Four teams will converge on St. Peter, Minn. this weekend for the 2010 NCAA Division III Womens Ice Hockey Championships, hosted by Gustavus Adolphus at the Don Roberts Rink.
This marks the first time in the tournaments nine year history that it will be held in the west after three finals have been held at Plattsburgh, three at Elmira, and two at Middlebury.
Last year, Amherst won a thrilling 4-3 overtime game against Elmira to claim its first national championship at the Chip Kenyon 85 Arena in Middlebury, Vt.
Amherst and Elmira return to this years championship weekend with hopes of meeting in the finals again. Looking to spoil the rematch is MIAC powerhouse Gustavus Adolphus, who returns to the national semifinals for the first time since 2006, as well as the new kids on the block Norwich.
This years final four has the components to go down as one of the best in the short history of the NCAA sponsoring a D-III championship. You have the perennial powerhouse Elmira, making its sixth final four appearance. The defending champions Amherst, the Western power Gustavus Adolphus, and the newcomer Norwich.
How they got here
Amherst (21-2-4) defeated Trinity 2-1 in overtime in the NESCAC Championship to win its third conference tournament title in the last four years. The Lady Jeffs qualified for their fourth straight NCAA Tournament and are making their third final four appearance in the last four seasons.
Amherst earned the top seed and the first round bye – but was denied hosting rights – which normally go to the top seed. The NCAA awarded Gustavus Adolphus the hosting rights based on a rule put in place before the 2006-2007 that stated the tournament must go west once every four seasons. This is the fourth year of that rotation and the tournament had yet to be held in the west.
Amherst coach Jim Plumer said that Lady Jeffs had a target on their backs all season as the defending national champions; getting teams best games night in and night out. The NESCAC Tournament was no different as Amherst needed overtime to beat both Bowdoin and Trinity.
I wasnt surprised to see them come at us the way they did, Plumer said. The tournament was a reflection of our season where we were always getting everyones best shot. I thought we played well in both games and they werent as even in reality as they were on the scoreboard. We found ways to win.
Elmira (23-4-1) edged Trinity 2-1 at the Murray Athletic Center last Saturday to punch its third straight ticket to the final four. The Soaring Eagles had to rally from an early deficit as Trinity took a 1-0 lead just 34 seconds into the game.
An early deficit and with Laura Hurd Award winner Isabel Iwachiw in net for the Bantams could have spelled disaster for the Soaring Eagles. However, second period goals from Alex Bresler and Jillayne DeBus gave Elmira a 2-1 lead that they never relinquished.
They got off to a great start, Elmira coach Greg Fargo said of Trinity. Our game plan was to try and take it to them right from the start and we failed at that. We did a good job responding and stayed focused and were able to battle back against a great goaltender and a defensive team. The girls showed a lot of character to bounce back after a shaky start.
Gustavus Adolphus (22-4-2) finally broke its three-year curse of losing in the quarterfinal round and broke through with a 2-0 win over Wis.-River Falls, the same team that ended the Gusties season last year.
River Falls didnt make things easy though for Gustavus Adolphus, battling the Gusties to a 0-0 tie after two periods even though the Falcons were heavily outshot 31-5. However, River Falls goaltender Cassi Campbell stood strong turning away every shot.
Gustavus Adolphus was finally able to bust through at the 2:28 mark of the third with a goal from Allie Schwab. Nara Higano put a dagger in River Falls hopes a minute later with another goal to give the Gusties all the offense they would need as they rolled to a the 2-0 shutout win.
We played really well but for whatever reason we couldnt get it past their goaltender, Gustavus Adolphus coach Mike Carroll said. She played very well and made some big saves. The game could have gone either way but Allie [Schwab]s goal really got us back in it emotionally and we started rolling from there. We have done a good job of finishing games off recently.
Norwich (19-5-5) was the trendy pick to make its first ever final four appearance this season and the Cadets lived up to the hype, but not after struggling through the middle and second half of their season.
Norwich continued its postseason resurgence with its fourth straight win by pulling the shocking 3-2 upset of second seeded Plattsburgh. The Cadets lost 7-2 in the regular season meeting between the two squads and for a majority of Saturdays contest; it looked as though Plattsburgh would pull through again.
However, Norwichs senior captain Sophie Leclerc had other ideas as she scored twice in the last 1:37 of the game to rally the Cadets to a 3-2 win and shock the Cardinals.
The kids played well, Norwich coach Mark Bolding said. We knew going into the game that we were going to get bombarded with shots. We built up some self-confidence though and weathered the storm through the first period when they outplayed us pretty badly. We responded though in the second and started generating chances in the second while building up confidence setting the stage for Sophies heroics in the final minutes.
Elmira vs. Norwich
The Soaring Eagles and Cadets will meet for the second straight year in the postseason. Last season, Norwich gave Elmira everything it could handle before falling 3-2 in the quarterfinals.
The game features a classic storyline of the perennial powerhouse against the upstart challenger. Elmira will be looking to improve on its 4-1 record in national semifinal games and get to the finals for the fifth time in program history.
Were excited to be back, Fargo said. When you lose the way we did last year its a hard blow at the time. This is a second chance for us to redeem ourselves and erase that memory. Were hoping to come home with the right trophy this time.
Elmira returns an experienced group from last years national runner-up squad including all three of its top scorers as seniors. The Soaring Eagles have five players with 11 or more goals, led by Sophomore Alex Breslers 18.
Senior forward and captain Jenna McCall is the Soaring Eagles sparkplug and has responded from a slow start to her season to really turn it on in the second half.
We know theyve got some players up front that are talented and some defensive kids that chip in on offense. Fargo said of Norwich. They made some adjustments defensive wise against Plattsburgh. They are going to be motivated and were going to have to come out with a great effort.
Norwich has already proven they can rise to the occasion against the ECAC West teams in the big games after giving Elmira one its toughest challenges last season and then pulling the upset of Plattsburgh this season.
Bolding said that hes proud of how far the program has come in just its third season of existence. The womens team is quickly becoming like its mens team who is a traditional powerhouse year in and year out as is currently the top-ranked team in D-III as they head to the mens final four in the Lake Placid this weekend.
We feel pretty good about the steps were taking and the confidence we are gaining from beating a team like Plattsburgh, Bolding said. Were going to put it all on the table and go out there and see what we can do. Hopefully we can play spoiler and win two