The opening rounds of the ACHA National Tournament lived up to the expectations - the top 3 seeds all destroyed their (undeserving) autobid opponents; the 4th seed struggled with their autobid opponent before pulling away late; and the remaining 4 games were all one-goal games late in their respective 3rd periods. The Icers were taking on a well-known ESCHL foe in the Rhode Island Rams, hoping to pull the upset and continue towards a national championship.
March 5th, ACHA National Tournament Round One, vs Rhode Island:
|#10 PENN STATE
|#7 Rhode Island
Starting out strong was key for the Icers, as they have had a tendency to have some lackluster play against the tougher opponents. Both teams came out with energy and had a few chances early in the game. For the Icers, Matt Madrazo was up to the test and turned away every URI shot in the first period. The energy of the scoreless first period gave way to a more physical second period - clean, but physical. Early in the period, the Icers fell into one of the lulls that hurt them all season - poor defensive coverage and sloppy breakout attempts. Ultimately, Rhode Island would take advantage and take a 1-0 lead early in the 2nd period. It would take some time before the Icers woke up, and when they did, there was a penalty called to break any momentum. Late in the period, Dominic Morrone pressured the URI powerplay unit, dropped a pass to Paul Daley in the slot, and Daley's shot seemed to have gone through the URI goalie, hit inside the goalpost and bounce back out. It was a very quick play, and with no review system to know for sure, play continued and Penn State would still be down 1-0. (Note: Steve Penstone was able to find video of the game and showed that he did indeed see the puck go in the net. Unfortunately, it's still a moot point.) Desperate for a goal, the Icers pushed with everything they could in the 3rd period to tie the game. The Icers would pull Madrazo late in the 3rd, but the Icers were unable to convert, as Rhode Island would put home an empty-net goal, win 2-0, and relegate the Icers to a consolation game on Sunday.
March 6th, ACHA National Tournament 11th Place Game, vs Robert Morris (IL):
|#12 Robert Morris (IL)
|#10 PENN STATE||1
With this being the last game of the season, the coaches decided to give Teddy Hume one last hurrah in net, hoping to send him and his fellow Icer seniors out with a win. While Teddy was strong in net, it was Chris Pronchik who gave the Robert Morris Eagles trouble with his speed and energy. A couple of early penalties against the Icers actually helped the Icers, as Marek Polidor would outplay the Eagles' powerplay and find Pronchik in front of the net to give the Icers an early 1-0 lead. Later, Pronchik's speed would force the Eagles' defenseman to take a penalty to keep Pronchik from getting a breakaway. Both teams would get chances, but both goalies were up to the task, keeping the score 1-0 heading into the third period. The close 1-0 game would be blown open a bit eight minutes into the 3rd period, when the combo of Dominic Morrone and Paul Daley would each light the lamp in the span of 26 seconds, giving the Icers a huge 3-0 lead. A late (rather weak) goal by the Eagles kept Teddy Hume from recording a shutout in his last game, but his return to his old form was more than enough to help the Icers end the season with a 3-1 win, finishing the season in 11th place.
Season Standings: Overall - 23-11-1; ESCHL - 10-5-1.
News and Notes: Looking at the national tournament, it is readily evident that there is a changing of the guard in the ACHA. The quarterfinals included 3 standards (Ohio, Delaware, Rhode Island) and 5 brand new or relatively new teams (Lindenwood, Davenport, Adrian, Oklahoma, Oakland). And had it not been for Brandon Weiner's heroics in Delaware's comeback win over Adrian, the semifinals would have only included Ohio from the "standards" category. It's not a bad thing, just an interesting change in the times. Also, it's another reason I'm glad Penn State is making the jump to the NCAA.
In reviewing the Icers' season, I think it's fair to say that this season was rather disappointing in terms of the final outcome. A lot of talent returned to the team, but the play was disjointed for long stretches of time, especially against the top teams.The offense struggled to score, sometimes trying to do too much individually. The defense struggled to clear the puck and make smart passes. The offense and defense struggled to work together to break-out of the defensive zone properly. And then there was the goalie carousel that took up the entire fall semester. Even with these issues, the team found ways to bounce back and win, and in those "must win" games, they played some of their best hockey, even if they didn't always win.
On the positive, we found some new, young players that will hopefully continue their strong play into next season. Brian Dolan started to become a solid fixture on defense, while Mike Broccolo and Mike McDonagh really stepped up their game late in the season. Of course, there's Matt Madrazo, the true freshman who took the reigns on the Icers' goaltending situation. Whether any of these players are able to make the jump to the NCAA team is unknown, but they'll all play a huge role in making the Icers' last season in the ACHA a successful farewell tour.
As we enter the off-season, talks will begin to heat up about recruits and the coaching search. I'll try to keep tabs on any news occurrences as they come up, like our first two recruits (h/t bconway6 and psuhockey22). There's still a full season of ACHA hockey to be played, so if any major news breaks, I will post an update with the news and (potential) impact. At the same time, I'll prepare for another season of club hockey, and expect next season to start splitting my focus between club and varsity news and updates.