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2020-21 NCAA Preview: College Hockey America, part 1

A look at Penn State, RIT, and Lindenwood this season

The RIT Women’s Hockey team embraces after the RIT vs. Mercyhurst game on Jan. 18, 2019 at Gene Polisseni Center in Henrietta, N.Y. RIT defeated Mercyhurst 4-2. Ashley Crichton

With the College Hockey America schedule officially announced and teams already in action, here’s a look at how things might play out for Penn State, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Lindenwood this winter.

Penn State

Key Losses:

  • Brooke Madsen, F: The Nittany Lions’ second-leading scorer with 21 points last season. Also led with 13 assists.
  • Shea Nelson, F: Third on the team in scoring with 20 points as a junior last season.
  • Katie McMillan, F: Scored 13 points last season, good for sixth on the squad.
  • Katie Rankin, F: As a junior, scored nine points but was key to Penn State’s efforts on draws, winning 309 (57.6%).
  • Chantal Burke, G: As Penn State’s starter, posted a .937 save percentage and 1.69 GAA last season.

Key Returners:

  • Natalie Heising, Senior, F: Penn State’s leading scorer last season with 13 goals and 21 points.
  • Rachel Weiss, Sophomore, F: A former Canadian U18 national team player, finished her rookie year with 12 points.
  • Rene Gangarosa, Junior, D: Led the team with 73 blocked shots and led all defenders with 18 points.
  • Izzy Heminger, Junior, D: Notched 16 points to finish second among blueliners and sixth on the squad.
  • Mallory Uihlein, Sophomore, D: Picked up pretty big minutes as a rookie defender and chipped in 11 points and 64 blocks.
  • Jessica Adolfsson, Junior, D: Played in only 12 games last season, but has seen time with Sweden’s national team and is a former CHA All-Rookie Team selection.

Season Outlook:

While the Nittany Lions have some losses to make up for up front and in goal, there’s also plenty of reason to believe they will be competitive in 2020-21. For one, they return pretty much all of their key players on the blue line. Gangarosa and Heminger made significant contributions last season, as did Uihlein as a freshman. Their top-four should provide some much-needed consistency, and they’re adding Lyndie Lobdell, a U18 World Championship gold medal winner with Team USA, to the mix. Their returning forwards are a bit thin, but Heising is a dynamic player and Weiss showed a good amount of potential as a rookie.

Penn State brings in an impressive rookie class to help bolster the offense, led by Kiara Zanon, who won gold alongside Lobdell at U18 Worlds last year. Alyssa Machado, Olivia Wallin, and Jess Ciarrocchi should all factor in offensively as well. In net, rookie Josie Bothun appears to have the edge so far; she played varsity boys’ hockey for Forest Lake (Minn.) the last two seasons and is off to a 2-0-0 start after a sweep of Lindenwood. There’s a good amount of talent on this squad and while I think they still have some work to do to win a conference championship, the pieces are starting to come together for the Nittany Lions.

RIT

Key Losses:

  • Jaymee Nolan, F: As a rookie last season, she finished first on the team with 13 goals and 19 points, good for second overall.
  • Rachel Goff, F: Another rookie who placed third on the team in scoring with 17 points.
  • Hunter Barnett, F: Finished her sophomore season with 16 points, good enough for fourth on the Tigers.
  • Logan Land, F: Finished first on the squad with 12 assists and tied for fifth with 16 points.
  • Madison Farrand, F: Chipped in seven points in 2019-20 and was also one of RIT’s most important players in terms of faceoffs, winning 219 draws.
  • Taylor Baker, D: Led the D corps in scoring 14 points and added 61 blocks.
  • Terra Lanteigne, G: Standout goaltender who posted a .929 save percentage and 2.59 GAA as a senior.

Key Returners:

  • Abby Davies, Junior, F: Led the squad in scoring with 22 points; also led with 12 assists.
  • Jordan Marchese, Senior, F: Finished sixth on the team with 14 points last season.
  • Christa Stefanopoulos, Sophomore, F: As a freshman, chipped in 11 points, including two game-winning goals.
  • Ellie Larson, Senior, D: Notched 11 points from the blue line last season and added 62 blocks.
  • Madison Itagaki, Junior, D: Led RIT with 111 blocked shots and also tallied 10 points.
  • Jessi O’Leary, Senior, G: As a backup last season, posted a .908 save percentage and 3.48 GAA.

Season Outlook:

While there are some good young players on their roster, the Tigers will have to adjust to losing four of last season’s top-five scorers—and just one of those players left because she graduated. Barnett, Nolan, and Goff all transferred out of the program. During the offseason, RIT parted ways with head coach Chad Davis and assistant coach Hannah McGowan, bringing in alumna and first-year head coach Celeste Brown to lead the squad. The Tigers will also have to fill in the gap left by Lanteigne in net; she was one of the conference’s best goaltenders throughout her career.

Davies and Stefanopoulos both turned in decent performances over the course of last season and there’s good reason to believe they can keep producing for RIT. Larson and Itagaki took on a lot of responsibility on the back end as well. They’ve only played one game so far this year, a 7-1 loss to Syracuse this past weekend, but it seems safe to say this is a team that’s going to struggle to keep up in terms of chances and goals against the top half of the conference. [Of note for the immediate future: RIT played their first game against the Orange and then had to postpone last Sunday’s game because of “COVID-19 protocol”].

Lindenwood

Key Losses:

  • Cierra Paisley, F: Tallied eight points as a senior, good for third-most on the team.
  • Kirsten Martin, F: Scored six points in 29 games last year.
  • Courtney Ganske, D: Tied for fifth on the team, including first among defenders, with seven points last season; led the Lions with 86 blocked shots.

Key Returners:

  • Sierra Burt, Senior, F: Led the Lions with six goals, 11 assists, and 17 points as a junior.
  • Megan Wagner, Senior, F: Finished second with 13 points last season.
  • Jada Burke, Junior, F: As a sophomore, tied for third on the squad with eight points and also finished second with 234 faceoff wins and a 52.3% faceoff win percentage.
  • Bailey Coyne, Senior, F: Scored seven points in 17 games last season for Lindenwood.
  • Maddison Stitt, Junior, D: Tied for first among defenders with seven points as a sophomore.
  • Kayla Martinez, Junior, D: Along with Stitt, tied for first on the blue line in points. She also tied for the team lead in power-play points.
  • Annika Asplundh, Junior, G: Turned in a .922 save percentage and 2.79 GAA as a sophomore in 26 starts.

Season Outlook:

The Lions finished in dead last in the CHA last season, putting together a record of 5-24-5. They finished last in the conference in goal margin (-2.32 per game) and shots on goal margin (-13.53 per game). This season, they’re losing two really key pieces up front and on the blue line in Paisley and Ganske. There are some talented pieces on this team, though, most notably Burke and Burt among the forwards; Burke in particular has shown a lot of potential as a center.

They also bring in Thea Jørgensen, who has experience with Linköping in the SDHL. Rachel Goff, a transfer from RIT, is another important pickup. Among the defensive corps, Stitt and Martinez have also shown they can contribute, but there are not enough pieces overall to make a big enough impact in terms of possession. Some of last season’s results are skewed due to the fact that Lindenwood was missing a goaltender for quite a bit, and played a few games with position players in net. Asplundh is a totally capable starter when she’s in, but will have to really perform well every game to handle a high volume of shots and keep the Lions in it.