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The Mercyhurst women's ice hockey team earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament for the 10th straight season, the first team to achieve that milestone in NCAA Division I women's ice hockey. The Lakers will travel to Ithaca, N.Y. to play Cornell in the quarterfinals for the second straight year. Last season, the Lakers upset the Big Red, 4-3 in overtime.
Last weekend Mercyhurst advanced to the CHA Championship Game with a 4-1 win over Syracuse on Friday. The Lakers have participated in every CHA championship game since the league formed in 2002-03. The next day, Mercyhurst fell in the title game to RIT, 2-1 in double-overtime, despite launching 62 shots on net, giving them a 10-2 record in CHA Finals.
The Lakers (23-8-4) and the Big Red (24-5-4) played a pair of games at the Mercyhurst Ice Center earlier this season. Game one of the series ended in a 4-4 overtime tie back on January 10, with Cornell's Jessica Campbell scoring with 5:06 left in regulation to send the game to overtime. The next afternoon, the Big Red jumped out to a 5-2 lead just past the midway mark of the second period and held off the Lakers, 6-4, after sealing the contest with an empty-netter.
Senior captain Christine Bestland leads the Lakers offensively with 51 points (20G, 31A), and ranks sixth in the nation in points per-game (1.46), but was held to just one assist in the two games last weekend. Emily Janiga is second on the team with 40 points (15G, 25A), while three Laers have each tallied 34 – Christie Cicero (16-18), Jenna Dingledein (15-19) and Shelby Bram (8-26). Molly Byrne leads all Mercyhurst blue-liners with 26 points (3G, 23A). Current sophomore Dingledein scored the overtime goal that propelled the Lakers by Cornell in last year's first-round game.
Junior Amanda Makela has started 32 of the team's 35 games this season, posting a 21-7-4 record, with a 1.79 GAA, .927 save percentage and six shutouts.
Cornell enters as the two-seed in the NCAA Tournament after winning the ECAC Tournament last weekend, with wins over Harvard (6-4) in the semifinal round, and Clarkson (1-0) in the title game.
The Big Red offense is sparked by junior Jillian Saulnier's 28 goals and 27 assists (55 points). Saulnier leads the nation in points per-game (1.67) and goals per-game (0.85). Emily Fulton is second on the team with 41 points (19G, 22A) and Jessica Campbell has contributed 40 (15G, 25A).
Lauren Slebodnick has played the majority of minutes in goal for Cornell, posting a 17-1-3 record, 2.27 GAA, .908 save percentage and three shutouts, including the one over Cornell in last weekend's ECAC final. She started both games against Mercyhurst earlier this season, as well as the NCAA Quarterfinal game a season ago.
Statistically, both teams rank amongst the national leaders in all major categories. Cornell boasts the second-highest scoring offense in the nation, with 3.61 goals per-game, while Mercyhurst is fifth at 3.40 goals per-contest. The Lakers allow just 1.80 goals to opponents, and Cornell yields an average of 2.12.
The Big Red power-play ranks fourth nationally in efficiency, cashing in on 33-of-139 opportunities (23.7%). Mercyhurst is right behind them, with the fifth-best man-advantage unit in the nation at 19.9% (35-of-176). Both penalty-kill units also rank in the top ten in the nation, Cornell, 134-of-151 (88.7%) is fifth, and Mercyhurst tenth (188-of-216, 87.0%).
Mercyhurst holds a 14-15-1 advantage over Cornell in the all-time series, but the Lakers are just 3-5-1 in the last nine meetings. It will be the third post-season meeting between the two. Prior to last season, Cornell downed Mercyhurst, 3-2, also in overtime, in the NCAA semifinals in Minneapolis in 2010.
The winner of Saturday's quarterfinal will advance to the women's Frozen Four next weekend in Hamden, Connecticut to play the winner of the third-seed Clarkson and Boston College, in a national semi-final.