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The 2013-14 College Hockey America season comes to a head this weekend, with the four remaining teams meeting in Erie, Pa., for Championship weekend. The top-seed, and host, Mercyhurst Lakers will start their title defense against Syracuse on Friday in the first semi-final game. Second-seed Robert Morris will face RIT in the second semi-final contest. The winners will clash on Saturday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. for the CHA Championship trophy.
#4 Syracuse at #1 Mercyhurst (Mercyhurst Ice Center, Erie, Pa.)
CHA championship weekend will get underway with the number four seed Syracuse facing off with host Mercyhurst in a rematch of last year's CHA Championship game. Puck drop is set for 4:00 p.m. on Friday. Syracuse advanced to the semi-finals with a sweep of Lindenwood last weekend in a best-of-three series. Mercyhurst earned a first-round bye, and the right to host the tournament, by winning their 13th CHA regular season title.
Mercyhurst took the season series, 3-0-1, and holds the all-time series edge, 24-0-2. This season's contests were closer than the record indicates. In the first series, Mercyhurst took a 5-3 victory and the teams skated to a 3-3 tie. In the most recent series, Jan 31st and February 1st, the Lakers took two one-goal games, 3-2, and 2-1. It was one of just four times this season that the Lakers offense was held to five goals or less in a series. The other three instances all happened prior to December 1.
The winner will advance to the CHA Championship game, and will face the winner of the other semi-final, #3 RIT vs. #2 Robert Morris.
Syracuse took 4-1 and 6-0 victories over Lindenwood last weekend. The six-goal performance was the highest offensive output for the Orange this season. They average 2.72 goals per game, led by Melissa Piacentini's team-highs in points (29) and goals (17). Nicole Renault is second on the team with 28 points. The blue-liner facilitates the Orange attack, providing a team-high 21 assists. Freshman Jessica Sibley's 26 points (12G, 14A) are third on the team. Two other Syracuse players have surpassed the 20-point mark – Margot Scharfe (10-14-24) and Caitlin Roach (4-18-22).
Jenesica Drinkwater's numbers have continuously improved since taking over starting goaltender duties at the beginning of January. She now boasts a 16-6-1 record, 1.82 goals against average, .929 save percentage and four shutouts. Over the final month of the season she allowed just 1.65 goals per game and put up a .940 save percentage. She started both games of the second series against Mercyhurst, taking two one-goal losses. As a team the Orange allow opponents 2.03 goals per contest
Drinwkater and the defense will have their work cut out for them, facing a Lakers offense that averages 3.52 goals per game, the fifth-highest mark in the nation. Senior captain Christine Bestland leads the team offensively with 50 points (20G, 30A) in 33 games. Bestland's 1.52 points per-game average is the fifth-highest in Division I. The Lakers claim three of the top five scorers in the league. Emily Janiga is second on the team with 40 points (15G, 25A) and Jenna Dingledein (15-24-39) is third. Christie Cicero (15-18-33) and Shelby Bram (8-24-32) have also reached the 30-point plateau this season.
Amanda Makela has been a mainstay between the pipes, starting 30 of the Lakers' 33 games this season, including all four against Syracuse. She carries a 20-6-4 record while posting a 1.85 GAA and .927 save percentage with six shutouts, fifth most in Division I. As a team, the Lakers allow opponents an average of 1.82 goals per game.
This matchup features the league's two best power plays, and the second- and third-ranked penalty kills. Mercyhurst's power play has converted an even 20.0% (33/165) of their opportunities this season, while the Syracuse penalty kill has stopped opponents on 86.9% (153-of-176) of their chances.
The Syracuse power play, second best in the league and 13th in the nation, is operating at 16.9% (30/181) for the season. Mercyhurst has killed off 87.3% of their short-handed situations, the seventh-best mark in the nation, despite leading the nation in penalty minutes per contest.
Syracuse is looking to advance to the championship game for the second consecutive season. The Lakers have participated in every College Hockey America tournament final, posting an 11-1 record. The only blemish came in a 3-2 loss to Robert Morris at the end of the 2011-12 season.
Face-off for the first semi-final game is set for Friday at 4:00 p.m. from the Mercyhurst Ice Center.
#3 RIT vs #2 Robert Morris (Mercyhurst Ice Center; Erie, Pa.)
In the second semi-final game, the RIT Tigers will look for the upset against the number two seed, Robert Morris. RIT swept Penn State last weekend with a 3-2 overtime victory and 4-0 win in game two. The Colonials earned a bye in the first round of the playoffs, and also swept Penn State in their last game action.
Robert Morris holds the advantage in the season series, winning three of the four head-to-head contests with RIT this year. RIT's lone win came in the most recent game, a 1-0 victory on February 15.
The winner of the contest will face the winner of the other semi-final, #4 Syracuse against #1 Mercyhurst, in the CHA Championship game on Saturday, March 8 at 3:00 p.m., also at the Mercyhurst Ice Center.
RIT enters riding a Division-I program-record five-game winning streak, winning their final three regular season games, including two against Syracuse, to overtake the Orange in the standings and earn the third seed. The winning streak began with a 1-0 win over Robert Morris on February 15.
The Tigers' offense averages 2.58 goals per contest for the season. Junior Marissa Maugeri leads the team in scoring with 27 points on nine goals and 18 assists, while senior Erin Zach is second with 24 points on seven goals and 17 assists. Senior Kourtney Kunichika has 22 points this season and is fifth all-time in scoring at RIT with 134 career points on 53 goals and 81 assists. Freshman Mackenzie Stone has five goals this season, all of which are game-winning tallies.
Ali Binnington has stopped 147-of-151 shots during RIT's five-game winning streak (.974 save percentage). Overall, she is 14-9-2 with a 1.82 goals against average and .940 save percentage to go along with six shutouts this season, including one against the Colonials just three weeks ago. Binnington is sixth nationally in save percentage, tied for fifth in shutouts, and has the 11th best goals against average in Division I. As a team, the Tigers are giving up an average of 2.58 goals per contest to opponents.
Robert Morris rested last weekend after finishing the regular season with a sweep of Penn State, 5-2 and 4-0, to secure the second seed in the CHA tournament. The Colonials are currently ranked tenth in Division I, and have spent 13 straight weeks in the national rankings since earning a spot in the top-10 first the first time in program history.
The Colonials have outscored opponents 99-58 this season. Their 2.91 goals per contest is the eighth-best average in the nation. Brittany Howard leads the team in scoring with 41 points on 17 goals and 24 assists, while Rebecca Vint has a team-best 23 goals and 40 points. Thea Imbrogno has 34 points (12G, 22A), and captain Kristen Richards has tallied 26 (9G, 17A). Six other Colonials have tallied double-digit points this season.
In net, Jessica Dodds is 21-4-3 with a 1.58 goals against average and .935 save percentage. In conference play, she is 11-4-3 with two shutouts. She started all four games against RIT this season. Dodds is ranked seventh nationally in both goals against average and save percentage, and is tied for sixth in shutouts. Her 21 overall wins are fourth-most amongst D-I goaltenders. Dodds backstops a defense that allows just 1.71 goals per game, the best mark in CHA, and eighth-best in the nation.
RIT will test their power-play, third best in the conference at 16.4% (29/177), against the sixth-toughest penalty kill in the nation. The Colonials have killed off 142-of-161 (88.2%) short-handed situations while scoring six short-handed goals.
The Robert Morris power play is operating at an even 15.0% for the season, fourth-best in the league, scoring 26 of their 99 goals with the man advantage. The RIT penalty kill has denied opponents on 146-of-174 (83.9%) power play opportunities this season.
RIT is 19-12 all-time in postseason contests at the Division I and III levels, since women's hockey was recognized as a NCAA Championship sport in 2001. Since Scott McDonald took over as head coach in 2006, RIT is 15-7 in the postseason, but 0-4 on the road. The Tigers fell to Syracuse in the CHA semifinals last season, their first in Division I.
Robert Morris is 5-2 in the CHA tournament since 2011. They won the championship on home ice in 2011-12, upsetting Mercyhurst, 3-2, in the title game. Last season, they swept Lindenwood in the first round before falling to the Lakers in the semi-finals.
Faceoff for the second semi-final game is set for Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Mercyhurst Ice Center.