Things did not go as planned the first time Penn State took on Lindenwood.
While the Nittany Lions did not expect the Lady Lions to step to the side and hand them their first-ever victory in College Hockey America, they probably thought the matchup was going to be easier. Lindenwood, a team in its second season of Division I hockey, was 0-10-0 (0-2-0 CHA) on the season when the two teams played each other for the first time on Nov. 16.
But the Nittany Lions were handed a 5-1 loss in their first game and had to work for a 3-2 victory the next day, after falling behind 2-1 at the 6:50 mark of the third period.
“We may have underestimated them when we played them last time,” assistant captain Lindsay Reihl said of the teams’ first meeting.
When the two teams meet again this Friday and Saturday, the Nittany Lions are expecting two more close contests in their home finale at Greenberg Ice Pavilion.
Both teams have seen improvement in the months following their split series — despite a seven-game losing streak, the Nittany Lions (7-19-1, 1-12-1 CHA) have remained competitive, while the Lady Lions (3-23-2, 3-9-2 CHA) have seen some success in CHA play. When they meet again, assistant coach Gina Kearns anticipates another battle between the two young programs.
Kearns said that the games could come down to how well each special teams unit performs. The Nittany Lions and Lady Lions are tied for third in the conference in power play percentage, at about 14 percent.
“Lindenwood has proven their power play scores a lot of goals for them, so [our penalty kill] is definitely a focus for us, and staying out of the box,” she said. “On the same token, our power play, if we can get a couple power play chances we know that we’ll be successful.”
One thing Kearns seems certain of is her team entering the series without getting overconfident, unlike the first time the teams played. Kearns said it might have been easy to see Lindenwood as an easier opponent, being a newer team itself
“I think they righted the ship right away [last time], and I know for sure they’re not taking them for granted this time around.”
Besides the Nittany Lions playing their final two home games at Greenberg before moving into Pegula Ice Arena next fall, there are plenty of other reasons for the team to get excited for the series.
Defender Jordin Pardoski said a number of factors — Friday’s game is supporting breast cancer awareness with a “Pink Day,” and the team is coming off of a strong series last weekend against No. 7 Mercyhurst — have the team looking forward for its next two games.
In addition, two wins will put the Nittany Lions one point behind in the Lady Lions in the CHA standings. Each team plays two more conference opponents to end the regular season, and a sweep this weekend would put the Nittany Lions in position to potentially move up a seed before conference playoffs begin.
Although Reihl said the team is trying to take things game-by-game, Pardoski said earning a higher seed would be special.
“That would be awesome, especially since this is our first year and our first time in the playoffs,” Pardoski said. “That would definitely be a big boost and pump-up for our team.”