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No. 15 Penn State Women’s Hockey Sweeps RIT In CHA Tournament Semifinals

Penn State women’s hockey (21-12-3, 16-4-2 CHA) swept RIT (13-19-3, 7-14-1 CHA) in the semifinals of the 2024 CHA Tournament over the weekend. Katie DeSa shined for the Nittany Lions and the Penn State faithful came out in droves to support its team.

How It Happened

Game One

There was a palpable buzz throughout Pegula Ice Arena as the puck dropped with each team being noticeably more vocal during its opening shifts, ensuring everyone on the ice knows the stakes of the series that lies ahead.

Knowing the importance of securing a game one win in this best-of-three series, Penn State came out of its locker room flying and dictating the pace of the game. In the opening five minutes, the Nittany Lions jumped out to an 8-1 advantage in shots on goal and kept firing pucks at RIT’s Sophia Bellina, forcing the goalie to make numerous tough saves.

As Josie Bothun remained sidelined, backup DeSa made her first mark on the game with a nifty glove save on Nicole Ness. The RIT forward rushed into the Penn State zone and fired a shot from in between the faceoff circles, and DeSa promptly reached out with her glove for the lunging save and a stoppage in play.

RIT flipped the script on Penn State after its abysmal start to the contest, which climaxed with Julie Gough being sent to the box at 19:03 for tripping, giving RIT the first power play of the game. The Penn State penalty kill stopped RIT from gathering further momentum as it kept the Tigers off the board when the final horn for the first period sounded. RIT had 1:04 of carryover power play time to begin the second period.

As the second period began, Penn State killed off the remaining penalty to Gough, who immediately had a scoring chance after coming out of the box. The Penn State forward skated in close to the net and fired a backhanded shot at Bellina, but the goalie swept it away and RIT regained possession.

Mya Vaslet scored the first goal for Penn State as she took the puck off of a rebound and fired a shot from the side of the net past Bellina to give Penn State a coveted 1-0 lead at 3:43. Bellina made an outstanding initial save on a backhanded attempt from Lexi Bedier, but could not secure the rebound and the loose puck went straight to the stick of Vaslet.

Penn State believed it had doubled its lead at 9:20 as a scrum for the puck in front of Bellina led to Katelyn Roberts swiping the puck into the back of the net. The call on the ice was no goal, however, and upon official review, the call of no goal was confirmed as the Penn State lead remained 1-0.

With momentum despite the call of no goal, Penn State found itself headed to the power play for the first time as Mia Tsilemos was sent to the box for body-checking Alyssa Machado at 9:53. Machado was visibly shaken up after the hit and slowly returned to the Penn State bench.

The ensuing Penn State power play was filled with scoring chances as they flung the puck around the ice and fired shot after shot at Bellina. Maggie MacEachern had the best chance on the power play as she rang a shot from the left circle off of the right goalpost. Despite the opportunities, RIT weathered the Nittany Lions’ storm and killed the penalty to return to full strength.

In what was perhaps its best chance of the game to that point, RIT nearly knotted the game at one on a broken play. Tsilemos fired a shot from the point that went wide of DeSa, but the puck bounced off of the boards and to the stick of Chloe Roberts, who promptly shot the puck at DeSa. The Penn State goalie lunged across the crease and made a sliding pad save, keeping the Penn State lead intact.

Penn State quickly regained momentum and put more pressure on Bellina. The Nittany Lions were once again rewarded for their efforts as Roberts dished a pass from just above the crease to MacEachern, who was camped out at the point. Skating toward the top of the right circle, MacEachern fired a wrist shot through traffic and past Bellina to give Penn State a 2-0 lead at 14:48.

The final seconds ticked off of the clock and the horn sounded signaling the end of the second period. Penn State headed to its locker room in prime position to secure a win in the opening game of this semifinal series. The Nittany Lions dominated in the shots on goal column after two periods, outshooting RIT 38-11.

Even as the Nittany Lions shifted to a more defensive style of play in the opening 10 minutes of the third period, chances were still abundant for Penn State. Spending much of this time in the RIT zone, the Nittany Lions continued the theme of peppering Bellina with shots and not giving up much of anything on the other end. Needing at least two goals, RIT managed a mere three shots to begin the period.

Gough nearly gave the Nittany Lions their third goal of the game with just over 13 minutes remaining in the game, as she took a loose puck and fired a shot from the right circle past Bellina, but it rang off the far post and the Penn State lead remained two.

While she had not been asked to do a lot, DeSa has made key saves throughout the game and made yet another one to keep RIT off of the board with just under six minutes remaining. Emma Roland skated into the Penn State zone and managed to get a backhander off through traffic, but DeSa came out of her crease to make the save.

In a last-ditch effort to get back into the game, RIT head coach Celeste Brown pulled Bellina with just over one minute left in regulation. The Tigers finally sustained pressure and were rewarded for their efforts as Lindsay Maloney snuck a puck past DeSa to cut the Penn State lead to 2-1 at 19:28. This is all RIT would be able to do, however, as the final horn sounded and Penn State secured the win to go up 1-0 in the three-game set.

Game Two

Game two of this series began with a scary scene as the entire rink was left in silence with Jordyn Bear being down on the ice for nearly five minutes just 24 seconds in. The RIT forward was escorted to the locker room by her teammates and a trainer after going down near Penn State’s blue line.

After a quiet game one, Tessa Janecke got the Nittany Lions off to yet another hot start as the star forward rushed into the RIT zone and fired a wicked wrist shot past Bellina, giving Penn State a 1-0 lead at 6:24 of the first period. The goal was the 100th point of Janecke’s illustrious career.

A mere 23 seconds after the goal, the teams would play four-on-four hockey with Machado being sent to the box for holding and Maloney for roughing at 6:57. Nothing came of the extra space on the ice and the teams returned to five-on-five.

While the Tigers were still devoid of any grade-A scoring chances, their offense looked far better as the period progressed and had Penn State on its heels. After having its shot total nearly doubled in game one, RIT was even 10-10 in shots with just under three minutes remaining in the period.

If there was ever an opportunity for RIT to get back into the series, a five-minute power play is the time. Vaslet was assessed a five-minute major for checking from behind at 17:27 and was promptly ejected from the contest. The Penn State penalty kill took care of business for the first half of the penalty, not allowing RIT any scoring chances, and even had a few short-handed opportunities.

Penn State began the second period on the penalty kill much like it ended the first, continuing to have chances of its own while keeping RIT from gathering any momentum with the advantage. To put an exclamation mark on what was an extremely disappointing power play for RIT, Ness was sent to the box for hooking at 1:24, effectively canceling out the final minute of the penalty to Vaslet.

The Nittany Lions would have just over one minute of power play time after the penalty to Vaslet expired, and the ensuing power play did not disappoint. Gough was stationed at the left faceoff circle and fired a one-time blast into the back of the net to give Penn State a 2-0 lead at 2:50 of the second period. In what could have been an opportunity for RIT to take momentum, Penn State flipped the script and sent Pegula Ice Arena into a frenzy.

With all of the momentum, Penn State struck again. This time, it was Lyndie Lobdell who fired a slapshot from the top of the left circle immediately after the faceoff. Lobdell’s goal gave Penn State a commanding 3-0 lead at 3:28, just 38 seconds after the goal from Gough. Taking a page out of MacEachern’s book, Lobdell broke out a bird celebration as she skated back to the bench.

Continuing to dominate possession, the Nittany Lions nearly had their fourth goal of the game as Brooks danced around the RIT defense and got in close against Bellina, where she fired a backhanded shot at the goalie. Bellina managed to get a piece of the shot and RIT was able to clear the puck before any further damage occurred.

Penn State went to the power play with a chance to extend its lead as Maloney was sent to the box for hooking at 17:54. With RIT opting to clog the middle of the ice, Penn State was forced to cycle the puck from the point back to the face-off circles and attempt to set up Janecke for a one-timer. RIT managed to kill the penalty and escape the second period with its deficit still at three goals.

With the Nittany Lions just 20 minutes away from securing their spot in the CHA championship, it was going to take a team effort to hold off a hungry RIT team in the final frame. Much like she has all series, DeSa came up with a massive save on Roland, who had a partial breakaway.

RIT found itself headed to the power play thanks to Machado being sent to the box for hooking at 5:13 of the third period. With its band attempting to will the Tigers back into the series, the Nittany Lions persisted and did not allow RIT any room to breathe for the duration of the power play. As yet another opportunity for RIT went by the wayside, Penn State inched closer to a championship birth.

Hoping to close out the series, Penn State once again found itself on the power play as Bronwyn Khangsar was sent to the box for tripping at 13:19. RIT continued to clog the middle of the ice and, as a result, blocked nearly every Penn State shot attempt. The Tigers killed the remaining penalty and continued their search for a goal.

Needing a borderline miracle to tie the game, RIT pulled Bellina with just over three minutes left in the third period. Having gone back on the ice due to a neutral zone face-off, Bellina attempted to leave the ice again but was forced to retreat due to Penn State regaining possession. Unfortunately for Bellina, she was unable to retreat fast enough as Maddy Christian fired a shot from the point into the empty net to extend Penn State’s lead to 4-0 at 17:11.

Christian’s goal all but guaranteed a win for Penn State, and the Nittany Lions left Pegula with a 4-0 victory and a bid for the championship game.

Takeaways

  • Much like she has been since stepping up into the starting role, DeSa was fantastic in this series. The Penn State goalie secured a 23-save shutout in game two and nearly had one in game one if not for a later goal by RIT. DeSa made 45 saves on 46 shots over the two games.
  • Star players show up in big games, and Janecke was no different, continuing a fantastic season for the Penn State forward. Scoring the opening goal in game two set the tone for the rest of the contest.
  • Both on the scoreboard and the general feel of the games, this series never felt close. From the opening face-off, it was clear Penn State was the better team and the stat sheet showcased just that. The Nittany Lions outscored RIT 6-1 and outshot the Tigers 80-46.
  • Taking just four penalties over the two games, Penn State reversed what had been a troubling trend in some games by staying out of the penalty box. If Penn State wants to continue its season deep into March, it must continue to avoid taking penalties.

What’s Next?

Penn State women’s hockey will move on to the CHA tournament championship to face the winner of the Mercyhurst/Robert Morris series. The game will take place at Pegula Ice Arena on Saturday, March 2. A time for the contest has yet to be announced.

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About the Author

Dennis Wilkins

Dennis is a third-year journalism major from Brick, New Jersey. He has a love-hate relationship with every team he roots for, especially the New York Giants. When he's not watching Jack Hughes highlights, he can be found playing golf or listening to music. Direct all complaints to him via email ([email protected]) or on Twitter (@denniswilkins27).

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