Showdown in Vermont
This weekend, all eyes will be on Middlebury, Vt., as Plattsburgh, Elmira, and Williams will all come to town in search of the 2007 Middlebury Tournament Championship. This will be the third annual tournament involving the quartet. Plattsburgh and Middlebury created the idea and share hosting rights every other season.
â€œWe started the tournament a few years ago and are trying to emulate the Primelink Tournament on the menâ€™s side,â€ said Middlebury head coach Bill Mandigo. â€œItâ€™s a great tournament for people in North Country to see womenâ€™s Division III hockey at its finest.â€
Kevin Houle, head coach at Plattsburgh, echoed Mandigoâ€™s thoughts on the tournament.
â€œThe whole tournament is a great kickoff for Middlebury and Williams. As well as an early season test for Elmira and ourselves,â€ Houle said. â€œItâ€™s a great opportunity to see four great programs compete at a high level and it makes for an exciting weekend of hockey.â€
In 2005, Middlebury won the inaugural tournament title and then went on to win the National Championship. Last year, Plattsburgh won the title defeating Elmira 5-4 in overtime and then went on to win the National Championship.
See a trend developing?
Not only has the eventual national champion won this tournament the last two seasons, three of the tournament participants account for every NCAA Division III National Championship awarded. Middlebury leads the way with their three-peat from 2004-2006, Elmira won back to back NCAA titles in 2002 and 2003 and then Plattsburgh won their first last season.
In Saturdayâ€™s late game, Plattsburgh will take on Williams at 5 p.m.
The Plattsburgh State Cardinals come into the tournament a perfect 4-0 on the season and on a 33 game unbeaten streak, which ties the Cardinals with Elmira, who also accomplished the feat between the 2002 and 2003 seasons. Plattsburgh, the 2007 National Champions and defending champions of the four-way tournament, also come in as the top-ranked team in the nation according to the latest USCHO.com poll.
Resumes aside, head coach Kevin Houle has his team concentrated on the games rather than hype surrounding this yearâ€™s Cardinals.
â€œThe record for longest unbeaten streak doesnâ€™t mean much to me,â€ Houle said. â€œWe try to put those things out of mind. Theyâ€™re something nice to look back on at seasonâ€™s end but not right now.â€
Along those same lines, it might be easy for Plattsburgh to overlook their first round opponent, Williams, and concentrate on a possible showdown looming with the Middlebury/Elmira winner. However, Houle is confident that wonâ€™t be the case.
â€œWe ran into this exact situation all last year,â€ Houle said. â€œWilliams has given us tough games in the past and our focus is going to be on Williams College and then worry about who we play next afterwards.â€
Plattsburghâ€™s biggest question coming into the season was who would take over for All-American goaltender Breanne Doyle after she graduated last spring. So far, the Cardinals havenâ€™t decided on a â€œgo toâ€ number one goaltender.
â€œItâ€™s a day to day decision for us,â€ Houle said. â€œDanielle Beattie has played great for us and Mandy Mackrell did well picking up her first win this past weekend against Oswego.â€
As for the rest of the team, Houle is hoping to see the Cardinals continue to get better each game.
â€œThese will be our fifth and sixth games,â€ Houle said. â€œItâ€™s still early in the season but weâ€™re hoping to keep getting better each game as we build towards our ultimate goal of getting back to the National Championship game.
The Williams College Ephs will kick off their 2007-2008 campaign on the complete opposite end of the spectrum in relation to Plattsburgh. The Ephs struggled last season to an 8-13-4 record, resulting in their first losing season in the last seven years. Head coach Shannon Bryant will be entering her second season at the helm for Williams and sheâ€™s optimistic things can be different this year for the Ephs.
â€œLast year we didnâ€™t even come close to our potential,â€ Bryant said. â€œOur returning players donâ€™t want another losing season and weâ€™re determined to correct the little things like back-checking and clearing out the front of our net.â€
Looking at previous history and records, itâ€™d be easy to write off Williams this weekend and pencil in two losses for the Ephs playing against Plattsburgh, Middlebury, and Elmira. However, Bryant has sat down and discussed with the team what they can do to be successful with the chips stacked against them.
â€œWeâ€™re not going to worry about who were playing and those distractions,â€ Bryant said. â€œI have them focus on competing in practice and when we get opportunities we have to convert them. Also, we need to make smart decisions with the puck while playing in our system.â€
The Ephs will have six new freshmen suiting up this season in the purple and gold. Bryantâ€™s focus was to improve the defense from last season and is looking forward to the contributions Jacqueline Berglass (Milford, Conn.) and Lauren Zurek (Plymouth, Minn.) will make to help Williams try and return to the NESCAC elite.
In the early game on Saturday, second ranked Middlebury will host fifth ranked Elmira College at 2 p.m.
Middlebury has yet to play a game since falling to Plattsburgh in last yearâ€™s title game, snapping their streak of three straight National Championships. The Panthers will be sporting a much different team as they lost three of their top four scorers in Abby Kurtz-Phelan, Shannon Sylvester, and Shannon Tarrant.
However, coach Mandigo is optimistic and excited to see how the Panthers stack up this season.
â€œI hope we play well and can get the jitters out early while improving each period,â€ Mandigo said. â€œIâ€™m excited to see what everyone can do and especially looking forward to seeing what returnees can emerge out of the shadows now that they have their turn.â€
While Elmira has already played two exhibition games and four regular season games, Middlebury will be opening up their 2007-2008 season. However, Mandigo looks at the situation in a positive manner.
â€œThis will be a good chance for the kids to play a great team right off the bat,â€ Mandigo said. â€œItâ€™s fine with us playing the best teams we can play and that they have already been on the ice for awhile. It is what it is and we canâ€™t control how our league handles scheduling.â€
You have to look no farther than the roster to see how young of a team the Panthers are this year with 11 of 19 skaters being freshmen and sophomores. Mandigo has brought in a strong recruiting class headlined by forwards Anna McNally (St. Paul, Minn.) and Nora Bergmann (Concord, Mass.). As well as defensemen Heidi Woodworth (Princeton, N.J.) and Andrea Buono (Ashburnham, Mass.).
Mandigo complimented the strength of Paul Nemetz-Carlsonâ€™s Elmira squad and is looking forward to Saturdayâ€™s showdown with the Soaring Eagles.
â€œElmira is an outstanding team with a lot of talent,â€ Mandigo said. â€œPaul has done a great job recruiting and they will present a very tough challenge for us.â€
On the flip side, Elmira has had the opportunity to play some games and get some experience under their belt this season. Coach Nemetz-Carlsonâ€™s squad comes into the tournament with a 4-0 record just like Plattsburgh.
â€œThis tournament will be a great early season benchmark to see where we are at and see what teamâ€™s are going to get a leg up in the competition for the National Championship,â€ Nemetz-Carlson said. â€œIâ€™m looking forward to seeing how we stack up against the nationâ€™s best and see if weâ€™re a better team than last year.â€
Elmira missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history last season. The Soaring Eagles lost just five games last season. Three of them came at the hands of Plattsburgh as well as losses to both Wis. Superior and R.I.T. Four of those five losses were by one goal. Nemetz-Carlson is hoping that another year under the belt for a young team that lost just one senior is what the Eagles need to get over the hump this year and back to the NCAA Tournament.
â€œHopefully maturity will be a big factor in our success this year,â€ Nemetz-Carlson said. â€œWe were the only team to be leading Plattsburgh in the third period last year. Weâ€™re going to need someone to step up that isnâ€™t looked to as a key scorer. Weâ€™ll need to take the confidence earned and play 60 minutes to win instead of waiting for something to happen.â€
Nemetz-Carlson is weary of the ability that Middlebury still has even after losing so many key players from last yearâ€™s team.
â€œThey are going through a little of what we went through a few years ago,â€ Nemetz-Carlson said. â€œYou have to respect Bill Mandigo, their success and their system they play. We wonâ€™t fall for the trap that Middlebury isnâ€™t as good of a team this year.â€
After the Middlebury Tournament, Elmira faces another key weekend of their season as they travel to Plattsburgh for a huge two game series against ECAC West newcomer and national powerhouse R.I.T.
â€œThese next four games are going to define how we have moved forward since last season,â€ Nemetz-Carlson said. â€œWeâ€™re still a young squad, just not as young. We need to build and play on emotion and hopefully that will lead to being competitive and the best results we can accomplish in these games.â€
The winners of Saturdayâ€™s semi-final games will meet on Sunday in the finals at 5 p.m. The losers will play at 2 p.m. All four games will be broadcast on USCHO.com.