10-12). Kimberly Newell has started 18-of-20 games in net, posting a 7-8-3 record, with a 2.97 GAA and .901 save percentage with one shutout.

The Tigers are allowing opponents almost three goals per game, while scoring an average of 2.35 themselves.

The Tigers will be home resting this weekend while Penn State battles Syracuse. Princeton is 6-3-2 at home this season. This will be the only the only time a CHA team plays Princeton this season. Last year, RIT and Robert Morris both lost early season games to Princeton. The last CHA team to beat the Tigers was then-member Niagara, who took a 3-1 victory in October of 2011 at Baker Rink. This will be the final non-conference game for any CHA team this season. After this weekend, each team will have eight games remaining.