As we wait for the puck to be dropped on the 2006-2007 Division III women’s ice hockey season, there are many questions to be answered.
Will Middlebury continue its dominance and capture its fourth straight NCAA Championship?
Is this the year a team from the West rises up and snatches the championship from the East?
How will Elmira bounce back from losing the ECAC West title for the first time?
How will Wisconsin-Stevens Point respond to its new coach?
While the answers to these questions can only be answered on the ice, it is always fun to take a look ahead and guess what will happen next. Without further delay, here is part one of a two-column series featuring my preseason rankings for the nation’s top 10 teams.
10. St. Thomas Tommies
The Tommies come into the season with some pretty big skates to fill. Having lost their top two point leaders, All-American Tanaya Reits (21-28-49) and Maureen Hardwick (11-31-42), to graduation, they will look to sophomore Jackie Carroll and senior Ashley Andrews to carry the load.
The Tommies also expect senior goaltender Katie Jetland to be solid between the pipes. Jetland has split time with two-time All-American Becky Kilpatrick her entire career. With Kilpatrick graduated, Jetland will have the net to herself.
The Tommies, who are looking to capture their first MIAC Playoff crown since 2003, will be in stiff competition with Gustavus Adolphus, who they have struggled against in their last seven meetings (1-5-1). If the Tommies can overcome the losses of Reits and Hardwick on offense and keep lady luck on their side, they could make a run lasting deep into March. However, if they struggle offensively and fail to solve Gustavus Adolphus, they could find themselves sitting home for a fourth year in a row.
9. Bowdoin Polar Bears
Returning their top eight point producers from last season, finding the back of the net should not be a problem for the Polar Bears. Seniors Katie Forney and Meghan Gillis are expected to lead the way offensively while All-American defenseman Kristen Cameron should help keep opposing teams in check and find some points of her own from the blue line.
The Polar Bears do have one question mark heading into the season. Losing standout goalie Cat MacEachern to graduation leaves a big net to fill for sophomore Emileigh Mercer. Mercer, who had a successful freshman season (11-4-1, 2.92 GAA), is going to have to provide some stability in net throughout the season if the Polar Bears expect to make some noise in post-season play.
Playing in the NESCAC, a conference routinely dominated by Middlebury, the Polar Bears have a tough road ahead of them. With the amount of talent and depth returning from last year’s team, this could be Bowdoin’s best opportunity since 2004.
8. Elmira Soaring Eagles
Consistency. That is what Elmira Coach Paul Nemetz-Carlson is hoping for this season. The first half of last season the Soaring Eagles struggled to sweep a weekend series. It took until February for them to find their stride and soar into the NCAA Tournament.
This season, there are nine freshmen and eight sophomores among the 24 players wearing the purple and gold.
“We were very excited about the way the season ended last year. Making the NCAA Tournament for the fifth consecutive year is something we are proud of,” said Nemetz-Carlson. “Our freshmen are looking forward to being a part of that tradition.”
Nemetz-Carlson is excited about this year’s freshmen class and expects them to produce right away. Newcomers Jenna McCall and Melanie Shaw should provide some spark to the offensive attack.
Kayla Coady, the standout freshman from a year ago, is poised to have a huge year. She and senior Stefanie McLean should do the bulk of the team’s scoring.
Defensively, the graduation of Danielle Wysomierski and the Calic twins, Sheen and Stacey, leaves questions at the blue line. However, six new defensemen have been added, and Nemetz-Carlson feels that they will be ready for a successful season.
7. Wis. Stevens Point Pointers
If you had to pick one word that describes the 2005-2006 Lady Pointers, it would be defense. They allowed more than two goals just three times the entire season — a stat that they would love to carry over into this year.
Led by goalie Amy Stats (18-5-4, 1.22 GAA), the Pointers are hoping to maintain their defensive dominance while adding to their offensive production. With only one player returning who topped the 20 point plateau, the team will need help finding the back of the net.
Sophomore Nicole Grossman returns to lead the offensive attack. Other players will have to step up to replace the holes left by Kim Lunneborg and Tracy Truckey, who graduated this past spring.
As the Pointers proved last year, a strong defense can take you to the Frozen Four in spite of a weak offense. It would be impressive if they repeated that achievement.
6. Utica Pioneers
The Pioneers are coming off the best season in the program’s brief history. They finished 18-7-2, losing to Plattsburgh in the ECAC West Championship game, and now they hope to build on that success.
Having lost just four players to graduation, the Pioneers bring back an experienced squad. They will rely heavily on the offensive tandem of All-American Jill Nolan and Deana Wiegand, who combined for 40 goals, 40 assists for 80 points.
Defense should also be a key to their success as starting goaltender Stephanie Yates returns between the pipes. The Pioneers return their top six defensemen, plus Jessica LeClerc, a Division One transfer from the University of Maine.
Utica Coach Dave Clausen likes the team he has put together. He feels that the leadership and experience coming from the 11 seniors will help the team be more consistent throughout the season.
If the Pioneers expect to make a run in NCAAs, they will have to get by Division III runner-up Plattsburgh State and perennial power Elmira.
Game of the Week
Seeing as there are just two games this week, a weekend series between Chatham and Oswego, this was a fairly easy decision. On Saturday at 3 p.m., the Oswego Great Lakers will play their very first game. Not only will it be their first game, but they get to play it in the new Campus Center, which opens Friday when the Oswego men’s team takes on Utica.