Every year, there are two regular season tournaments that should be circled on every Division III women’s hockey fans calendar. The first already happened this year with Norwich’s East/West Hockey Classic, which featured four top-10 teams at the time in Norwich, R.I.T., Elmira, and Manhattanville. It also featured a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown, a rematch of last year’s national championship game, with RIT enacting a small amount of revenge with a 4-1 win over Norwich after the Cadets stunned the top-ranked and host Tigers in the 2011 NCAA title game last March.
The other tournament takes place this weekend, with the annual Cardinal-Panther Classic. This year’s tournament marks the seventh edition of the annual showdown between four of the East’s perennial powerhouses. The four participants also were the only four teams to win the D-III national championship until Norwich broke the mold last season.
For the last six years, Middlebury and Plattsburgh have rotated as the host site for the tournament. Elmira has also joined the two co-hosts for all six years, and will make it seven this year. Williams was the fourth team for the first four years of the tournament until being replaced by Amherst for the 2009-10 season. The Lord Jeffs are back again this year for their third go around.
This year’s tournament does feature a couple of twists however. After being played the first weekend in January the last two seasons, the tournament has switched back to November, when it took place the first four years. Also, Plattsburgh will be hosting for the second straight year, as Middlebury was unable to host this year due to their men’s squad already hosting the annual PrimeLink Great Northern ShootOut this weekend at Chip Kenyon ’85 Arena.
There have been three different champions over the past three seasons, with Amherst winning last year, Elmira in 2010, and Plattsburgh winning its third straight title in 2008-09. The Cardinals also won the previous two seasons, then went on to the win the national championship as well in each of those seasons. Middlebury has claimed the title just once, and that came in the inaugural season in 2005-06.
As usual, all four teams are ranked in the top 10 of the latest USCHO.com poll. Middlebury leads the pack at No. 3, followed by Plattsburgh at four, Amherst at seven, and Elmira at eight. The four teams are a combined 14-1-1 so far this season as well. Elmira and Plattsburgh both have six games under their belt, while Middlebury and Amherst just kicked off their seasons with two-game sweeps.
No. 3 Middlebury Panthers (2-0-0)
Last games: swept Colby 3-2 (OT) and 6-0.
Leading scorers: Katie Sullivan (3-1-4), Maggie Melberg (2-1-3), Madeline Joyce (2-0-2), Heather Marrison (0-2-2), and Hannah Bielawski (0-2-2).
Goalies: Laura Pinsent (1-0-0), 1.94 goals against average, .882 save percentage, and Annabelle Jones (1-0-0), 0.00 goals against average, 1.000 save percentage, one shutout.
Keys to success: The Panthers’ depth is their key, and they’ll only be boosted by the return of last year’s leading scorer, Lauren Greer, who was still playing for the Middlebury field hockey team last weekend at the Final Four. Maggie Melberg, Sara Ugalde, and Grace Waters are all solid forwards as well, and it seems coach Bill Mandigo has brought in another strong recruiting class headlined by Katie Sullivan, who already leads the team in points.
Biggest question mark: Goaltending is going to be the biggest intangible for Middlebury this season, as the Panthers try and replace All-American Alexi Bloom between the pipes.
No. 4 Plattsburgh State Cardinals (5-0-1)
Last game: beat Bowdoin 7-0
Leading scorers: Teal Gove (5-7-12), Chelsea VanGlahn (8-3-11), Emma Rutherford (6-3-9), Jenny Kistner (3-6-9), and Jordan Caldwell (1-7-8).
Goalie: Sydney Aveson (4-0-0), 0.69 goals against average, .948 save percentage, three shutouts.
Keys to success: Chelsea Van Glahn is coming off a memorable performance, with four goals in the last 6:20 of last Saturday’s 7-0 win over Bowdoin. The sophomore is certainly riding in on a hot streak, and has found some chemistry with Jordan Caldwell, who picked up the primary assist on three of the goals. Plattsburgh lost four of its top five scorers from last year, and the lone returnee, Teal Gove, has helped shoulder the load for the Cardinals with a team-leading 12 points so far.
Biggest question mark: Once again, goaltending is a question mark, as Mandy Mackrell was the Cardinals’ clear cut No. 1 last year; she graduated last spring. So far, Sydney Aveson has put up impressive numbers with three shutouts in four starts. The Cardinals are also quite young this year, with no seniors in their top eight in scoring right now. Can their underclassmen handle the pressure?
No. 7 Amherst Lord Jeffs (2-0-0)
Last games: swept Hamilton 5-1 and 4-1
Leading scorers: Josie Fisher (2-2-4), Geneva Lloyd (2-1-3), Melissa Martin (2-0-0), Tori Salmon (1-1-2), and Ashley Salerno (0-2-2).
Goalies: Kerri Stuart (1-0-0), 1.00 goals against average, .923 save percentage, and Sinead Murphy (1-0-0), 1.00 goals against average, .938 save percentage.
Keys to success: Amherst’s game starts and stops with its transition from defense to offense by their defense. Geneva Lloyd is one of the best players in the country, and the Lord Jeffs will look to run the offense through her most of the weekend. Watch out for Stephanie Clegg on the power play, as she ranked second in the nation last year with 10 power play tallies.
Biggest question mark: Stop me if you heard this before, but goaltending is once again going to be a key point for Amherst. Head coach Jim Plumer seems content with a tandem right now, and both put up admirable performances against Hamilton last weekend in limited action. They’ll both see a lot more pucks this weekend.
No. 8 Elmira College Soaring Eagles (5-1-0)
Last games: swept Utica 2-1 and 5-2
Leading scorers: Tori Charron (5-5-10), Alex Bresler (6-3-9), Tanis Lamoureux (4-5-9), Ashley Ryan (3-4-7), and Brooke Wilgosh (1-5-6).
Goalie: Lauren Sullivan (3-1-0), 2.27 goals against average, .882 save percentage
Keys to success: The Soaring Eagles need to continue to get scoring from outside of Tori Charron, and so far that’s been happening this year. Charron scored 28 goals last year, but Elmira didn’t have any offensive standouts beside her. This year, Alex Bresler has regained her sophomore year form, when she scored 19 goals. Last year, she only had five, and she has already surpassed that with six this year. Tanis Lamoureux isn’t flashy, but she does a lot of little things right that will help you win hockey games. Ryan and Wilgosh have looked like studs so far as freshman as well.
Biggest question mark: Can Elmira win more big games this year? The Soaring Eagles had a down year by their programs standards last year. Although they had wins against Middlebury and Plattsburgh, they also had some forgettable results too. Consistency, balanced scoring, and sharp goaltending from Sullivan will be musts if Elmira wants to win two games.
Complete Tournament History:
2005-06: @ Middlebury
Plattsburgh: 3 Williams: 2
Middlebury: 4 Elmira: 3
Elmira: 3 Williams: 2
Middlebury: 4 Plattsburgh: 2
Champions – Middlebury
2006-07: @ Plattsburgh
Plattsburgh: 4 Middlebury:2
Elmira: 5 Williams: 2
Middlebury: 5 Williams: 1
Plattsburgh: 5 Elmira: 4 (OT)
Champions – Plattsburgh
2007-08: @ Middlebury
Plattsburgh: 2 Williams: 0
Middlebury: 3 Elmira: 1
Elmira: 5 Williams: 3
Plattsburgh: 3 Middlebury:2
Champions – Plattsburgh
2008-09: @ Plattsburgh
Plattsburgh: 4 Williams:2
Middlebury: 2 Elmira: 1
Elmira: 8 Williams: 2
Plattsburgh: 2 Middlebury: 2 (OT) Plattsburgh wins SO 1-0
Champions – Plattsburgh
2009-10: @ Middlebury
Amherst: 2 Plattsburgh: 1
Elmira: 3 Middlebury: 2
Plattsburgh: 4 Middlebury: 1
Elmira: 2 Amherst: 1
Champions – Elmira
2010-11: @ Plattsburgh
Amherst: 1 Plattsburgh: 1 (OT) Amherst wins SO 2-0
Elmira: 2 Middlebury: 1 (OT)
Plattsburgh: 5 Middlebury: 0
Amherst: 1 Elmira: 0
Champions – Amherst