D-III Women’s Special: No. 1 Elmira vs. No. 2 Middlebury

The NCAA has crowned three national champions in Division III women’s hockey. The Elmira Soaring Eagles captured the first two titles in the program’s first two years in existence. Last year, the Middlebury Panthers ascended to the summit, knocking out Elmira along the way in the quarterfinals. This weekend, the Soaring Eagles and the Panthers meet for the first time since that 2004 NCAA Quarterfinal and the fourth time overall. Elmira assumed the post position in the national rankings this week, wresting the spot from the Panthers in the wake of Middlebury’s loss to No. 4 Bowdoin this past Sunday.

Without question, this matchup will feature an abundance of skill, emotion, and star power. The game will gather six former All-Americans, (Elmira–Laura Hurd, LeAnne Denman, and Edith Racine; Middlebury–Shannon Tarrant, Lorna Gifis, Emily Quizon), the nation’s leading scorer (Hurd with 48 points) and the nation’s top power play (Panthers at 29 percent). However, this possible championship preview may not feature an abundance of goals. The prior three meetings have all produced fairly low-scoring results. Neither team has cracked 30 shots and the cumulative goal total is just 13 (Elmira 7, Middlebury 6).

The common thread in Elmira’s goals to date is Hurd, who has scored three and set up four of the tallies. With six Soaring Eagles averaging better than a point per game, Middlebury cannot afford to focus solely on the three-time First Team All-American, but the Panthers must find a way to at least limit the impact of the senior star, who is amassing points at her fastest clip since a 77-point freshman season. On the flip side, Elmira needs to minimize its trips to the box and when the Soaring Eagles are shorthanded. Their 94 percent penalty kill must be in peak form against a Middlebury power play that has cashed in a national best 31 times already this season, led by Lorna Gifis’ eight goals, also tops in the country.

No. 1 Elmira (18-3-0, 11-1-0 ECAC West)

Top Scorers: Laura Hurd, Sr., F (20-28-48), Jaclyn O’Neil (11-25-36), Stefanie McLean (11-14-25)
Top Goaltender: Edith Racine, Sr. (11-3-0, 1.04, .945)
Scoring Offense: 5.05 (3rd)
Scoring Defense: 1.00 (2nd)
Penalty Minutes: 12.1 (18th)
Power Play: 18 of 89, 20.2% (6th)
Penalty Kill: 96 of 102, 94.1% (6th)

No. 2 Middlebury (19-2-1, 14-1-1 NESCAC)

Top Scorers: Emily Quizon, Jr., F (14-29-43), Lorna Gifis, Sr., F (20-14-34), Alison Graddock, So., F (9-16-25)
Top Goaltender: Kate Kogut, Jr. (12-2-1, 1.39, .925)
Scoring Offense: 4.82 (8th)
Scoring Defense: 1.27 (7th)
Penalty Minutes: 9.0 (33rd)
Power Play: 31 of 107, 29.0% (1st)
Penalty Kill: 84 of 90, 93.3% (7th)

Series History

All-time: 2-1-0 Elmira

Last 3 meetings:
*3/12/04: Middlebury 2, Elmira 1
1/9/04: Elmira 2, Middlebury 1
12/7/03: Elmira 4, Middlebury 2

*NCAA Quarterfinal