Before the team’s first series in Vermont, head coach Josh Brandwene said his team would be battling the “newness” factor due to its youth.
Flash forward to last weekend when the Nittany Lions crossed the halfway mark in their first season with two games against St. Lawrence and Brandwene said the team has grown as much as it has all season in the previous two series.
The Penn State Class of 1991 graduate also said he wanted the team to establish a positive culture as well as a great team environment coming into the year. While that newness is still a factor, he added the team has done a fabulous job of accomplishing just that.
“[I’m] incredibly pleased with the effort, progress and hard work we've put into this first semester,” Brandwene said.
Coaches and teammates have credited goalie Nicole Paniccia with keeping the Lions in games where the score could have been worse due to the high amount of shots she faced throughout the season. For example, against RIT Oct. 26, Paniccia faced 61 shots and stopped all but two of them en route to a tie with the Tigers.
Paniccia said one of the biggest improvements she has seen all year has been in the defensive zone. The Oakville, Ont. native said the Lions are blocking more shots and sacrificing themselves as well as improving their attitude.
The 5-foot-5 junior said the biggest obstacle during the inaugural season has been the inexperience, but the Lions are turning the possible negatives into positives.
“We've just come so far from the beginning of the season and everybody has definitely stepped up their game,” Paniccia said. “We deserve to be playing D-I hockey and I think we've been proving that with how we've been playing lately.”
Paniccia, who transferred from UConn, added that her expectations of Penn State have been exceeded and it is amazing to start history and be a leader in doing such.
Freshman forward Shannon Yoxheimer said she was expecting the high intensity and pace coming into the season because she had watched a lot of college hockey games. However, the Jackson, Mich. native noted that some things the Lions have done throughout the season have shocked her.
The leading scorer also said knew she would be an impact player because a coach told her, but she did not envision having the most points and goals due to the talent on the Lions’ squad. Yoxheimer attributed her success to her focus on and off the ice.
“When I go to the rink and go to the weight room, I just give it my all,” Yoxheimer said. “I think doing the little things really paid off because I got rewarded for doing the little things.”
Brandwene said the Lions’ power play and penalty kill have continued to improve as well as the team’s decision making through the middle of the ice.
He also said the Lions want to build on what they’ve done well in the first half and gain consistency.
“[We’re] looking forward to getting back to the routine and preparing for games. Our overall goal remains the same,” Brandwene said. “We want to get better everyday so we're playing our best hockey at league playoff time cause in playoffs, anything can happen.”