This Week in D-III Women’s Hockey: Dec. 6, 2007

Bantam-weight: Trinity Steps Up

Plattsburgh … Elmira … Middlebury … Stevens Point … Trinity? That’s right folks, I said Trinity.

The Bantams are off to a tremendous start this season with a 5-1-1 record on the year and the voters are taking notice. Trinity received their first top-10 ranking in school history this past week, garnering eight votes and grabbing the 10th spot over River Falls and Adrian.

“After we got over the initial shock, we were very excited about being ranked,” said Trinity head coach Andrew McPhee. “Just receiving votes two weeks ago was an accomplishment itself.”

The Bantams have swept conference opponents Wesleyan and Hamilton so far in this young season and have also tied and lost 2-0 to fourth-ranked and undefeated Amherst. McPhee points to goaltending and solid teamwork as some of the biggest reasons for Trinity’s unprecedented start.

“It starts with Isabel (Iwachiw) in goal for us,” McPhee said. “She’s been absolutely great. But it doesn’t stop there as we have been playing good team hockey in all phases of the game. We’ve added a lot of new players that fit in well with our returnees and they have all blended well into their specific roles. We’ve played consistent hockey and have been able to spread out the scoring.”

Trinity has been aided by the fact that they opened a brand new rink on campus last year for the 2006-2007 season. Now, in their second season in the new building, McPhee points to the new arena being an added bonus for bringing in recruits now.

“Our old rink wasn’t on campus,” McPhee said. “Trinity is a great academic school and we were able to bring in big freshmen classes lately because the players know they’ll get the chance to play in the new rink.”

The Bantams have now finished the first half of their season and McPhee has been pleased with the overall play of his team but knows that nothing is going to come easy for them.

“Our results have been awesome so far this season,” McPhee said. “I thought we were going to be an improved and good team but this start was certainly unexpected. We’ve had great consistency on both Friday and Saturday in our weekend games. The Amherst games were tight battles and it gave us confidence that we could play with the top teams. The Hamilton series we fell behind in both games and then came back to win, which is something we haven’t been able to do in year’s past.”

Trinity will open up the second half of their season playing in the Codfish Bowl in Boston, Mass. The Bantams will take on the Oswego State Lakers (2-6-1) in the first round. In the second game, host UMass-Boston (3-3-0) will take on Cortland (2-4-2).

Another Western Showdown

This week’s game of the week heads west once again as the undefeated and third-ranked Stevens Point Pointers (7-0-0) will play host to NCHA rival and ninth-ranked Superior Yellowjackets (7-1-0).

“It’s a big rivalry and both teams will surely be up for it,” said Stevens Point head coach Ann Ninnemann.

Stevens Point comes into Friday’s showdown coming off a sweep of previously 10th-ranked River Falls. The Pointers continued their outstanding team defense that they have shown all season, shutting down the Falcons in both games and winning by scores of 1-0 and 2-1.

Superior comes in winners of three straight since losing to Adrian. The Yellowjackets swept Concordia (WI) last weekend and outscored the Falcons 12-0 in the two games.

Ninnemann is hoping for big things from her team this weekend against Superior.

“I’m hoping to see that all the girls will step up and we’ll play our best game of the season so far,” Ninnemann said.

Superior head coach Dan Laughlin is hoping to see his Yellowjackets play three solid periods of high intensity hockey.

“Anytime you play Stevens Point, you’ve got to be on your game and not let your guard down,” Laughlin said. “If you do, they’ll take advantage. We’ve got to stick with our game plan and be patient while Stevens Point plays their extremely defensive style. Special teams are going to be important and we’ll need to stay out the box and when we get opportunities on the power play, we have to capitalize.”

Both Stevens Point and Superior have the fortunate situation of having two solid goaltenders that they have both used in tandems so far this season, alternating every game played.

“Right now it’s been working great for us,” Ninnemann said. “Perhaps later on in the season if one of them steps up huge we’ll have one ‘go-to’ goaltender, but for now we’re sticking to the tandem.”

Stevens Point’s goalie tandem has been a large part of the reason why the Pointers have given up just six goals in their seven games so far this season. Sophomore d’Andra Phillips (Swartz Creek, Mich.) is 4-0-0 on the season with a 0.82 goals against average and .962 save percentage. Fellow sophomore, Ann Hulme (Shaker Heights, OH) has been equally impressive with her 3-0-0 record on the season with a 0.90 goals against average and a .949 save percentage.

Superior’s goaltending tandem has been almost equally impressive, as the Pointers’ have given up eight goals in their eight games. Junior Rikki Nespor (Stonewall, Man.) is 3-1-0 on the season with a 0.75 goals against average and .946 save percentage while posting a Division III leading, three shutouts. Sophomore Melissa Kunzelman (Brandon, Man.) is 4-0-0 on the season with a 1.25 goals against average and a .921 save percentage.

“Both of our goalies could start anywhere across the country and they have the stats to prove it,” Laughlin said. “They both have a nice healthy competitive relationship and understand why we’re using the tandem system right now.”

While Stevens Point holds the advantage in the defensive end, Superior has shown the ability to have a much more potent offense than the Pointers. Senior Stacy Anderson leads the way for the Yellowjackets with six goals and eight assists for 14 points.

Two freshmen, Lindsey LeGree and Shana Katz have made monumental impacts on Superior’s offense early in the season. LeGree has tallied five goals and seven assists for 12 points and Katz has six goals and five assists for 11 total points. LeGree has shown a knack for scoring big goals in her young career as she has scored three game winning goals already for the Yellowjackets.

“I’ve been very happy with the play of LeGree and Katz,” Laughlin said. “They both have great skills and talent and they’ve come a long way in just a short time playing college hockey. They’ve handled the pressure quite well and I’m excited about what they could do during their time here at Superior.”

Stevens Point may not have the offensive depth that Superior has, but they may have the best player on the ice on Friday night in junior Nicole Grossman. Grossman has seven goals and three assists on the season for a total of 10 points. They have also received solid contribution for sophomore Jessica Edward (4-1-5) and freshmen Dana Carothers (2-3-5).

NCAA Tournament Answers

This week, I interviewed Utica College head coach and NCAA Tournament Selection Committee member Dave Clausen. I know there has been a lot of talk and mystery over how the NCAA Tournament selection works, especially with the rapidly increasing size of Division III women’s hockey. These are some of the things I found out from talking with Coach Clausen.

First off, the NCHA does not have a Pool A automatic bid this season, even though they have the required seven teams needed. However, next year they will be able to apply for the Pool A bid and they will most likely get it. There will then be five automatic bids claimed by every conference-tournament champion.

This will wipe out Pool B, which is a bid that is awarded to teams based off of the same criteria used to determine the Pool C (at-large) winners. The only difference is Pool B is reserved only for conferences that do not have seven members and once the NCHA joins Pool A next year, there will no longer be any conferences with fewer than seven teams.

The only real difference for the NCHA will be that now their conference champion will definitely be awarded the Pool B bid when in years past it did not necessarily have to go to the champion if another team beat them out in the NCAA criteria.

However, that scenario had never happened as every NCHA tournament winner has won the Pool B bid except for in 2002 when 26-1-0 Stevens Point was held out of the tournament in favor of 24-1-1 ECAC West champion Elmira. The next year, Chatham joined the ECAC West giving the conference seven teams and getting the automatic bid.

Next, Adrian College is eligible for both the Pool B and Pool C bids this year even though they are a first-year program and an independent school.

The topic of expanding the NCAA tournament to eight teams comes up every year, according to Clausen. The NCAA has a standard rule for every 6.5 institutions competing in one sport; there is one NCAA Tournament spot awarded. Women’s Division III hockey would need 52 teams in order to get the eighth team.

Currently, there are 45 teams playing women’s D-III hockey with at least one more set to join next season in SUNY-Potsdam.

Another topic that was raised as a possibility was including games played against out of region opponents in the NCAA selection process as long as they were played over winter break. Currently, games played against teams from other regions than the one you plan in, do not count towards the record win or lose. However, they turned that down for the time being and it will remain just a secondary criteria used for Pool C comparisons.

Lastly, every member of the selection committee has a four-year term that they serve. This season will be Clausen’s last and he believes that in all likelihood he will be replaced by another ECAC West representative next year as the NCAA likes to keep things balanced between all of the conferences.

Hopefully that helps answers some people’s questions and it didn’t confuse anyone more than they already were about the wacky Division III selection process we all must go through. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me and I will gladly answer them or try and find out the answer to them if I don’t know it.