Going into the ACHA Division II national tournament, the women’s ice hockey club was ranked eighth among the eight teams in the tournament. The team played five games in four days and had only 12 skaters and two goalies.
Yet somehow Penn State managed to beat the defending champions, Wisconsin-Stout, twice, and finished second in the tournament.
The team’s last regular season game was a month and a half before the tournament that started on March 7, with the last three games canceled. The club finished 6-3 this season after starting 0-2.
“Our team goal for the season was to make it to nationals,” said alternate captain Allie Rothman. “At the beginning of the season it was far-fetched because at our first practice we had [about] 10 players and no coach.”
With its first season as a club sport rather than a team sport, it was up to the players to make the schedule and raise funds for the team. As a team sport, the team was given more funds and given a schedule. The club wasn’t organized until late July and had only four practices before its first game.
Head coach Patrick Fung had been an assistant coach for the previous team sport and said he was interested being involved with the club team. Fung played hockey at Penn State from 2000-2003 and returned to State College in 2008 to help out with both men’s and women’s teams.
“Given it was such a new organization, I didn’t have my own personal goals in mind,” said Fung. “I wanted them to give their own definition of success and try to help them achieve that. I didn’t think [their goal to make nationals] was far-fetched, but it was definitely going to take some work.”
With only 12 skaters, the main obstacle for the club was numbers. Playing each game with essentially only two lines, the players were skating every other shift.
The small team was forced to be very well-conditioned for its season. In the end, being used to playing so often each game was what allowed the club to be successful in the grueling tournament.
“The most impressive thing was their ability to be relentless and keep playing through the tournament,” said Fung.
Fung said the other teams at nationals were consistently impressed with Penn State’s constant speed, and he was given positive comments from other coaches about how tireless his team was.
Penn State began the tournament playing against the top team from the western conference, Alaska.
“Just the name, Alaska [was exciting enough],” said captain Carly Szyszko. “We went out there and we didn’t know what to expect.”
The club started the game strongly and beat Alaska, 2-1.
Penn State went on to beat Wisconsin-Stout, tied North Dakota State in round-robin play and beat Wisconsin-Stout again 2-1 in double overtime. Freshman forward Nina Elia scored the game winner— her first goal of the season.
“We relived that goal for hours,” said Rothman.
In the championship game, the club faced West Chester. Penn State split a two-game series with West Chester at the end of the regular season and players said they were excited to face them again. Penn State lost 5-2 and was given second place for the tournament.
“It was totally a team effort, all the way around,” said Rothman. “We had no super-star. No one had all of our goals. We had skill coming from the whole entire team and not just one player, which is the difference between us and the other teams that we played.”
Penn State’s top scorers on the season were Devon Fisk with 21 points and Mandy Mortach with 17 points. Since there were only two lines on the team, Mortach and Fisk were often playing opposite shifts, balancing the distribution of scoring. Consistent goaltending from Katie Vaughan, who played four of the five tournament games and the majority of the regular season, helped the club stay competitive.
“I think in the beginning nobody knew what to expect,” said Szyszko. “But with every game and every practice, we built more confidence. Once the first rank came out we were up there with the best.”
After losing its first two games, the team saw its season turning around at the end of the fall semester, beating Maryland 5-0 and Slippery Rock 8-0. Penn State was first ranked No. 5 in ACHA and moved up to third in the East by the end of January.
Since there weren’t any seniors on the team, all of the players will be returning next season. Juniors Vaughan, Szyzko and Rothman have played together since their freshmen year and said they are excited for next season.
Fung said the success at the national tournament has captured the attention of both incoming freshmen and girls who are already on campus. The team’s trouble with numbers should be solved for next year and both the coach and players said they feel confident they will be successful.
“We’re just going to try and build on what we’ve already done,” said Rothman. “We’ve already been to a championship game. Yes, we lost it but that’s something to build off of for next year.”
“The difference now having been in the national championship game is to not forget what got us there this year and to continue to do all of those little things,” said Fung. “You have to work twice as hard to stay on top.”