Penn State Women’s Hockey’s CHA Tournament Preview
The 2021-22 regular season is over for Penn State women’s hockey and the rest of the College Hockey America conference. The Nittany Lions contributed a solid regular season by posting an 18-9-5 overall record and eight wins in conference play.
Now, the CHA Tournament lies ahead, which will take place from February 24 to 26 at Syracuse University after the Orange clinched the top seed.
Penn State clinched the No. 2 seed in the CHA, giving it an automatic semifinal bid. The Nittany Lions will take on No. 3 Mercyhurst at 4 p.m. on Friday, February 25. The winner will advance to the CHA title game the following day, and the champion will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
There are reasons to be both optimistic and pessimistic if you’re a Penn Stater, particularly for the upcoming matchup against Mercyhurst. Penn State, historically, hasn’t been very good against Mercyhurst. The Nittany Lions have 10 wins, nine ties, and 22 losses all-time against the Lakers.
However, Penn State is currently on a three-game win streak against the Lakers — the lengthiest one yet. Penn State comes in with three wins and a tie in its last four regular-season matchups, while Mercyhurst enters having split its last four games.
Head coach Jeff Kampersal spoke Thursday about the upcoming matchup as well as the previous matchups. He was adamant that Mercyhurst even got the better of Penn State at times.
“I thought we were really good in the series at Mercyhurst and then very solid at home, but Mercyhurst probably was better in the series at Pegula. Us winning our net-front battles is really important,” said Kampersal.
While Penn State’s season-long starter has been Josie Bothun, Mercyhurst has a tandem of Ena Nystrøm and Jenna Silvonen. Nystrøm has played more minutes compared to Silvonen this season, and both goaltenders are challenging to face. Nystrøm has a .939 save percentage and a 1.81 goals-against average this season, while Silvonen has a .918 save percentage and a 2.05 goals-against average. Bothun, meanwhile, has a .925 save percentage and a 1.61 goals-against average.
Penn State knows it will have a tough challenge ahead when trying to score, and the team has been preparing for it.
“One of the things we’re constantly working on is getting traffic in front,” said Kampersal.
All three goaltenders are at the top of their games, particularly Nystrøm and Bothun. The matchup should be fairly low-scoring despite both teams having great offenses.
Speaking of offense, Penn State is led by 2022 CHA Player of the Year Natalie Heising, whose 20-goal season set a program record. Heising also has 20 assists and 40 points. If Penn State is to win, she will need to be a catalyst just like she has been all season.
Penn State’s roster also has the likes of Kiara Zanon, who led the CHA with 26 assists and finished second with 39 points. Mallory Uihlein (19 points) and Julie Gough (16 points) also figure to make a big impact, as each finished third and fourth in points among their teammates, respectively.
Zanon, a sophomore, spoke on her previous experience with CHA Tournament games.
“I think obviously having one under your belt gives your more confidence and helps you know what to expect,” Zanon said. “Every game is different but having that one game last year helps me to know a little bit more.”
Mercyhurst, meanwhile, also has great players to combat the likes of Heising, Zanon, and the rest of a deep Penn State roster. Vanessa Upson finished behind Heising and Zanon with 37 points, while teammates Sara Boucher, Kristy Pidgeon, and Liliane Perreault all rank in the top 10 for most points. Boucher, Upson, and Pidgeon also rank in the top 10 in goals per game, while Chantal Ste-Croix joins them in that category as well.
Perreault is also second in assists per game, while Pidgeon, Upson, and Boucher are also in that category’s top-10. They figure to be a dangerous group of players that Penn State must limit in order to win.
Both teams are practically identical statistically. Mercyhurst has the edge in goals (3.06 per game), assists (4.94 per game), points (8.00 per game), and shot percentage (0.09), while Penn State comes out on top in goals allowed (1.66 per game). The Nittany Lions are right behind the Lakers in those categories, with 2.94 goals per game, 4.47 assists per game, 7.41 points per game, and a 0.08 shot percentage.
Given its skill and depth, Mercyhurst could be the biggest obstacle in the way of the CHA crown for Penn State. Penn State currently has a three-game win streak against Mercyhurst, so expect a hot Nittany Lions team to continue against a recently inconsistent Lakers squad.
Prediction: Penn State 2, Mercyhurst 1
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About the Author
Nittany Lions old and new have received new jersey numbers ahead of the 2022 season.