Weekend Preview: First Round Playoffs Set

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The first round of the College Hockey America playoffs are set to take place this weekend. The first round features two best-of-three series hosted by the higher seed in each matchup. Penn State travels to RIT, and Syracuse hosts Lindenwood, with both series beginning on Friday evening. The top two seeds, Mercyhurst and Robert Morris, earned byes this weekend, and await the winners in Erie.

 

#6 Penn State at #3 RIT (Ritter Arena; Rochester, N.Y.)

The Nittany Lions head to Rochester this weekend for a first-round meeting with the Tigers for the second-straight season. Penn State, in its second season in the league, is looking for their first post-season victory, and first-ever win against the Tigers.

RIT has an 8-0-2 all-time record against Penn State, including a 3-0-1 regular season record this year. Despite the lopsided record, the teams have played very close games. Two of RIT's wins this season were one-goal victories, both third period comebacks. In last year's playoffs the Tigers overtook Penn State with a 1-0 victory, and a 3-2 overtime win.

Penn State finished the regular season with a four-game gauntlet against the top two teams in the league, Mercyhurst and Robert Morris. They ended on a seven game losing streak.

Penn State's top line of Laura Bowman, Hannah Hoenshell and Amy Petersen lead the team offensively with 46 total points, and 20 of the team's 47 goals. Hoenshell has leads the way in points (17) and assists (12), while Bowman's 10 goals are a team-high, and her 15 points are second behind Hoenshell. Taylor Gross (7G, 7A), Shannon Yoxheimer (6G, 8A), and Petersen (5G, 9A) are all tied with 14 points.

Penn State is not only a young program, but a young team as well. The Nittany Lions have gotten 88 of 110 points from freshmen and sophomores, including 35 from the four rookies – Bowman, Petersen, Sarah Nielsen and Kelly Seward.

Nicole Paniccia and Celine Whitlinger have largely split time in goal this season, though Paniccia has started 20 games to Whitlinger's 14, including the Nittany Lion's last three contests. The netminders have also posted similar numbers. Paniccia carries a 3.50 GAA and .910 save percentage to Whitlinger's 3.57 goals allowed and .913 save percentage. Together they see an average of over 40 shots per game.

The third-seeded Tigers enter on a three-game winning streak. They took the second game in a series with Robert Morris, 1-0, behind a shutout from Ali Binnington, and swept Syracuse last weekend to secure the third seed with 3-1, and 2-1 (OT) victories.

Binnington has been a large part of the Tigers' success, posting a 1.90 GAA, .937 save percentage and five shutouts. In four games since returning from injury, Binnington and the defense have allowed just four goals. The junior is tied for seventh nationally in save percentage, and tied for fifth in shutouts.

Up front the Tigers boast four 20-point scorers, Marissa Maugeri (27), Kolbee McCrea (24), Erin Zach (23) and Kourtney Kunichika (20). McCrea's 16 goals are a team high, followed by Celeste Brown's 10, and nine each from Maugeri and Kunichika. Kunichika rose to sixth all-time in the RIT record books this season, with 132 career points (53-79-132) and has 20 points in 13 career postseason games.

RIT went just one-for-10 on the power play last weekend against Syracuse, and has converted 16.5 percent of their opportunities this season. They have killed off 84 percent of opponent's opportunities as well.

Penn State was held scoreless in five power play chances last weekend against Robert Morris, and scored just nine extra-man goals this season. They killed off 71.1% of opponent's power plays in the regular season.

In the four head-to-head games, RIT was a combined four-for-17 on the power play, while holding Penn State to just one goal on 13 power plays.

This series will also mark the final games at Ritter Arena for the RIT team, as they are set to move into a new facility next season. Since Scott McDonald took over in 2006, RIT is a combined 13-3 at Ritter in the postseason at the Division I and III levels.

After this weekend, the remaining teams will be reseeded for next weekend's semifinal games, hosted by Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa. Both semifinal games are set for Friday, and the CHA Championship will take place Saturday, March 8 at 3:00 p.m.

 

#5 Lindenwood at #4 Syracuse (Tennity Ice Pavilion; Syracuse, N.Y.)

In the other first-round matchup Lindenwood will also travel to New York to face off with the four seed, Syracuse. The teams last met just two weeks ago in Missouri, with Syracuse taking 5-2 and 2-1 road victories. The teams split their first weekend series of the season, in Syracuse, back in December.

Syracuse owns the all-time series, 8-2-0, including a 4-2-0 mark at Tennity. Both of the Lindenwood victories have been by 2-1 scores.

Lindenwood finished the regular season by putting a damper on senior night for the top-seeded Mercyhurst Lakers. The Lady Lions fought their way to a 2-2 tie in the season finale, despite being outshot 43-22. In the last month, Lindenwood has posted a .500 record (3-3-1), with a win over then-first place Robert Morris on February 1st, followed by a sweep of Penn State.

Kendra Broad leads the team offensively in goals (9) and points (19). Her 10 assists are tied for the team-lead with Lyndsay Kirkham, who is second in points with 16. Jocelyn Slattery has contributed 15 points (6G, 9A) and two Lady Lions, Katie Erickson and Alyssa West, have each added seven goals and four assists. With a goal in the tie against Mercyhurst, Kirkham has recorded at least a point in each of the last five series. Erickson has scored twice against Syracuse this season, including the game winner in the Lady Lions' road win on Dec. 6.

Nicole Hensley has provided solid play between the pipes all season, starting 31 of the team's 32 games. She carries a 3.26 GAA and .922 save percentage while making 1,162 saves, the fourth-most saves in a season in NCAA history. She stopped a combined 85 of 91 shots last weekend against the fourth-best scoring offense in the nation. In last year's first round, Hensley made an historic 90 saves in a triple-overtime loss to Robert Morris.

Syracuse lost two games last weekend to RIT, forfeiting the third seed in the tournament. Prior to that series, the team went unbeaten in five straight (4-1-0), including taking three-of-four points on the road against Robert Morris February 7th and 8th.

Melissa Piacentini and Nicole Renault lead the Orange attack with 26 points each. Piacentini leads the team with 15 goals, while Renault facilitates the offense with a team-high 20 assists. Two other Syracuse players have surpassed the 20-point plateau – Jessica Sibley (11-13-24) and Margot Scharfe (9-12-21).

Jenesica Drinkwater has come on strong since taking over the starting job in the beginning of February. She posted a 14-6-1 record this season, with a 1.94 GAA, .925 save percentage and all three of the team's shutouts.

Syracuse has been efficient on special teams this season, scoring 29 power play goals on 170 opportunities (17.1%), and killing off 86.1% of their opponent's chances. Lindenwood capitalized on 11.2% of their power plays, and killed off 77.9% of their short-handed situations, both fifth in the league.

Head to head, Syracuse went three-for-17 on the power play, while Lindenwood was two-of-15. In the series two weeks ago, Lindenwood was held scoreless on seven chances, while Syracuse scored once in seven of their own.

After this weekend, the remaining teams will be reseeded for next weekend's semifinal games, hosted by Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa. Both semifinal games are set for Friday, and the CHA Championship will take place Saturday, March 8 at 3:00 p.m.