The time has come. Division I hockey has finally made its way to Penn State.
“It’s been a dream and a vision for a lot of people for a long time,” women’s hockey head coach Josh Brandwene said. “There wasn’t a great sense of when it was going to happen. We’re all just very grateful that it’s here now.”
The Nittany Lions open their inaugural season this weekend by traveling to take on Vermont (0-1) in the Gutterson Fieldhouse for a two-game set.
Assistant captain Jenna Welch said she is nervous and excited for the matches, but she is lucky to be a part of something new.
“Just the first game, it’s a new experience for everyone,” Welch said. “It’ll show where we are as a team and it’ll be a good stepping-stone for us in the future with our CHA games coming up.”
Welch notched the game-winning goal in a 3-0 shutout effort by goalie Nicole Paniccia against the Catamounts last year when the two were members of the Connecticut’s program.
When Welch was asked during the team’s media day on Wednesday if she could deliver another game-winning goal this weekend, she said, “Hey, you never know. Let’s hope so.”
Assistant coach Gina Kearns said it helps the Lions to open their season on the road because it takes away the pressure before the team comes home to Greenberg Ice Pavilion for its home and conference opener against Syracuse on Oct. 13.
“There’s all sorts of fears and excitement and all those things that come along with playing the first game,” Kearns said. “First game on the road is a little bit in our favor, but we’re definitely excited to come here and open up at Greenberg.”
Brandwene said there is a “newness” factor that will be challenging since the team is young, but he wants his group to live in the moment, enjoy the experience and give “110 percent.”
He also said he thinks it is important for any team in any sport to start the season off strong and hockey is no exception.
“It starts with hard work,” Brandwene said. “It starts with dedication to each other and being committed to one another as teammates and going out and playing the best hockey we possibly can on both ends of the ice.”
Kearns said she was able to watch the Catamounts’ 2012-13 season-opening loss against the University of Montreal Carabins in order to prepare for this weekend.. She said it was beneficial for the Lions to see the Catamounts’ system, power plays and penalty kills.
She also said the most important aspect for the Lions this weekend is to have fun and “do things right.” Kearns, a 2009 Boston University graduate and the Terriers’ all-time leading scorer, said she had a dream about watching the Lions take the ice for the first time the other night.
“I can think back to that day that I stepped on the ice for the first time,” Kearns said. “It’s so vivid in my memory. I’m just so excited for all them to get to experience it.”