Penn State (4-25-3, 1-16-1 CHA) scored its first goal against the No. 8 Mercyhurst Lakers (21-7-3, 14-3-1 CHA) this year in its last game at Pegula Ice Arena for the season on a tally by forward Hannah Hoenshell, but the Nittany Lions fell to the visitors 4-1 on four unanswered Laker goals.
It was Senior Day for the team, recognizing captain Taylor Gross, Jenna Welch, Tess Weaver, Lindsay Reihl, and goaltender Nicole Paniccia for their last home game of their collegiate careers at Penn State.
“With our seniors, I don’t even know where to start in terms of how grateful I am for their leadership and who they are as people and how well they’ve represented this program,” Coach Brandwene said. “They are special people and they are just leaving a tremendous legacy behind and for that I am forever grateful.”
“Even though we didn’t get the results but we got one in and we did battle them a lot harder,” Captain Gross said. “We just played better all over the ice and the entire ice just was better this series than it was and I’m really proud of the team and how everybody performed.”
Paniccia took the start in net for the Nittany Lions and turned away 48 of 51 Laker shots put her way, tying her season high set back in October against Quinnipiac.
The Lakers came out firing to start the game, totaling 20 shots on goal in the opening 20 minutes. Penn State goalie Paniccia; however, had all of the answers for the Nittany Lions to keep the game scoreless in spite of two Mercyhurst power plays. Penn State’s first shot on goal came at just over the seven minute mark of the period, and the team totaled three shots through the first frame.
Jordin Pardoski took a cross-checking penalty near the end of the first at 19:15 to put Mercyhurst on the extra-skater advantage and the Lakers had 1:15 of carry over power play time to start the second period.
Hannah Hoenshell gave Penn State their first lead of their four game series against Mercyhurst with just under five minutes gone on the second period on the team’s fifth shot of the game. The winger raced down the far side of the ice and put a shot in on Mercyhurst goaltender Amanda Makela, who looked like she had stopped the shot originally but the puck tricked over the line and in for the 1-0 Nittany Lion lead at 4:52.
Penn State’s chances increased from there with sustained pressure in the offensive zone, with Jill Holdcroft almost one-timing home a cross ice pass stick side on Makela on the team’s best chance on the sequence.
It took just over three minutes for Mercyhurst to jump back in and tie the game at 1-1, however. On a delayed Pardoski penalty, Laker Paige Horton took a hard shot from the left point at the blue line that found its way through traffic and beat Paniccia top shelf on her glove side with 11:33 to play in the period.
Shannon Yoxheimer almost gave Penn State the lead again on a breakaway near the middle of the frame; however, Makela stopped the shot with a quick pad save to the boards.
With Pardoski back in the box at 3:56 of the third period, but for slashing, Mercyhurst gained their first lead of the game 2-1 on another defensive point shot. Mercyhurst’s Molly Byrne took a bounce off the end boards that passed between Paniccia’s legs from the top of the right circle and fired with no traffic in front that went past the Penn State goaltender’s stretching glove hand and in. The Laker goal came at 5:35 of the third period.
The Lakers doubled their lead 3-1 on a tap-in goal from forward Jenna Dingeldein. Mercyhurst’s Emily Janiga had the original shot on Paniccia but the puck tricked through her equipment and sat in the blue paint behind her. Before the Penn State goaltender could turn around to cover the puck, Dingeldein tapped the puck in from behind the net to increase their lead to two with 10:38 remaining in the game.
Penn State had two late power play chances to try to tie the game and goaltender Paniccia was pulled for the extra skater with over a minute and a half to play in the game. However, Mercyhurst iced the win on an empty-net goal to make it 4-1 with a minute to play on Christine Bestland’s 17th goal of the season.
“Always tough to lose but a special day for this program for so many reasons,” Brandwene said after the game. “A 1-1 game with the number eight team, despite the result, is continued growth for this hockey team and I’m unbelievely proud of them for their collective effort.”
“It’s who they’ve become this semester in the last six weeks or so that’s been the big change,” Brandwene said of the team’s earlier meetings in the season. “Give [Mercyhurst] credit, they’re playing even better hockey now then they were during the first semester.”
“I’m honestly really pleased with both days efforts,” he said. “Today was a gritty, gritty effort, especially in our defensive zone. It was just a collective great effort and this is so much to build on going forward.”
Both Gross and goaltender Paniccia admitted they’re not ready to leave the team quite yet, but think the team will be okay in their absence.
“I’m not excited to leave it but they’re ready and they’re ready to go,” Paniccia said.
“I think we have a lot of good leaders,” said Gross. “We’ve got a lot of voices and I think they’re very ready and I think they’re going to get even better.”
The Nittany Lions will travel to face No. 9 Robert Morris next weekend on Friday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday at 1:00 p.m. to end the regular season.