There’s a first time for everything, and the Penn State women’s ice hockey team experienced its first loss one day after celebrating its first win, falling to Vermont on Sunday, 3-1.
In the team’s first-ever win in NCAA Division I play on Saturday, the Nittany Lions were out-shot by the Catamounts, 34-24. However, the shot disparity was even greater during Sunday’s contest, eventually overwhelming the Lions.
When the game ended, the Catamounts took 43 shots on goal, compared to only 19 from the Lions. Making her first start of the season, freshman goalie Celine Whitlinger held off many scoring opportunities that easily could have turned into goals.
“Celine played awesome. She definitely stayed on her head,” team captain Taylor Gross said. “She was a big part of why the score was so close today.”
It was the first time Whitlinger was on the ice in a NCAA game, but she said nerves did not get the best of her.
“I just tried to remain calm…I just did what I do, and I tried to block some shots,” Whitlinger said.
Despite her frequently clutch saves, the Catamounts eventually broke through and avoided a sweep.
“Give credit to Vermont and their coaching staff. They came out and they played a great game today. We worked hard, we did a great job of blocking shots,” head coach Josh Brandwene said.
“The big thing, especially from early on, we needed to do a better job of clearing pucks from our end. It got much better, especially in the third period, and that made a big difference for us in terms of territorial play.”
Even though the shot differential (13-8) in the third period was the lowest of the game for the Lions, they conceded two goals in the final 20 minutes.
Junior Danielle Rancourt broke the tie for Vermont, netting a power play goal six seconds after a checking penalty was called on freshman Taylor McGee.
“I honestly didn’t really see [the puck],” Whitlinger said. “I guess it deflected off someone and just ended up in the back of the net.”
Brandwene said his penalty kill unit was in good position even though the puck got past Whitlinger.
“They got a nice tip-in goal,” Brandwene said. “Our coverage was good. Sometimes coverage is good and the other team is still able to capitalize. Then we were pressed too late for the equalizer, and that can happen with a late goal.”
In the final minutes of the game, sophomore Meghan Huertas put the game out of reach, stretching the team’s lead over the Lions to 3-1.
The lone goal for the Lions came from freshman Birdie Shaw, who also scored an empty-net goal in Saturday’s game. Her goal, which was off a rebound midway through the first period, was the first goal of the game.
Although the Lions lost, the team was not completely disappointed with its weekend. Saturday’s season opening, 5-3 victory was the first win in team history, which took away some of the sting of Sunday’s defeat.
“It was awesome. Everybody was really excited,” Gross said. “You can only do it once, and it was really nice to get it done in the first game.”
Brandwene was just as excited as his players were. Brandwene said the team will be eager to get back on the ice after the loss, and added that the emotions are mixed after the weekend.
“It’s almost hard to put into words how amazing an experience Saturday was…[that] the kids battled so hard to win the first-ever Penn State women’s varsity game is just an incredible experience that they went out there and earned,” he said after Sunday’s game.
The Lions’ home opener on Oct. 13 will also be their conference opener. They will play against Syracuse (0-2-0) in a two-game weekend series.