When the clock struck 0:00 on the 2005-2006 hockey season, the Middlebury Panthers swarmed the ice in celebration at the Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena. They had won their third straight NCAA Championship, this time at the expense of Plattsburgh State.
This weekend, the No. 1-ranked Panthers return to that very same rink, where they celebrated just eight months ago, as they face the No. 2-ranked Cardinals in the first ever Cardinal Classic. The rematch of last season’s NCAA title game will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday. It will follow the opening contest, scheduled for 4 p.m., between the No. 7 ranked Elmira Soaring Eagles and the Ephs of Williams.
This will be the second year in a row that these four teams have participated in the same tournament. Last season, a tournament was held at Middlebury’s Kenyon Arena with the Panthers coming out on top as they defeated Elmira 4-3 on the first night and Plattsburgh 4-2 in the title game. The Cardinals, Soaring Eagles, and Ephs are all hoping for a different outcome this time around.
Middlebury @ Plattsburgh
All eyes will be on the Stafford Ice Arena, Saturday night, when these two teams square off.
The Cardinals enter the weekend with a 4-0-0 record, beating conference foes Neumann and Buffalo State twice each. They have outscored their opponents 20-3 and have goals from eleven different players.
“I think we’re coming along just fine,” said Plattsburgh coach Kevin Houle.
Revenge for last year’s championship game may be on the minds of some players Saturday night, but Houle just wants his team to play their game.
“I don’t think it’s anything we talk about as a team, but I am sure it’s in the back of some people’s heads,” said Houle. “However, sometimes that can work against you.”
To date, the Cardinals are led by Preseason All-USCHO First Team forward Danielle Blanchard (5-2-7), fellow sophomores Lindsey Brown (2-4-6) and Valen Timmons (3-2-5), and freshman Laurie Bowler (2-3-5). The offense has averaged five goals per game this season, ranking them fifth in the nation.
Two Preseason All-USCHO Team members, goalie Breanne Doyle and defensemen Julie Devereux, lead the Cardinal defense in keeping the opposing offenses in check. They have allowed just three goals on 62 shots so far this season. Only RIT, New England College, and St. Anselm have performed better to date.
The Panthers, meanwhile, have yet to play a game and have only been practicing for two and a half weeks.
Preseason All-USCHO First Team forward Annmarie Cellino is expected to lead a potent Panther attack which ranked fifth in the nation in scoring last season, averaging 4.38 goals per game. She will be joined up front by seniors Shannon Sylvester, Abby Kurtz, Phelan, and sophomore Erika Nakamura.
On defense, Preseason All-USCHO First Team defender Shannon Tarrant leads the Panthers stingy defense, which is always one of the nation’s best. But the loss of Kogut in net leaves questions between the pipes. Juniors Abby Smith and Angie Todd are joined by freshman Lani Wright in competition for the starting job. Smith and Todd logged just over 400 minutes combined in net last season, the equivalent of just under seven games. If the Panthers have a weakness, goaltending is it, so expect the Cardinals to apply pressure early and often.
Just like every other time these two teams meet, expect a close game decided by no more than two goals. The winner will likely be whoever gets one more bounce of the puck to go their way.
Williams vs. Elmira
In a matchup filled with the color purple, the Soaring Eagles and the Ephs will duke it out for the right to play in the Cardinal Classic championship.
Elmira comes into this weekend with a 5-1-0 record, the only blemish coming at the hands of Wisconsin-Superior. The Soaring Eagles have outscored opponents 38-8 and have allowed just one goal in their last four games. That defense starts in goal where junior Cara McGurry and sophomore Allison Cubberley have split time, both coming through strong when called upon.
Offensively, the Soaring Eagles are led by Preseason All-USCHO Second Team forward Kayla Coady (9-8-17). Senior Stephanie McLean (5-4-9) and freshman Jenna McCall (3-6-9) also provide plenty of support.
Williams, like Middlebury, has yet to play a single game this season. That will not be the Ephs’ only disadvantage however. They will be carrying just 14 skaters and three goalies until next semester when some of their players return from a semester abroad.
“We’re pretty short staffed this semester with three players studying abroad,” said Williams coach Shannon Bryant.
Those three players are Caralyn Quan, Allie Morrow, and Sarah Nowakowski. Therefore, everyone will be getting plenty of playing time early in the season.
Bryant hopes that the speed and offensive pressure will make up for the lack of numbers on this year’s roster. She is expecting the senior class to be bright spot for the team.
“We have a really strong senior class,” said Bryant.
That senior class is made up of forwards Anna Condino and Ashley Wood. Defenseman Jen Kim is also expected to provide some stability on the blue line.
In goal, junior Denise McCulloch returns to give the Ephs some experience between the pipes.
However, the lack of depth for Williams may be a bit much to overcome. Look for Elmira to try and tire out the Williams defense and apply pressure early in the game. Expect this game to be close throughout, but if Williams is unable to keep up the pace throughout the game, watch for Elmira to pull away late.
I Bet You Didn’t Know…
Plattsburgh’s last regular season home loss to a Division III opponent was February 3, 2004, a 3-2 loss to Middlebury…..Plattsburgh is 28-0-1 in regular season home games against Division III opponents since then…..Only two players, Breanne Doyle and Jessica Moreau, are remaining from the Plattsburgh team that last lost a regular season home game to a Division III opponent…..The Panthers haven’t lost a regular season road game against any opponent other than Plattsburgh since January 26, 2002 when they lost to Manhattanville 4-1…..Middlebury’s only two losses last season were to Plattsburgh and Williams…..Middlebury is 7-2-0 all-time against Plattsburgh, but the series is 2-2-0 at the Stafford Ice Arena…..Elmira is 4-0-1 all-time against Williams…..Elmira and Middlebury are even all-time at 3-3-0…..Elmira is 10-7-1 all-time against Plattsburgh…..Plattsburgh is 4-0-0 all-time against Williams…..Middlebury is 10-2-2 all-time against Williams…..Former Middlebury goalie Kate Kogut is now an Assistant Coach at Middlebury…..Williams coach Shannon Bryant will make her debut for the Ephs after spending six seasons at Hamilton College.