College Hockey Update
With Penn State hockey making the jump to the NCAA this season, there are currently three local Division 1 hockey programs within driving distance of Pittsburgh.
Men’s College Hockey
Robert Morris: The Robert Morris Colonials suffered a season-ending defeat at the hands of the University of Connecticut in the second round of the Atlantic Hockey Association on Saturday, March 16. The loss, while tough to swallow, should not take away from the superb season for the Colonials, who finished with a record of 20-14-4. This is the first 20-win season in program history. The record setting mark is a testament to the progress and overall development of the program under Head Coach Derek Schooley (the only head coach in program history). In only their ninth season in existence, RMU finished fifth in the AHA while boasting the conference’s top scorer in Adam Brace and a goalie in Eric Levine who finished in the top five in wins and save percentage. The Colonials will have 21 players returning next season, setting expectations at an all-time high.
Mercyhurst: Facing Connecticut in the next round of the AHA playoffs will be Mercyhurst University. The Lakers upset higher-seeded Holy Cross with a 1-0 victory in the final tilt of the three game series on Sunday, March 17. Senior forward Grant Blakey scored the only goal, which proved to be enough as goaltender Jordan Tibbett recorded his first career shutout. Mercyhurst (18-16-5), who finished sixth in the conference during regular season play, will face the UConn Huskies next Friday in Rochester, NY. The winner of the semifinal matchup will advance to the tournament championship and play for the title, along with an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
Penn State: In their inaugural NCAA Division I season, the Penn State men’s hockey team welcomed new opponents and said goodbye to an old arena. Finishing with a 13-14 record, the Nittany Lions faced more in-season adversity this year than accustomed to, as they were seven-time national champions while playing at the Division I Club level. This season, however, was headlined by victories against some of the top competition in the NCAA. The Nittany Lions recorded wins against future Big Ten rival Ohio State during the Three Rivers Classic at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, a 4-2 win against Vermont in front of over 18,000 people at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and ended the season with a major upset of perennial NCAA title contender Wisconsin with a 3-2 overtime win. The season provided memorable wins for the graduating seniors and established a strong foundation for the program as they transition to the newly formed Big Ten Hockey Conference next year.
Johnstown Tomahawks (Tier II Junior A): The Johnstown Tomahawks inaugural season in the North American Hockey League (and in existence) was one for the record books, as well as the hearts and minds of the people of Johnstown. Despite not having a team to fill the historical War Memorial Arena for the past three years, fans flooded the old barn (average attendance of 2,527) when the Tomahawks set up shop; and for good reason, too. Johnstown currently sits at fourth place in the North Division and only a few points away from clinching a playoff berth. With a record of 24-20-12, the Tomahawks withstood the trials of being a first year organization while sustaining a successful product on the ice. With four games left against Kalamazoo and rival Jamestown, Johnstown and Head Coach Rick Boyd hope to finish the season strong and gain momentum for the playoffs.
Women’s College Hockey
Robert Morris: The Robert Morris women’s team enjoyed a successful 2013-2013 campaign that saw them advance to the semifinals of the College Hockey America tournament, record the second most wins in a season and the first sweep of a nationally ranked opponent in program history. Finishing the season with a record of 15-15-3, the Colonials ended on a hot streak, winning four out of the last five. Amongst the winning streak was a sweep of Lindenwood University. In the first game of the playoff series, assistant captain Cobina Delaney scored in the third overtime to give Robert Morris the 2-1 victory over the Lions. In the second game, senior goalie Kristen Diciocco backstopped the Colonials to a 2-0 win while earning the shutout. The excellent run for RMU would end, however, as they were defeated in the semifinals by the eighth-ranked team in the nation, Mercyhurst University.
Mercyhurst: The magical run for the Mercyhurst University women’s team continues. On Saturday, March 16, the Lakers (29-6-1) pulled off a major upset of Cornell, the second-ranked team in the nation at the time. Gina Buquet, Stephanie Desutter and Caroline Luczak each scored, giving the Lakers a 3-2 lead late in the third period. Cornell battled back to tie the game with under a minute to go, sending the game into overtime. The upset was finished off with a sudden death goal scored by Jenna Dingeldein, who sent Mercyhurst into the Frozen Four for the third time in program history, and the second since 2010. The Lakers will face third-ranked Boston University on Friday, March 22 at the Frozen Four in Minneapolis, MIN.
Penn State: It was a developmental inaugural season for Penn State’s top women’s team, who finished with an overall record of 7-26-2. Despite the lackluster record, the team will return 17 freshman skaters who will bring much needed experience and leadership next season as sophomores. Another bright spot for the Nittany Lion’s is Shannon Yoxheimer, who received All-CHA (College Hockey America) Rookie team honors. Yoxheimer recorded 14 goals and 17 assists in her first season in the navy and white.