With its third Frozen Four appearance in the five-year history of the NCAA women’s hockey tournament, St. Lawrence solidified its status as one of the nation’s elite programs. But while the Frozen Four banners have been perennial, the championship banners have not at either the conference or national level. Could this be the year the Saints finally get over the hump?
If the ECACHL coaches are right, that answer is yes. The Saints earned eight of 11 first-place votes in the league’s preseason poll with good reason. They return four of their top five scorers, six defensemen and their top two goalies, giving them far and away the most veterans of any of last year’s Frozen Four contenders.
Harvard, winner of the last three ECACHL regular season titles and the last two postseason titles, has typically been the Saints’ nemesis. St. Lawrence is just 0-9-3 against Harvard dating back to 2001, a run that includes two ECAC and two NCAA tournament defeats. Expectations for the Crimson this season have been muted since the team lost two-fifths of its top power play unit to graduation and the other three-fifths to the Olympic camps. Yet Harvard did take three of four points from St. Lawrence in 2002 with a roster of comparable inexperience, so the Crimson can never be taken lightly.
Dartmouth, the league’s third perennial Frozen Four contender, has seen lofty preseason expectations deflate under the burden of injuries in each of the past two seasons. This season might be different with less pressure of expectations, fewer distractions to national team callups, and perhaps additional help in the net. And the team returns Tiffany Hagge, one of the most dynamic scorers left in college hockey.
Aside from the usual powers, no conference will be as deep and unpredictable as the ECACHL. The league has several teams that seem capable of finishing anywhere from second to eighth this season. Yale and Princeton, each with all-star goalies, should be capable of maintaining their success, although each also lost a superstar to the Olympic camp. Former power Brown seems headed back on the right track behind strong freshman and sophomore classes. Both Colgate and third-year program Clarkson have made rapid progress in recent years with no signs of slowing down this season. Either could have the kind of breakthrough results that Yale had a year ago by advancing to the ECACHL semifinals.
Rounding out the league is Cornell, Quinnipiac, and Union. Quinnipiac joins the league for its first season after going winless in College Hockey America a year ago. Next year, the league will welcome D-I newcomer Rensselaer, who is playing this season as an independent. The addition of RPI will make the ECACHL the first D-I league to have matching membership among its men’s and women’s programs.
In a change from recent seasons, the 2006 ECACHL Championships will be held at the site of the highest seed instead of a predetermined location. If the prognostications hold true, the ECACHL’s best will be headed to the North Country come March.
1. St. Lawrence
2004-05 Record: (28-8-5, 14-3-3 ECACHL)
Head Coach: Paul Flanagan (142-60-8, 7th season) was the ECAC and AHCA National Coach of the Year in 2001, and he has led St. Lawrence to three Frozen Four appearances in five seasons.
2004-05 Stat Highlights: The Saints were a steady eighth in the nation in both scoring offense and defense. Special teams were an area of weakness as the Saints were just 15th and 14th on the power play and penalty kill, respectively. SLU led the conference in penalty minutes.
Key Departure: All-League forward Rebecca Russell (32-38-70) figured on more than half of the Saints’ goals and finished her career as the school’s all-time leading scorer.
Key Returnees: The Saints return all the defensemen and the top two goalies from a year ago, and although Russell is a big loss at forward, the team still has plenty of firepower. In net, the Saints have Findlay transfer Jess Moffat, a former CHA tournament MVP who was among the nation’s top goalies down the stretch of last season. Sophomore goalie Meaghan Guckian, one of the Saints’ ECAC All-Rookie players at every position a year ago, earned the bulk of first half starts. Combined the two were about as successful as Rachel Barrie, the Saints’ All-American goalie who departed in 2004. At defense, junior Abbie Bullard and sophomore Annie Guay have both been All-Rookie selections, and Guay and senior Laurie Ross both have Canadian U-22 experience. At forward, the Saints are led by Preseason All-League selection Emilie Berlinguette (22-25-47), who was one of the nation’s hottest players down the stretch of last season. Chelsea Grills (20-23-43) was the 2004 ECAC Rookie of the Year, and Sabrina Harbec (16-20-36) was a 2005 All-Rookie selection at forward.
Key Newcomers: Sophomore defenseman Kerri Wallace, an WCHA All-Rookie selection and Canadian Under-22 captain, transfers to St. Lawrence from Minnesota State to toughen an already strong defense. Freshman Alison Domenico is expected to have an immediate offensive impact after posting (11-26-37) numbers to be the No. 2 scorer for the NWHL’s Ottawa Raiders, a team that included former Saints standout Ricki-Lee Doyle. Carson Duggan and Lisa Batchelor both played at an elite level with the Edmonton Chimos of the WWHL.
Outlook: St. Lawrence is stacked with talent of all ages, so a third straight Frozen Four appearance would be no surprise. The Saints faltered in 2002 the last time expectations were nearly this high, but this team is far deeper. The biggest question mark appears to be whether all that St. Lawrence talent can work together to be successful on the penalty kill and power play, where the team struggled a year ago. No one has ever won an NCAA title without being among the national leaders in special teams, and the Saints will have to improve in that area to reach that height. As usual, St. Lawrence’s early schedule is brutal, with six of the first nine games coming against Minnesota, Mercyhurst (2), Providence, Dartmouth and Harvard. With a strong performance there, the Saints could very well establish themselves as the team to beat.
2004-05 Record: (27-8-0, 16-4-0 ECACHL)
Head Coach: Mark Hudak (51-16-2, 3rd season) has led Dartmouth to a No. 1 national ranking and Frozen Four appearance in each of his two seasons and has served seven seasons on the program’s coaching staff.
2004-05 Stat Summary: Dartmouth was third nationally in scoring and power play but just 13th and 16th in scoring defense and penalty kill, respectively.
Key Departures: Four of the teams’ top five scorers and All-League defenseman Alana BreMiller are not back this season. Seniors Cherie Piper (23-37-60), Katie Weatherston (38-15-53), and Gillian Apps (16-26-42) are all training with Team Canada, and captain Meagan Walton (11-29-40) has graduated. Junior goalie Christine Capuano (12-2-0, 1.93, .903) whose career was marked by flashes of brilliance and injuries, did not return. Sarah Parsons, Dartmouth’s top recruit, was selected to the U.S. national team before she arrived.
Key Returnees: Tiffany Hagge (27-21-48) is the second-leading returning goal scorer in the nation, and she was especially hot in the second half. Junior Caroline Ethier (11-7-18) has been the top scorer of her class. Senior Kate Lane (15-6-0