For the third consecutive year, Kreitzberg Arena in Northfield, Vt., is the place to be the last weekend in October for Division III women’s college hockey, as Norwich University hosts the annual East/West Hockey Classic.
In just three years, the East/West Hockey Classic has established itself as one of the premier, if not the best, D-III women’s hockey tournaments in the country with the eventual national champion coming from the tournament in each of last two editions.
RIT, who has unofficially won the last two Classic titles, has moved on to Division I after winning the national championship last March with a 4-1 win over Norwich.
There is no talent dropoff in RIT’s replacement however, as ECAC West perennial powerhouse Plattsburgh joins returning squads Manhattanville and Elmira this year for the first time to round out the 2012 field.
Plattsburgh enters the 2012-13 season coming off its first Frozen Four appearance since winning back-to-back national championships in 2007 and 2008.
“We had an extremely young team last year, but we also had a pretty good group of senior leadership,” said Plattsburgh coach Kevin Houle, who enters his 10th season. “Maybe not a lot of was expected of us from the outside looking in, but I think a lot is always expected out of Plattsburgh whether you’re young or old. Always felt confident we could make a pretty good run, and the turning point of our season was beating RIT at home.”
The Cardinals return nine of their top 10 scorers from last year’s squad, including First Team RBK All-American and ECAC West Player of the Year Teal Gove (21-20-41).
“Numbers wise, we didn’t lose a lot of scoring, but we did lose a lot of leadership and character players across the board,” Houle said. “Every one of them contributed, including losing two defensemen when you’re basically only playing five.”
Junior forward Jenny Kistner (8-21-29), sophomore Emma Rutherford (16-10-26), sophomore Shannon Stewart (10-15-25), sophomore Alyssa Parke (6-17-23), junior Chelsea VanGlahn (12-9-21), and sophomore Morgan MacInnis (10-10-20) also return to round out Plattsburgh’s well-balanced offense.
“We got contributions from all our freshmen last year,” Houle said. “A lot is expected of them this year, and now they need to go out and improve on those seasons, rather than rest on their accomplishments, if we want to get better.”
In goal, senior Sydney Aveson returns after a breakout junior campaign where she went 18-6-2 with a 1.62 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage.
“Our goaltending struggled the first month of last season,” Houle said. “But, Sydney kind of turned the corner during the Norwich game at Norwich. Even though we lost that game, I think she gained a lot of confidence and the team did too in her. From that point on, she was our No. 1 and became one of the better goalies in the country.”
RIT jumping up to Division I helped create the void in Plattsburgh’s schedule that allowed the Cardinals the chance to come to the East/West Classic this year.
“We lost RIT in our conference, so we were looking to pick up a couple of games,” Houle said. “We play these teams during the regular season usually. To pick them up was a natural, and it kind of fit our schedule to play early on like this. It’s going to be a test for our team. Everybody is in the same boat being on the ice for two weeks.”
Although Elmira reached the 20-win plateau last season, the Soaring Eagles will once again travel to Vermont eager to wash away the memories of another disappointing ECAC West play-in round exit.
“The team is pretty motivated, and they don’t want to be the same situation they’ve been in the last two years,” said first-year coach Dean Jackson. “They know where they want to be, and we’re going to do everything we can as a team and a staff to try and make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Jackson takes the reins of the program after Greg Fargo left to take the job at Division I Colgate over the summer. Jackson played at Elmira (2003 graduate), and has been an assistant on the men’s side for several years.
“I was part of the program as a player and coach on the men’s side,” he said. “I’ve been around the success and culture of the women’s program pretty much from the inception of it. It’s nice, because we can hit the ground running rather than trying to figure out what we’re about.”
The Soaring Eagles return five of their top 10 scorers from last season, led by sophomore Ashley Ryan (10-13-23), Tanis Lamoureux (9-10-19), Ella Stewart (4-11-15), senior captain Caitlin Metcalf (5-8-13), and sophomore Brooke Wilgosh (3-10-13). Sophomore Ashton Hogan also joins the Soaring Eagles this season after playing her freshman season at Plattsburgh, posting six goals and eight assists for 14 points.
“Ashley and Tanis are both solid players that can put the puck in the net,” Jackson said. “On the back end, we’re really strong and as a coach and a program that’s where you want to build your team around. We have a good group of defensemen that are mobile and can make plays at both ends of the ice.”
Behind that group of defensemen will be a strong and experienced goaltending tandem in senior Lauren Sullivan and junior Lisa Marshall. Sullivan was 9-3-1 with a 1.67 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. Marshall was 8-2-0 with a 1.44 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage.
With RIT’s departure, Elmira and Norwich are now the lone remaining teams that have been to every edition of the tournament.
“We feel very privileged to have this opportunity to be in this event on this weekend on a year-to-year basis,” Jackson said. “The quality of the teams is very strong on the national level. It’s a good litmus test to kick off the season for sure. A lot of these teams that are playing this weekend are probably going to be there at the end of the year.”
Manhattanville will travel to what has become its home away from home over the last few seasons in Kreitzberg Arena. Counting this weekend’s pair of games, Manhattanville will have played at Kreitzberg 10 times over the last three seasons since Norwich made its last regular season trek to the Playland Ice Casino on Jan. 16, 2010.
Last time out, Norwich ended its archrival’s season with a 6-3 victory in the ECAC East finals after Manhattanville went up 2-0 early before the Cadets came storming back.
“We reeled off a bunch of wins in a row and barely were giving up a goal in those games,” said Manhattanville second-year coach David Turco. “We got to where we wanted to at the right time last year, but just let it slip away after getting up in the conference championship game.”
The Valiants return six of their top 10 scorers from last year’s 15-9-4 squad. They are led by strong senior class featuring eight players, including forwards Katie Little and Alyssa Taylor. Little posted 17 goals and nine assists for 28 points, while Taylor led the team with 15 assists to go along with four goals for 19 points. Lynsey Schill (9-7-16) and Mary Rose Morrison (8-6-14) also return.
“Having a group of eight seniors coming back this year, they know what to expect and they can help guide our younger kids on what we want to do in our program,” Turco said. “It’s a great corps of veterans, with most of them being forwards. We’re expecting leadership up front in the form of goal scoring. They’ve got a lot of experience playing in big games, especially at Kreitzberg Arena. They’ve won a lot of big games for this program.”
In goal, Manhattanville will be looking to replace Emy Cote, who has played the lion’s share of the minutes over the past few seasons. Junior Mary Evans, sophomore Kirsten Shaughnessy, and freshman Victoria Smishek will compete for time.
“Emy leaves some big shoes to fill, if that is even possible,” Turco said. “We’re definitely looking for a goaltender to step up. The three of them know our starting position is very much up for grabs. Hopefully one of them can emerge as a starter and be someone like Emy that we can ride into these big games.”
Norwich enters the East/West Hockey Classic for the second straight year with the No. 1 ranking and the target square on its back coming off making its third straight national championship game appearance.
The Cadets lost 4-1 to RIT in last year’s national championship after beating the Tigers the year before 5-2. Norwich finished with a 27-3-1 record last season, and returns six out of its top 10 scorers from a year ago, led by senior returning RBK First Team All-American Jillayne DeBus (22-27-49).
Junior forward Renee Lortie (20-18-38), as well as sophomores Kaycie Anderson (23-24-47) and Tyne Gove (13-22-35), return after stellar rookie campaigns. Anderson was named the ECAC East Rookie of the Year after leading the conference and the nation in points.
“The forwards are creative,” said Bolding, who enters his sixth season at the helm of the program with 103 wins. “Jill is one of the premier players in the nation. She brings a lot of poise and skill level. Lortie is super consistent and kind of flies under the radar, but she can score. Kaycie and Tyne had outstanding freshmen years.”
One interesting dynamic to follow will be junior Tori Charron, who followed in DeBus’ footsteps and transferred to Norwich after spending two seasons at Elmira while scoring 46 goals for the Soaring Eagles.
In goal, junior Kelly Fisk returns after a breakout sophomore year in which she posted 20 wins and eight shutouts, which both set new single-season Norwich goaltending records. She also posted a 1.53 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage.
“Kelly developed great last year and started to emerge as one of the better goalies in the nation,” Bolding said. “She had a lot of shutouts and started to put together some good consistent play game after game. She worked hard over the summer, and we’re hoping for big things again, especially with a new focus on team defense this year.”
Bolding said he couldn’t be more pleased to see how well the East/West Hockey Classic has developed in such a short period of time.
“It’s a great setup, and we’re really happy that Plattsburgh jumped in with RIT’s departure,” Bolding said. “The only thing is it becomes a little bit of a pressure cooker. I think the players are feeling that ‘Oh boy, we’ve got to go right away.’ They are big games for all four teams that are here because of how important they are nonconference-wise. You definitely want to get off on the right foot. Everyone might be rusty, but you’ll probably see some pretty passionate hockey from all the teams.”
Norwich kicks off the tournament on Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. by hosting Elmira. Plattsburgh takes on Manhattanville in the nightcap at 6 p.m. On Sunday, Elmira and Manhattanville meet at 1 p.m. before the highly-anticipated showdown between Frozen Four participants from one year ago in Norwich and Plattsburgh at 4 p.m. The squads are also ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the country, which marks the second straight year the East/West Hockey Classic will close with the top two ranked teams in the country facing each other.