Unlike the hotly-contested battle between Al Gore and George W. Bush in the 2000 Presidential campaign, there is nothing but consensus as the ECAC women’s hockey coaches get ready for the 2000-01 conference season.
The conclusion? Dartmouth will be tough to beat.
The Big Green returns its entire roster from a team that surprised nearly everyone last year in reaching both the conference finals and the AWCHA Final Four. And this year, Dartmouth is expected to be one of the four teams invited to the first-ever NCAA women’s tournament.
Beyond that, the ECAC appears to be a crapshoot. The traditional powers have all lost at least one key contributor — either to graduation or to the U.S. National Team — while upstart programs such as Niagara and St. Lawrence could still be too young to challenge for the conference title.
In short, it looks like the parity we saw last year will carry over into the first season of the new millennium. Here is the conference forecast, with teams ranked according to the preseason coaches’ poll:
1. Dartmouth Big Green
Last year: 21-12-0, 17-7-0; 3rd place regular season; reached ECAC finals; reached AWCHA semifinals
Head Coach: Judy Parish Oberting
Key Losses: none
Players to Watch: Defenseman Correne Bredin, Forwards Carly Haggard and Jen Wiehn, Goalie Amy Ferguson
— Dartmouth head coach Judy Parish Oberting, on topping the ECAC preseason poll
Dartmouth clearly had potential last year. The Big Green defeated Harvard, then the defending national champion, three times, including an overtime victory in the ECAC semifinals to reach the conference title game and earn an invitation to the Final Four. With everyone back this season, Dartmouth’s potential knows no bounds.
“This year won’t be any different from last year,” said coach Judy Parish Oberting. “We’ll be successful if we continue to play as a well-balanced team and use our depth as an advantage. I told our players that, just because you’re picked No. 1, don’t play like you’re a superstar.”
While the Big Green lacks a flashy scorer, it prides itself on an aggressive defense and an offense that capitalizes on its opportunities. Physical blueliners like junior Correne Bredin (11g, 35a) and senior Liz Macri (9g, 22a) anchor the rugged defense while sophomore forward Carly Haggard (24g, 17a) is the speedster who likes to score on the breakaway.
If anyone on the Big Green is a superstar, it’s Bredin, the highest scorer in the conference among returning defensemen, or Haggard, who led ECAC rookies in scoring last season. But Oberting has plenty of scoring options in Hanover, including the senior forward trio of Jen Wiehn (18g, 18a), Lauren Trottier (15g, 18a) and Kristina Guarino (12g, 16a). Juniors Kim McCullough (13g, 19a) and Kristin King (12g, 16a) provide even more depth at forward.
2. Brown Bears
Last year: 25-4-3, 19-2-3; 1st place regular season; won ECAC championship; reached AWCHA finals
Head Coach: Digit Murphy
Key Losses: Goalie Ali Brewer, Defensemen Tara Mounsey and Jordan Jiskra, Forwards Tamra Jones, Jill Graat and Ali Kenney
Players to Watch: Forwards Kim Insalaco and Christina Sorbara
The defending conference champs were hit very hard by graduation and by Ben Smith, coach of the U.S. National Team.
The Bears lost netminder Ali Brewer, last year’s Kazmaier Award winner, and their three leading scorers to graduation. Then Smith called all-everything defenseman Tara Mounsey — a gold medalist in 1998 — and asked her to forego her senior season in Providence to train with the national team for the 2002 Olympics. Mounsey accepted, and all of this means that Brown, by far the most veteran team in the conference a year ago, is now one of the ECAC’s least experienced squads.
“I don’t know a lot about my team,” admitted coach Digit Murphy. “We lost a ton last year but we had so much depth. The next class will just have to step it up this year.”
The big question marks for Brown will be on defense, where the Bears are used to relying on Brewer and Mounsey to frustrate opposing offenses. Murphy should give the early nod to sophomore goaltender Pam Dreyer in preseason, but rookie Katie Germain may also see some time between the pipes.
Senior Cara Gardner (0g, 11a) will attempt to fill Mounsey’s Olympic-sized shoes when she joins the team after Brown’s field hockey season ends. Sophomore Cassie Turner (0g, 9a) and junior Emily Sigman (2g, 8a) are Brown’s other experienced defensemen.
This year’s veteran leadership will come from senior forward Kathleen Kauth (9g, 10a), but the bulk of the offense should come from the sticks of sophomore Kim Insalaco (10g, 17a) and senior Christina Sorbara (10g, 15a). But Murphy will also expect junior Krissy Zamora (12g, 9a) and heralded freshman Krissy McManus to contribute on offense.
2. Harvard Crimson
Last year: 21-5-3, 17-4-3; 2nd place regular season; reached ECAC semifinals
Head Coach: Katey Stone
Key Losses: Defenseman Angela Ruggiero, Goaltender Crystal Springer
Players to Watch: Forwards Jen Botterill, Tammy Shewchuk and Angie Francisco
Harvard’s championship aspirations suffered a severe blow in September when defenseman Angela Ruggiero announced that she would be leaving Cambridge and joining Brown’s Mounsey on the blue line of the U.S. National Team this season. Ruggiero was one of the keys to Harvard’s national championship season in 1998-99.
But Harvard’s top forward line is still a legitimate scoring machine. If veteran role players can contribute to the top line’s offensive production, the Crimson could also be a legitimate contender for the conference title.
Junior forward Jen Botterill (31g, 31a), last season’s ECAC Player of the Year, is the most versatile player in the country. Botterill will likely center Harvard’s vaunted top line, and she could also move to the blue line on special teams and late in a close game.
Botterill’s teammate on the Canadian National Team is senior forward Tammy Shewchuk (34g, 40a), the conference’s leading scorer last season. While Shewchuk can always find the back of the net, classmate Angie Francisco (14g, 36a) is usually doing the dirty work somewhere around the goal line. And coach Katey Stone will probably give sophomore Kalen Ingram (11g, 19a) some time on the top line as well.
“We’ll be a thrill a minute, that’s for sure,” said Stone. “But the most interesting part of our team is the leadership of some of the older kids.”
Indeed, Stone needs senior forwards Kiirsten Suurkask (6g, 11a) and Tara Dunn (7g, 9a) to provide more offense on the second line. Perhaps more importantly, however, is the performance of the Crimson defense without last year’s goaltender, Crystal Springer, and her anchor, Ruggiero.
Harvard has just four returning defensemen, led by sophomore Jamie Hagerman (4g, 11a). Those defenders will play in front of an even less experienced netminder, rookie Jessica Ruddock.
4. Northeastern Huskies
Last year: 22-9-3, 15-6-3; 5th place regular season; reached ECAC semifinals
Head Coach: Joy Woog
Key Losses: Forwards Hilary Witt and Brooke White, Defensemen Jennie Setaro and Erine Metcalf
Players to Watch: Goalie Erika Silva, Forward Brooke Whitney
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the offseason was in Boston, where longtime Northeastern coach Heather Linstad left the Huskies to start a Division I program at Connecticut. Joy Woog, who has a year of head coaching experience at Sacred Heart under her belt, has replaced Linstad on an interim basis this season.
The bad news for Woog is that the Huskies lost Hilary Witt, a perennial Kazmaier nominee and the fourth-leading scorer in the conference last year, and Brooke White, who joined the U.S. National Team. The good news is that the emphasis has never been on offense at Matthews Arena.
The heart and soul of Northeastern this season will be senior goaltender Erika Silva, who finished third in the ECAC with a 1.63 GAA and fourth in save percentage at .931. Silva’s skills forced four overtime games last season, but she will need to be even more reliable between the pipes in 2000-01.
That’s because she can no longer count on veteran defensemen like Jennie Setaro and Erine Metcalf. The most experienced blueliners this season are sophomore Kim Greene (7g, 17a) and junior Erica Archambeau (4g, 8a). They will have to bear down in the defensive zone if the Huskies expect to go deep in the playoffs this season.
Junior forward Brooke Whitney (12g, 22a) will take over for Witt as the designated goal-scorer this season. Both Whitney and White were invited to the USA Hockey Festival in Lake Placid this summer, but only Whitney remained at Northeastern afterward as White opted for the national squad. Seniors Lisa Giovanelli (17g, 10a) and Collen Coen (10g, 9a) should also see plenty of shifts at forward.
5. New Hampshire Wildcats
Last year: 24-10-0, 17-7-0; 3rd place regular season; reached ECAC quarterfinals
Head Coach: Karen Kay
Key Losses: Forwards Carisa Zaban, Samantha Holmes, Tina Carrabba and Melissa McKenzie, Defenseman Brandi Kerns
Players to Watch: Goalie Jen Huggon, Forward Michelle Thornton
Nobody ever thought this could happen in Durham, but it looks like 2000-01 will be a rebuilding year for perennial power UNH. This should not be a surprise, however, given that the Wildcats have lost four of the conference’s top 13 scorers to graduation.
With the likes of Carisa Zaban, Samantha Holmes, Tina Carrabba and Melissa McKenzie no longer terrorizing opposing defenses, New Hampshire coach Karen Kay will have to rely on sophomore goaltender Jen Huggon to keep the Wildcats competitive. As a rookie last season, Huggon finished fifth in the ECAC in both GAA (1.99) and save percentage (.922).
“Huggon had a great rookie season and we have some talent on defense,” said Kay. “But we have some unanswered questions up front. Who is going to pick up the goal-scoring this year? It will be a good challenge for us.”
The challenge will likely fall on the shoulder pads of senior forward Michelle Thornton (12g, 17a), who is coming off of an ACL injury but should be ready to play when the season starts. With the departure of Kelly McManus, who transferred to Boston College, Thornton is the only proven scorer on the team.
To make matters worse, UNH has also lost its top two defensemen from last season — Kerry Maher to graduation and Brandi Kerns to an ACL injury that forced her to sit out the year as a medical redshirt. Kay will have to hope that her freshman blueliners can make the transition to college hockey quickly.
6. St. Lawrence Saints
Last year: 18-15-1, 11-12-1; 7th place regular season; reached ECAC quarterfinals
Head Coach: Paul Flanagan
Key Losses: none
Players to Watch: Forwards Caroline Trudeau, Nicole Kirnan, Stacy Boudrias and Amanda Sargeant
After setting a school record for wins last season, the Saints return their entire roster this year and have a shot at hosting a quarterfinal game.
“We had a great finish last year and we just want to pick up from there,” said coach Paul Flanagan.
The bulk of St. Lawrence’s offense should come from a top forward line consisting of three talented seniors — Caroline Trudeau (17g, 16a), Nicole Kirnan (12g, 19a) and Stacy Bourdrias (14g, 14a). But the Saints don’t lose much on the second line, which features a trio of sophomores in Amanda Sargeant (15g, 14a), Chera Marshall (13g, 11a) and Shannon Smith (8g, 15a).
Flanagan has a plethora of bodies to choose from for goaltender. Seniors Emily Stein and Caryn Ungewitter platooned between the pipes last season, but Flanagan expects rookie Rachel Barrie and sophomore Shari Bryska to compete for time as goaltender as well.
St. Lawrence is not quite as deep at the blue line, where juniors Meghan Maguire (3g, 14a) and Colleen Coakley (2g, 6a) will see plenty of minutes.
7. Providence Friars
Last year: 20-10-3, 14-7-3; 6th place regular season; reached ECAC quarterfinals
Head Coach: Bob Deraney
Key Losses: Goalie Sara DeCosta
Players to Watch: Forwards Jess Tabb, Kim Mathias and Jenn Butsch
The Friars will have a very different look in 2000-01, especially from the perspective of the Providence crease, where the absence of netminder Sara DeCosta will be a welcome relief to the rest of the ECAC.
DeCosta bypassed her senior season to train with Mounsey and Ruggiero on the U.S. National Team. With her reliable pads between the pipes last season, Providence was able to shut out high-scoring Harvard in Cambridge, and in the playoffs the Friars played Dartmouth to a scoreless tie at Hanover until the Big Green finally managed a goal in double overtime.
Without DeCosta, Providence will have to increase its scoring production to return to the playoffs this season.
“It was a joy to spend a year coaching the best woman goalie in the world,” said coach Bob Deraney. “But the rest of the team got overlooked last season, and now they will have a chance to show what they’re capable of.”
Deraney can look to an experienced core of forwards to provide more offensive production this season. The Friars return their top six scorers from last season, including senior Jess Tabb (26g, 15a), junior Kim Mathias (13g, 17a) and sophomore Jenn Butsch (13g, 9a).
Senior blueliner Holley Tyng (1g, 5a) will be the Providence anchor in the defensive zone. But the real question for the Friars is who will replace all-everything DeCosta. Crystal Nicholas, a transfer from national champion Minnesota, highly-touted rookie Amy Quinlan and junior Brigid Keady will all compete to be the Providence netminder.
8. Niagara Purple Eagles
Last year: 17-13-3, 10-12-2; 8th place regular season; reached ECAC quarterfinals
Head Coach: Margot Page
Key Losses: none
Players to Watch: Goalie Tania Pinelli, Forwards Valerie Hall, Candice Ceelen and Brooke Bradburn
If Niagara does not make the conference tournament this March, the 2000-01 season will have been a disappointment for the Purple Eagles. Not bad for a program in just its third year of Division I hockey.
“It’s nerve-wracking to be ranked eighth coming into the season,” said coach Margot Page. “It was exciting to make the playoffs last year but it will be a bigger challenge to do that again. But we have experience and defense and that’s what you need to win in the ECAC.”
With everyone back from last year’s squad, Niagara’s bench is so deep that Page said she might have to cut a few veterans to make room for nine recruits. The Purple Eagles should have more experience and talent this season, and they could become a legitimate contender by March.
Page should expect plenty of scoring from a pair of sophomore standout forwards, Valerie Hall (19g, 17a) and Candice Ceelen (16g, 18a), as well as junior forwards Brooke Bradburn (18g, 14a) and Stephanie Romain (11g, 18a). Jennifer Goulet and Lindsay Vine are two of the rookies who could make an impact offensively this year.
The key to Niagara’s defense will be junior netminder Tania Pinelli, who was fifth in the conference with a 2.12 GAA last season. Pinelli may leave the squad for a few stretches to play for the Canadian National Team.
Pinelli will rely on juniors Barbara Prall (2g, 11a) and Julie Forsyth (5g, a), the most experienced blueliners, for help in the defensive zone. Talented sophomore defenseman Linda Groff (5g, 10a) should also see plenty of minutes.
9. Princeton Tigers
Last year: 11-13-5, 9-12-3; 9th place finish
Head Coach: Jeff Kampersal
Key Losses: Defenseman Annamarie Holmes
Players to Watch: Forwards Andrea Kilbourne and Nikola Holmes
Once Ben Smith decided to raid the ECAC of its top defensemen, he managed to do a thorough job. In addition to Brown’s Tara Mounsey and Harvard’s Angela uggiero, Smith asked Princeton blueliner Annamarie Holmes to train with the U.S. National Team this season.
That leaves Princeton with only two players who scored more than 10 goals for a team that failed to make the playoffs last year.
“We’ll just have to make amends for last season, which was enjoyable to coach but very unsatisfying competitively,” said coach Jeff Kampersal.
It’s always enjoyable to watch junior forward Andrea Kilbourne (18g, 20a) on the breakaway. Kilbourne’s talent was held somewhat in check last year only because opposing were able to key in on her defensively, which means she will need sophomore forward Nikola Holmes (13g, 13a), Annamarie’s sister, to prove herself a legitimate goal-scorer.
Kampersal expects the Tiger offense to be deeper this season with the addition of rookies Lisa Rasmussen, Gretchen Anderson and Susan Hobson.
But the blue line will look severely depleted; Kampersal will miss the services of three-year captain Dani Holtschlag in addition to Annamarie Holmes. Junior Aviva Grumet-Morris (1g, 13a) is the only experienced veteran, and freshman Angela Gooldy will be expected to play a major role in the defensive zone early in her collegiate career.
Sophomore Sarah Alquist and rookie Megan Van Beusekom will battle for the starting job at goaltender.
10. Cornell Big Red
Last year: 13-14-1, 9-14-1; 10th place finish
Head Coach: Carol Mullins
Key Losses: Forwards Alison Stewart and Colette Bredin
Players to Watch: Forwards Erica Olson and Jenel Bode
Cornell returns nearly its entire roster from a squad that finished three points shy of the eighth and final playoff berth last season. But the Big Red needs to prove that it has improved before it can start thinking about the postseason in 2000-01.
The most talented core for the Big Red is at forward, where senior Erica Olson (15g, 7a) and junior Jenel Bode (11g, 11a) are the most reliable goal scorers. Mullins will also expect production from senior Danielle Bilodeau (8g, 11a) and sophomore Murao Lindsay (5g, 13a).
Senior Patricia Kemp (1g, 4a) is the leader of a veteran defensive unit that includes sophomore Brooke Bestwick (2g, 9a) and junior Eva Nahorniak (2g, 5a). Behind the blueliners, sophomores Liz Connelly, Sanya Sandahl and transfer Kristin Perry will platoon at goaltender.
11. Boston College Eagles
Last year: 6-22-2, 1-21-2; 13th place finish
Head Coach: Tom Babson
Key Losses: none
Players to Watch: Forwards Jen Buckley and Kelly McManus
Boston College will try to jump out of last place with nearly its entire roster back for another season.
The leaders of the Eagles are senior forwards Jen Buckley (14g, 10a) and Lisa Molvar (12g, 7a). They can expect some help on offense from Kelly McManus, a transfer from New Hampshire.
Sophomore Genevieve Richardson (3g, 8a) will anchor the Boston College defense, while junior Sharon VanTuyl will take over between the pipes now that Christy Nentwig has graduated.
11. Maine Black Bears
Last year: 6-19-2, 3-19-2; 11th place finish
Head Coach: Rick Filighera
Key Losses: Kira Misikowetz
Players to Watch: Forwards Andrea Keller and Raffi Wolf
Maine’s chances to rise out of the cellar were hurt by the transfer of Kira Misikowetz, last season’s leading scorer. The Black Bears will look to junior forwards Andrea Keller (11g, 11a) and Raffi Wolf (15g, 6a) for goal-scoring. Senior blueliner Kelly Nelson (4g, 4a) will lead the defense while junior Amanda Cronin will start between the pipes.
13. Yale Bulldogs
Last year: 6-22-1, 2-22-1; 12th place finish
Head Coach: John Marchetti
Key Losses: none
Players to Watch: Forward Lisa Meyers
The Elis will be hard-pressed to overcome their 13th-place prediction this season. Senior forward Lisa Meyers (11g, 6a) is the only Bulldog who scored more than 10 goals last season, and junior netminder Katie Hirte, who was forced to make 851 saves last year, will be tested early and often between the pipes.
“I am cautiously optimistic about our chances to be a lot more competitive and entertaining this year,” said coach John Marchetti. “The success of our program depends on leadership in the locker room with eight new players this year.”