2023 Mercyhurst vs Penn State - Women's Final

CHA Championship Preview: Mercyhurst Stands Between Penn State And History

CHA Championship Preview: Mercyhurst Stands Between Penn State And History

Penn State will play for its first ever CHA title and automatic NCAA tournament berth, while Mercyhurst goes for its 14th conference crown in 22 years.

Mar 2, 2023 by Nicole Haase
CHA Championship Preview: Mercyhurst Stands Between Penn State And History

Top conference seed Penn State will host No. 2 Mercyhurst in the 2023 College Hockey American (CHA) Championship at Pegula Arena in State College, Pa., on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET. The game will air live on FloHockey. 

On the line is an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. 

This is the first time the Nittany Lions have advanced to the CHA Tournament Championship game. Mercyhurst has played for the title 17 times in 21 seasons, winning 13 of them. 

About The Matchup

The Lakers lead the all-time series 24-13-9, including 10-8-4 in games played at Penn State, but the Nittany Lions have dominated of late, taking six of the last eight games. However, one of those two Mercyhurst wins was in the semifinals of last year’s conference tournament. 

Penn State won the regular season title, but will consider this a disappointing season if they do not reach the NCAA Tournament. They are in position to receive an at-large bid should they lose the championship match, but would much prefer to have the sure thing. 

They seem primed to do so, having won the season series against the Lakers 3-1. In November, the teams split, with PSU winning 4-1 and Mercyhurst taking a 3-1 win. In late January, Penn State took a 5-2 win in the first game and a 3-2 overtime win in the second game. 

On paper, the deck seems stacked against Mercyhurst. Penn State is carrying a 17-game unbeaten streak into the championship game. The CHA announced eight individual awards on Wednesday and Penn State won five of them. 

Junior Kiara Zanon was crowned league scoring champion and was named Player of the Year. Freshman Tessa Janecke is the CHA Rookie of the Year. Senior Izzy Heminger was named Best Defender. Coach Jeff Kampersal was named Coach of the Year. Four of the top six scorers in the league are Nittany Lions and goalie Josie Bothun leads the league with a 1.82 goals-against average. 

Zanon also was named as a top 10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award given to the national player of the year.

While Penn State’s offense has been more prolific, Mercyhurst’s isn’t struggling. They have four players in the top 10 of goals scored in the CHA and goalie Ena Nystrøm was just named Goalie of the Year in the conference. 

The Lakers are less flashy than the Nittany Lions, but are no less capable of racking up goals and stifling opposing offenses. There is a quiet confidence to this team that knows they have the experience and history to back up their run for a title. They have nothing to lose and everything to play for and that makes them extra dangerous to Penn State. 

How Mercyhurst Can Win

The focus for Mercyhurst has to be on puck possession and getting pucks to the net. They averaged just 21 shots per game in their four regular season meetings with PSU while the Nittany Lions averaged 35. Just because Nystrøm leads all active CHA netminders in games of 30 saves or more doesn’t mean her teammates should put her to the test. 

It’s important for the Lakers to slow down Penn State’s offense and the easiest way to do that is to keep them from holding on to the puck. Doubling down, they have to be smarter with the puck when on offense, giving themselves second- and third-chance opportunities. 

The Nittany Lions play a strong 200-foot game and are adept at not just blocking shots, but at turning those blocks into odd-player rushes the other way. Mercyhurst has to be smart with their shot choices and make sure they have skaters in the slot to pounce on rebounds and loose pucks. Some of their tall, strong forwards need to claim space in the slot and look for chances to redirect pucks.

How Penn State Can Win

For Penn State to close out their conference season on a high note and leave nothing up to the selection committee, they need to keep Mercyhurst to the perimeter, block a few dozen shots and then stick with what has worked for them on offense. 

They have their superstars in Zanon and Janecke, but what will win the game for the Nittany Lions is when players on the second and third line are the ones putting up the points. PSU will need contributions from veterans like transfers Courtney Correia and Eleri MacKay on the ice. And then they’re going to need their leadership off it. 

No offense to Mercyhurst, but Penn State’s biggest enemy here is likely in their own heads. They have not been here before and their whole season has been tied to achieving this goal and the NCAA Tournament. The Nittany Lions have to not put extra pressure on themselves and not let the moment get too big for them. Finding and holding their equilibrium is going to be the single most important thing they can do on Saturday. If they come out flat or too hyped up, Lakers coach Michael Sisti will be prepared for it and his team will take advantage. 

Regardless of who takes the win, fans that tune in for the CHA Championship game are sure to be treated to some of the best hockey of the season.