‘Cats, Huskies, and ‘Eagles on the Rise
In both 1999 and 2000, none of the six members of the ECAC East who were in Division I at the time made the four-team national tournament. However, with No. 3 New Hampshire, No. 5 Northeastern and No. 8 Niagara each off to fast starts, that trend appears to be dead.
No one seriously thought it would last long anyway, given the history of the ECAC East’s programs and the plethora of young talent they each returned this season.
It’s worth noting that both New Hampshire and Northeastern each started off strong last year — 9-2 and 11-2 respectively — then went on to finish the season at or just above the .500 mark. Two years ago, Niagara started the season 9-1-1, then went 8-12-2 the rest of the way.
But this year should be different.
Between those 20 early-season wins last season for the Wildcats and the Huskies, only Northeastern’s victory over Dartmouth was against a team that finished more than three games above .500. Each of those nine wins for Niagara two years ago was against a sub-.500 or an Independent team.
This year, however, each team has at least a few quality wins to its credit. New Hampshire swept Wisconsin last weekend, Northeastern swept St. Lawrence last month, and Niagara is the only team other than Minnesota-Duluth to have beaten Minnesota.
The way New Hampshire has been winning its games defensively has been eye-opening. After giving up seven goals in their first two games against Ohio State, the Wildcats have allowed just two goals in their last seven games.
New Hampshire’s dramatic reversal can be attributed largely to the fact that the Wildcats were still adjusting to a new defensive system in their opening weekend against the Buckeyes.
“We played more of a zone defense last year, and we thought with a little more experience this year, we’d go man-to-man, because if we can get good at it, it’s real hard for the other teams to play against it,” said New Hampshire coach Karen Kay after her team’s first two games. “We’re asking a pretty young team to play man-to-man. That’s not an easy thing and it’ll take a lot of work, but we feel we can do that, so we’re making a commitment to it.”
Kay said that most of the younger players on the team weren’t used to playing man-to-man and estimated that only 80 percent of her players were comfortable with her defense at the outset of the season. With the Wildcats now boasting a 305:50 shutout streak going into this weekend’s games, that number is looking ever closer to 100 percent.
Northeastern, meanwhile, wasn’t given as much preseason billing as New Hampshire or Providence, largely due to the graduation of First Team All-American goaltender Erika Silva. But the return of Brooke White from a year off with the U.S. National Team has given the Huskies a boost, as she is among the national leaders in assists.
As for the goaltending situation, Northeastern coach Joy Woog had confidence in Wisconsin transfer Chanda Gunn as her No. 1 goaltender from day one, and she has delivered.
“Gunn was here last year but she didn’t get a lot of playing time because she was behind Erika Silva,” Woog said. “[Gunn] has set the tone for the team and she’s a real team player.”
Gunn is second in the nation in save percentage among goaltenders with at least 100 saves. Oddly enough, New Hampshire’s Jen Huggon is first in that category and Niagara’s Tania Pinelli is third.
Niagara has opened the season with nine wins in ten games despite missing all-time leading scorer Brooke Bradburn for its first six games.
Bradburn sustained a high ankle sprain in the Oct. 14 ECAC East All-Stars vs. U.S. National Team game and was expected to be out for at least six weeks, but was back in time for the Purple Eagles’ 3-0, 5-0 sweep of Providence on Nov. 9-10. She has produced a goal and five assists to make an immediate impact in the four games since her comeback.
Northeastern hosts Niagara on Saturday in the premier eastern intraleague series of the weekend. As both teams enter the weekend on a roll, with great goaltending and no shortage of goal-scorers, the matchup is tough to call either way. The closest thing to a certainty, however, is that at least one player named Brooke will get her name on the scoreboard.
Dartmouth’s current 5-0 record may be on pace to match last year’s 11-0-1 start, but the way the Big Green has been winning in its three games since blowing out Vermont has been less than encouraging.
Dartmouth coach Judy Oberting considered her team fortunate to win its Ivy openers against Brown and Harvard. A week later, the Big Green found itself trailing 2-1 after two periods against perennial cellar team Boston College — at Hanover no less — before coming back to win in overtime.
Now No. 2 Dartmouth must travel to No. 6 Minnesota to face a Gopher team on Saturday that has allowed more than two goals in a game only once all season. Minnesota will hope to exploit a young Big Green defense, which consists of two freshmen, two sophomores and two seniors,
“We have a very young defensive crew, and we ran around a lot in our own end,” said Oberting following her team’s come-from-behind victory against Brown. “But the learning curve is steep, and I think once we get a little more settled down in our end, we’re going to make huge strides.”
It wasn’t a great week for Dartmouth women’s hockey in general, as Big Green senior Correne Bredin became one of the final cuts off the Canadian Olympic roster.
Since St. Lawrence’s Gina Kingsbury was among the first cuts, St. Lawrence’s Isabelle Chartrand and Harvard’s Jennifer Botterill are the only players with collegiate hockey experience and future eligibility left on the Canadian Olympic roster.
One of bright spots for Dartmouth has been the play of junior Lydia Wheatley, who scored a critical insurance goal in the Big Green victory over Brown-just seconds after Dartmouth took its first lead of the night-and then netted the overtime winner against Boston College last Saturday.
“Lydia Wheatley has quietly been one of our best players since she got here,” Oberting said. “She’s so smart and she makes great decisions.”
Dartmouth’s forward lines will also be bolstered by the return of Carolyn Steele, who just finished up an ECAC Championship field hockey season.
Cheryl Muranko, one of the Big Green’s Canadian U-22 freshmen, still has yet to make an impact due to a knee injury.
Although Dartmouth may not be playing well, the team is still finding a way to win its games. The same can’t be said for Brown and Harvard. The Crimson hosts the Bears on Saturday in a matchup a critical importance, given that each team has been winless in three games against ranked opponents so far this season.
While Harvard has been getting goal scoring from Nicole Corriero, who is second only to Dartmouth’s Carly Haggard in national goals per game, the Crimson has struggled to play a full 60 minutes with its short roster. Against Dartmouth and Minnesota, Harvard dominated early, but could not hold on in the third period.
If the Bears were hoping to turn around its season against Harvard, the Crimson is hardly the opponent of choice. Brown is 0-5-1 in six games versus Harvard since dealing the Crimson its only loss during the 1999 championship season.
The Bears’ 4-1 and 5-0 losses in their two most recent meetings with Harvard were their only two defeats by more than a goal last season. And while it may be easy to discount that result because of the absence of Olympians on the Crimson roster this year, those two games against Brown were actually two of the most productive games for Harvard’s second line last season.
The Bears beat themselves against Dartmouth two weeks ago by committing several penalties down the stretch, and they followed that up with a disappointing effort against Minnesota last Saturday. Brown may have come back to tie No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth on Sunday, but the Bears will have to play with more consistency in the coming weekend in order to back up their No. 3 national ranking with results on the ice.