In Season of Parity, Rookies Will Be Crucial
With so many of last year’s superstars throughout the country lost to graduation or the U.S. National Team, the schools with the best freshmen could go far this season. Here’s a look at which rookies have stepped up thus far.
New Hampshire: Forward Janine Goulet and defenseman Kristen Thomas
This back line-front line duo provided all the scoring Sunday as the Wildcats (3-0) beat then-No. 10 Ohio State (2-3) to jump to No. 6 in this week’s USCHO.com poll. Both of goals by Thomas (3g, 0a) came on the power play, while Goulet (3g, 1a) scored the game-winner midway through the opening period. This did not come as a surprise to UNH coach Karen Kay.
“We recruited kids who knew what was expected of them this season and looked forward to the challenge,” Kay said. “All of our freshmen are being given opportunities to play in all situations, including our power-play and penalty-kill units, and this puts them in positions to succeed.”
On a team that lost its four leading scorers from last season, as well as its best defenseman to injury, it is crucial that rookies contribute on offense and defense. Goulet’s experience in the Ottawa Senior AAA league and Thomas’ strong slapshots from the point give the Wildcats a competitive balance which could make them a contender this season.
“Our rookies must make an immediate impact on our program in order for us to challenge for an ECAC or NCAA championship,” Kay said. “We are a team that has to get better each game we play this season in order to be there in the end when it counts.”
St. Cloud State: Forward Ricki-Lee Doyle and defenseman Kobi Kawamoto
Like Janine Goulet for New Hampshire, it always helps to have a few Canadians on your team. So St. Cloud State (2-4) went out and added several rookies from north of the border, and the dividends are paying off immediately.
Kobi Kawamoto (2g, 4a), a member of Canada’s first Under-22 team, is a legitimate scoring threat from the blue line. That makes scoring up front a lot easier for Ricki-Lee Doyle (3g, 4a), who leads the Huskies in points. Doyle, a native of Calgary, Alberta, spent last season training at the Olympic Oval High Performance Program, as did teammate Leanne Perrin, another rookie defenseman for the Huskies.
Ohio State: Defensemen Kelli Halcisak and Emma Laaksonen
The Buckeyes (2-3) are set at the blue line this season. That’s because they have a pair of past and future Olympians there to let Ohio State coach Jackie Barto alternate two very solid defensive lines throughout a contest.
Kelli Halcisak (1g, 5a) played on the U.S. National Team for the last two seasons at the Three Nations Cup. Emma Laaksonen won a bronze medal for Team Finland at Nagano in 1998 and should play for the Finnish again in Salt Lake City next year. With two defensemen who can handle the puck up and down the ice and threaten to score from the point, Ohio State should be much more competitive this season.
Rookie of the (Very Early) Year
The most impressive freshman thus far has been Wisconsin’s Meghan Hunter (11g, 4a), the reigning WCHA Player of the Week. Hunter had a hand in 10 of the Badgers’ 12 goals against St. Cloud State last weekend. In each contest she recorded a hat trick and two assists. Hunter leads all scorers so far (although some teams have not yet played their first game) and complements a Wisconsin offense that will have to score more goals to give netminder Jackie MacMillan a chance to beat teams like No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth (which she already did two weeks ago) and No. 2 Minnesota.