The 2007-2008 womenâ€™s D-III hockey season is upon us as four teams officially began play last weekend. First-year program Adrian College headlined as the biggest news of the weekend, splitting a two-game series with Neumann College. The Knights are a formidable opponent that received honorable-mention status in the USCHO.com pre-season poll and have been knocking on the doors of ECAC West powerhouses Plattsburgh and Elmira the past few seasons. Also, Oswego State opened up strong for the second straight year sweeping a two game series in Chatham.
This season brings us many new questions including:
Will Plattsburgh finally lose after last yearâ€™s 27-0-2 undefeated season?
Does Middlebury have the firepower to regroup after losing in last yearâ€™s title game to Plattsburgh, after winning the previous three National Championships?
Will Elmira come back with a vengeance after losing just one senior and missing out on the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history?
How will the transfer of leading scorer Danielle Nagymarosi back to Manhattanville affect RIT?
Will this be the year that the western region finally crowns their first National Championship team?
And last but certainly not least, can Amherst continue to build off of last yearâ€™s Cinderella team that made it all the way to the Frozen Four?
All these questions remain to be answered, but over the next five months we will get them!
Since there have been so few games so far, I figured Iâ€™d start my first column of the season off with my pre-season top 10 rankings.
10. St. Thomas Tommies
Tom Palkowski (1st season)
06-07 Record: 15-12-0
Last time out: Lost 3-2 in MIAC Finals to Gustavus Adolphus
Iâ€™m making a little bit of a bold statement right off the bat picking the Tommies as 10th in my poll over teams like Superior, Bowdoin, and Neumann. However, I feel the Tommies are going to be one of the teams to really keep an eye out for this year.
Last season, St. Thomas was all over the board playing some tough competition really well in certain games and then getting blown out in some games by the top teams and losing some games they shouldnâ€™t have. Some of that can be attributed to the in-experience of the Tommies. They had only three seniors and the majority of the roster was composed of freshmen and sophomores. The biggest loss for the Tommies was in goal losing Katie Jetland. Jetland was a two-time All-MIAC selection and was integral part to their back to back 20 win seasons in 2004-2005 and 2005-2006.
However, the good news is that they do return sophomore goalie Lauren Bradel, who had a promising freshmen campaign posting a 9-6-0 record with five shutouts, a 2.23 GGA, and a .924 save percentage on her way to making the All-MIAC Rookie team.
St. Thomas also returns eight of their top nine scorers from last year led by sophomore Jill Kobow (11-16-27), junior Jackie Carroll (16-10-27), and senior Ashley Reinhardt (10-11-21).
9. Wis. River Falls Falcons
Joe Cranston (9th season, 113-80-15)
06-07 Record: 14-9-4
Last time out: Lost 5-4 to Lake Forest in the NCHA Consolation game
River Falls, like St. Thomas, was another tough team to figure out last year. They scored some nice wins over Stevens Point, Superior, and St. Thomas. However, they also lost to Lake Forest, Eau-Claire, and tied St. Maryâ€™s and Hamline to start the season.
The mirror-image of St. Thomas continues with the losses the Falconsâ€™ sustained losing their starting goalie Amber Lindner along with defensemen Jenny Wallace. The key to the Falconsâ€™ success this year will be to find an adequate replacement for Lindner between the pipes as they return nine of their top 10 scorers.
A super sophomore class that accounted for three out of the top four scorers on the River Falls last season leads the returnees. Cassie LeBlanc (10-15-25), Stefanie Schmitz (14-9-23), and Abby Sunderman (12-6-18) will be a big part of how well the Falcons fare this year along with Senior Jenna Scanlon (11-10-21) rounding out the top-returning scorers for River Falls.
8. Manhattanville Valiants
Lauren McAuliffe (1st season)
06-07 Record: 19-8-1
Last time out: Lost 3-1 to Middlebury in the NCAA Quarterfinals
Manhattanville hits the ice this year with a new look ECAC East conference. Manhattanvilleâ€™s main rival, RIT has left the conference for the ECAC West leaving the Valiants as the lone big gun remaining in the ECAC East. However, Manhattanville was far from the dominant team they were the first five seasons the NCAA sponsored a DIII womenâ€™s championship where they won 20+ games every year and reached the National Championship game twice before falling to Elmira both years.
The Valiants got a little revenge last year on the Soaring Eagles though when they defeated RIT in the ECAC East finals, dropping RIT into the Pool C selection and eliminating a very good Elmira team from a chance at the NCAAâ€™s because RIT beat out Elmira in the criteria due in large part to beating the Eagles earlier in the season head to head.
Manhattanville returns every single player from last yearâ€™s squad and they also will have last yearâ€™s national leading scorer in Danielle Nagymarosi who transferred back to Manhattanville after spending a year at RIT.
Along with Nagymarosi, the Valiants will turn to a very strong returning senior class led by Amanda Nonis (16-16-32), Jamie Longo (13-18-31), Cory Alcorn (13-9-22), and Jessica Zimmerman (9-13-22).
7. RIT Tigers
Scott McDonald (2nd season, 22-4-2)
06-07 Record: 22-4-2
Last time out: Lost 2-1 to Amherst in the NCAA Quarterfinals
RIT burst onto the national scene last season with a breakout year winning 20+ games for the only the 2nd time in program history. The Tigers went the entire first half of the season undefeated before finally falling to DII St. Anselm in mid-January.
RIT did lose Danielle Nagymarosi as well as All-American defensemen Stacey McConnell, but they do return 5 of their top 7 scorers and standout sophomore goalie Karen Quigley. With Nagymarosi now gone, look for senior Isabelle Richard to become a household name in Tiger country this year. Richardâ€™s 21 goals and 31 assists for 52 points were good for 2nd most in the country last season trailing only Nagymarosi.
The Tigers will also look to juniors Maegan Geypens (16-25-41), Courtenay Cooper (7-14-21), Dayna Birch (6-13-19), and sophomore Melissa Hall (5-13-18).
RIT joins the ECAC West this year and will have a much more difficult schedule this season having to play Plattsburgh, Elmira, Utica, and Neumann all twice in league play as well as a New England road-trip to play Middlebury and Amherst on back to back nights.
6. Gustavus Adolphus Golden Gusties
Mike Carroll (9th season, 172-48-11)
06-07 Record: 25-3-0
Last time out: Lost 4-1 to Stevens Point in the NCAA Quarterfinals
Gustavus Adolphus had one of their most talented if not best team in the history of their program last year losing just three times and bowing out in a heartbreaking end to the season, falling to Stevens Point in the NCAA Quarterfinals after many picked the Gusties as one of the prime challengers to possibly being able to knock off Plattsburgh.
The Gusties also graduated the most decorated player in the history of the program in 4-time All-American defensemen and 2007 Laura Hurd Award winner (formerly the D-III Player of the Year award) Andrea Peterson. To make matters worse for the Gusties they also lost their 2nd leading scorer Kelly Crandall (17-17-34) as well.
However, all hope is not lost for Gustavus Adolphus. The Gusties return the rest of their top 10 leading scorers from last year led by seniors Margaret Dorer (9-23-32) and Molly Doyle (18-9-27). Rounding out the top five returning scorers are sophomore Melissa Mackley (9-18-27), and juniors Jenny Pusch (14-12-26) and Jessica Doig (12-13-25).
5. Middlebury Panthers
Bill Mandigo (20th season, 352-90-13)
06-07 Record: 23-4-2
Last time out: Lost 2-1 to Plattsburgh in the National Championship game
The Middlebury Panthers had their streak of three consecutive national championships snapped last year at the hands of Plattsburgh. Three of the Panthersâ€™ four losses were as a result of Plattsburgh and their only other loss came in the NESCAC Championship game, where they fell to an upstart Amherst team 2-1 in triple-overtime.
Middlebury was hit hard by graduation last spring as they lost three of their top four leading scorers in Abby Kurtz-Phelan, Shannon Sylvester, and Shannon Tarrant. They also have lost Allison Graddock, Ellen Sargent, and Emily McNamara. Those six seniors accounted for 45 percent of Middleburyâ€™s offense last season.
On the brighter side, Middlebury does return one of the nationâ€™s best goaltending duos with senior Angie Todd (1.10 GGA, .936 Save %) and sophomore Lani Wright (1.64 GGA, .917 Save %).
This season, Middlebury will need junior Annmarie Cellino (14-20-34), senior Karen Levin (11-16-27), junior Molly Vitt (8-11-19), and sophomore Ashley Bairos (9-6-15) to step up and lead the offense if the Panthers are going to continue their streak of four straight seasons with 23 or more wins.
4. Amherst Lady Jeffs
Jim Plumer (5th season, 51-46-8)
06-07 Record: 20-7-3
Last time out: Lost 4-3 to Stevens Point in the NCAA Frozen Four Consolation game
Amherst lost four games in the first four weeks of the season last year. They went on to lose just one more game the entire season until the Frozen Four where they dropped a 3-2 decision to eventual champion Plattsburgh, and then fell to Stevens Point in the third place game as well.
Amherst was last yearâ€™s Cinderella story and captivated the D-III womenâ€™s hockey world during their run to the Frozen Four. The Lady Jeffs return all of their top six scorers from last season, as they will all be sophomores and juniors for the 2007-2008 season.
If Amherst is going to keep their place among the nationâ€™s elite they will need Tarasai Karega (20-17-37), Anna MacLean (15-17-32), Lindsey Harrington (15-14-29), Kate Dennett (12-9-21), Kirsten Dier (5-18-23), and Michelle McGann (4-19-23) will have to score and play prominent roles again for the Lady Jeffs.
In goal, Amherst returns one of the nationâ€™s best and the goalie they rode down the stretch run last season in sophomore Krystyn Elek. Elek went 15-6-3 with a 1.64 GGA and .939 save percentage.
3. Elmira Soaring Eagles
Paul Nemetz-Carlson (5th season, 79-26-5)
06-07 Record: 19-5-3
Last time out: Lost 3-2 to Plattsburgh in the ECAC West finals
Elmira was the tough luck team of season. The Eagles were all set and awaiting a probable Pool C selection into the NCAAâ€™s after losing in the ECAC West championship to Plattsburgh, who accounted for three of their five losses last season.
Then, the upsets started. Elmiraâ€™s NCAA fate was all but sealed once Amherst knocked off Middlebury taking the NESCAC automatic bid and Manhattanville knocked off RIT claiming the ECAC East automatic bid. Elmira more than likely would have gotten a Pool C bid before Manhattanville and Amherst.
The Eagles return this season having lost just one senior and they will look to start and enacting their revenge this weekend as they open up regular season play against Chatham.
Leading the way for the Eagles this year will be juniors Kayla Coady (20-27-47), Jamie Huntley (12-9-21), sophomores Jenna McCall (12-19-31), Tiffany Hart (5-18-23), Melanie Henshaw (9-9-18), Jamie Kivi (4-13-17), and senior Farren Hart (9-7-16).
Elmira had added two near players this year in Amanda Ritzel and Laura Mulligan. Look for Ritzel to fit right in from the start and compete for a lot of ice-time as a staple on the Eaglesâ€™ blue-line along with Jamie Kivi and Tiffany Hart.
2. Wis. Stevens Point Pointers
Anne Ninnemann (2nd season, 20-7-2)
06-07 Record: 20-7-2
Last time out: Beat Amherst 4-3 in the NCAA Frozen Four consolation game after falling 5-1 to Middlebury in the national semifinals.
Some may be surprised that I picked Stevens Point so high in my pre-season rankings. The coaches certainly disagree with me as they ranked the Pointers 7th in the USCHO.com pre-season poll.
However, this year I feel could be the year the west finally gets their national champion. Stevens Point returns all but two players from last yearâ€™s squad. The biggest loss came in between the pipes losing All-American goalie Amy Statz. Statz was the #1 goalie for her entire four-year career at Point. She backstopped the Pointers to some memorable seasons including a National Championship game in her freshmen season before falling to Middlebury 2-1.
Other than that though, Stevens Point has all their goal scorers back led by sophomores Nicole Grossmann (17-12-29) and Michelle Sosnowski (13-11-24). Rounding out the top five returning scorers for the Pointers are senior Katy Lankey (10-7-17) and sophomores Tracy Butler (8-9-17) and Kellye Nelson (7-10-17).
Anne Ninnemann did a stand-up job coming in just one year after graduating from Point to coach the Pointers all the way to the Frozen Four including getting past Gustavus Adolphus to make the trip to Plattsburgh last year. With another recruiting class under her belt, and another year of experience for a young team, Stevens Point is my pick to be one of the chief contenders to deny Plattsburgh a repeat opportunity.
1. Plattsburgh Cardinals
Kevin Huole (5th season, 96-16-6)
06-07 Record: 27-0-2
Last time out: Won the NCAA Championship by defeating Middlebury 2-1.
Was there ever a doubt who was going to be number one? While the Cardinals did lose some key players from last yearâ€™s undefeated squad in senior captain Jessica Moreau (12-9-21) and All-American goaltender Breanne Doyle (21-0-2, 1.36 GGA, and .934 Save %), and two transfers in Lindsay Littman and Sandra Grant, who went to RIT, the Cardinals return a very dangerous squad.
Plattsburgh is without a doubt led by junior all-everything Danielle Blanchard. Blanchard has the ability to single handedly take over a game her numbers prove it scoring 24 goals and tallying 27 assists on her way to 51 points. Unfortunately, for Plattsburghâ€™s opponents the firepower does not even come close to stopping there. Sophomore Laurie Bowler (22-16-38) was arguably one of the best if not the best freshmen in the country last year on her way to becoming ECAC West Rookie of the Year.
Rounding out the top-returning scorers for the Cardinals are juniors Lindsay Brown (14-19-33) and Claire Oâ€™Connor (7-22-29). Also, senior Julie Devereux (4-21-25) and sophomore Kayla McDougall (10-11-21) return as well.
Head Coach Kevin Huole has not become complacent after winning the National Championship as he has brought in a freshmen class consisting of eight new players even though there were only two seniors on last yearâ€™s squad.
The key for the Cardinals this season will be finding a replacement for Breanne Doyle between the pipes. They will turn to junior Danielle Beattie and newcomers Mandy Mackrell and Amanda Hoy to try and help fill the large role that Doyle played in last yearâ€™s championship undefeated team.
SUNYAC Womenâ€™s Hockey Conference on the Horizon?
Last but not least this week, Iâ€™ll close by touching on the subject of the rapid growth of DIII womenâ€™s hockey. This season, three new teams begin NCAA varsity play as Adrian, Norwich, and Concordia (Wisconsin) have all added programs and begin play this year.
Just recently, Potsdam announced their return to varsity womenâ€™s hockey, as they will join the ECAC West for the 2008-2009 season as a full member after playing at the club level this season.
With the addition of Potsdam next year, there will be five SUNY Athletic Conference teams playing at the varsity level. Plattsburgh, Oswego, Cortland, and Buffalo State are the other four schools. Geneseo has a womenâ€™s club hockey program right now and could be looked into as a possible sixth team.
This got my imagination going and I began to wonder if the SUNYAC was looking into adding a womenâ€™s hockey conference.
â€œWe would want to have seven teams in order to make a womenâ€™s SUNYAC division,â€ said Josh Reilly, SUNYAC Publicist. â€œIt has been talked about but the numbers are not there right now so itâ€™s most likely still a long process off.â€