With the end of the regular season just one month away, each game is becoming more important than ever. It is at this point in the season when the true contenders start separating themselves from the rest of the pack. That starts this weekend with three exciting matchups which will directly affect conference playoff seedings and may decide NCAA tournaments berths further down the road.
In the east, we focus on the ECAC West where the top-ranked Plattsburgh Cardinals head south to take on long-time conference rival No. 5 Elmira College for a two-game set at the Murray Athletic Center. In the NESCAC, No. 10 Bowdoin will look to right the ship against conference nemesis No. 3 Middlebury. Out west, all eyes will be on No. 4 Wisconsin-Superior, who hosts No. 2 Gustavus Adolphus in a NCHA/MIAC crossover battle.
Plattsburgh @ Elmira
Earlier this season, the Soaring Eagles went into the Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena and found themselves 44 seconds away from handing the Cardinals their first defeat of the season. Their hopes were dashed when Danielle Blanchard knotted the score to send the game to overtime, as the Cardinals kept their undefeated season alive. This time, the Soaring Eagles have the home-ice advantage and two games to try and solve the Cardinals, who have emerged out of Elmira’s shadows as the new beast of the conference.
The Cardinals are riding a four-game winning streak against the Soaring Eagles and are 14-0-1 on the season. The Eagles lead the all-time series at 10-8-1 and have a season record of 12-3-2.
One reason the Cardinals’ success is All-American goaltender Breanne Doyle. She is what separates the Cardinals from any other team in the country in that she is consistent night in and night out. Another huge reason for the Cardinals to be optimistic is Danielle Blanchard. She is known for coming through in the big game, and she has four goals and two assists in four career games against Elmira.
The Soaring Eagles on the other hand, have some talent of their own. The freshmen class; led by Jenna McCall, Tiffany Hart, Jamie Kivi, and Melanie Henshaw, have been instrumental in the success of Elmira this season. Another reason for the Soaring Eagles to like their chances this weekend is their 8-1-1 record against Plattsburgh on home-ice.
If Elmira wants to come away with a sweep this weekend their leading scorer Kayla Coady will have to do something she has yet to do in her career — have a big game against the Cardinals. In just her sophomore season she has 75 points in her career, but just one of those, an assist, has come against Plattsburgh.
Bowdoin @ Middlebury
It hasn’t been pretty for the Bowdoin Polar Bears lately. After their 4-0-0 start to the season, they have gone just 5-4-1 since including ties to Amherst and Colby. While their losses have come to ranked teams Plattsburgh, Middlebury, Elmira, and Manhattanville, they have yet to beat a top 10 team.
For that reason alone, this may be just the right time for No. 10 Bowdoin to face off against No. 3 Middlebury. The Panthers beat Bowdoin 4-1 less than three weeks ago in Maine. It is not going to get any easier for the Polar Bears as they head into Kenyon Arena this weekend.
The Panthers have plenty of reasons be confident coming into the game besides their 6-1-0 record in their last seven games against Bowdoin. They are currently 12-1-1 on the season and have found solid goaltending along the way in freshman Lani Wright and junior Angie Todd.
If there is one area of concern for the Panthers it may be their offense. They are averaging just 3.64 goals per game and last season’s freshman sensation Annmarie Cellino has just 4 goals and nine assists through 14 games — a far cry from her 12 goals and 10 assists at the same point last season. Of course, with their opponents scoring just 1.14 goals per game, none of that has mattered.
The Polar Bears on the other hand have three major offensive contributors and a steady decline in production after that. Forwards Meghan Gillis and Katie Forney and defenseman Kristen Cameron have combined for 25 goals and 26 assists on the season. The rest of the team has 28 goals 41 assists combined. The problem for Bowdoin is its lack of depth, especially on offense
Gustavus Adolphus @ Wisconsin-Superior
The top team in the NCHA hosts the top team in the MIAC. The Golden Gusties stand at 13-1-0 on the season including a 6-2 win over the Yellowjackets back in November. The Yellowjackets are 14-2-0 overall and are looking to overtake Gustavus Adolphus as the top team in the west. Coming away with a victory would go a long way in accomplishing that feat.
The Golden Gusties have not lost since the opening game of the season against Wisconsin-Stevens Point and have Molly Doyle back for the second semester. Doyle missed half the year because of an injury. In her five games back she has already tallied 4 goals and an assist in re-establishing herself as a force on offense.
The Yellowjackets have an offensive power of their own in Erin Kegley. Kegley, a senior, has 14 goals and 17 assists in 16 games. She has an amazing eight power play goals and three game winners. They have also benefited from outstanding goaltender as the tandem of Rikki Nespor and Melissa Kunzelman has held opponents to just 1.31 goals per game.
The Gusties are the favorite headed into the game, but the Yellowjackets will have a big advantage with home-ice. If the Yellowjackets can contain the offense of the Golden Gusties and keep Molly Doyle in check, they could pass the Gusties as the top team in the west.