Experience brings Penn State closer to being in mix

Fiona McKenna (Princeton - 24) plays the puck as Amy Petersen (Penn State - 9), Laura Bowman (Penn State - 18), and Micayla Catanzariti (Penn State - 10) give chase. (Shelley M. Szwast)
Laura Bowman (Penn State – 18), led the Nittany Lions in scoring as a junior. (Shelley M. Szwast)

Penn State Nittany Lions
USCHO prediction: Fifth
Coaches’ prediction: Fourth
Last season: Third (tie) (17-16-4, 9-9-2 CHA)

The names
Coming off a four-win season in 2013-14, Penn State made a dramatic leap. The Nittany Lions enjoyed a winning season, finishing at 17-16-4, and were dead even in conference play.

Coach Josh Brandwene has attracted some solid contributors to his roster over the first three seasons; he just hasn’t found quite enough of them thus far. Sure, scoring isn’t the only way to contribute, but more than a handful of players have to be able to fill that role.

Senior Shannon Yoxheimer has been the top scorer in the program’s short history, and she supplied 20 points in her junior season. Juniors Laura Bowman and Amy Peterson had 31 and 27 points respectively, but nobody else had more than Caitlin Reilly’s 16, and Reilly transferred out at season’s end. More is needed.

“To have four recruiting classes and a full roster in this program is something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” Brandwene said. “I’m really pleased with what I see so far. Talent, depth, speed, strength, and experience — if this team can continue to work hard, support each other and have a growth mindset all year, the sky is the limit.”

This team has an advantage over previous editions in terms of its experience.

“It’s been neat for us in training camp; you have players who it’s just a rote habit for now,” Brandwene said. “The pace at which we’re able to move things forward is so much quicker, because there is so much fewer number of players that are experiencing it for the first time. We’re introducing it, we’re teaching it, but we’ve got this whole group of mentors who are providing nuance for the players as we do things on the ice.”

PSU is set in goal. Senior Celine Whitlinger has given the team strong play, as evidenced by a .933 save percentage last year, with sophomore Hannah Ehresmann proving to be a capable backup. Freshman Amber Greene arrives as a third option.

The numbers
After winning its first game in February, the Nittany Lions held a record of 15-10-4, including 9-4-2 in the CHA. Then the offense vanished, and team scored a total of four goals in losing its next five games.

Although it secured the first home playoff game in program history, once again Penn State couldn’t find its scoring touch and fell to Syracuse, 2-0.

The prognosis
Some of last year’s gains were partially the benefit of struggles that other teams in the CHA were going through last season. This year with a more experienced team, it is possible that the Nittany Lions can repeat or improve on their .500 season even without the same level of outside help. For now, we’ll place Penn State fifth, but it isn’t far from contending.

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