As the days now accumulate in 2008 and a second chance and fresh start arrives for some of the D-III teams, lets take a look back at the 2007 portion of this season and relive some of the memories from a great semester of womenâ€™s hockey.
The season started out innocently enough with traditional powers Plattsburgh, Elmira, Middlebury, Gustavus Adolphus and Stevens Point getting off to good starts along with some new faces in Adrian and Trinity. Amherst and RIT set out to prove they werenâ€™t one-year wonders and have backed it up so far with 5-1-2 and 8-3-0 records respectively (two of RITâ€™s losses came to D-I Robert Morris).
One team missing from the discussion of top teams so far is Bowdoin. If you would have bet me that Bowdoin would be winless at Christmas time I would have thrown everything, including the kitchen sink into that bet confident thereâ€™d be no chance at all it could happen. Surely, a team that has won at least 17 games the past 6 seasons and made the NCAA tournament 4 straight times from 2002-2005 couldnâ€™t be winless the whole first half, could it?
Well, Iâ€™d be out of a house and the kitchen sink, because it has.
The Polar Bears are 0-3-1 currently with losses coming to Amherst, RIT, and Conn. College. (Bowdoin tied Colby.) The bad news for head coach Stacy Wilson and her Polar Bears is the schedule doesnâ€™t get any easier at the start of 2008. Bowdoin opened with MIAC power St. Thomas on Wednesday Jan. 2 (a 4-0 win for the Bears) and then faces St. Anselm and Manhattanville this weekend. If that wasnâ€™t enough, the Polar Bears follow that up having to go on the road to Middlebury and Williams the next weekend.
Arguably the biggest news story of the first half of the season came when Manhattanville snapped Plattsburghâ€™s D-III NCAA record 35-game unbeaten streak with a 4-3 win over the Cardinals on November 24.
Plattsburgh had been rolling along at a perfect 6-0 following their unbeaten NCAA Championship season the previous spring. The Cardinals had just won the Panther-Cardinal Classic defeating Williams and Middlebury on the Pantherâ€™s home ice. Plattsburgh had also surprisingly never lost to Manhattanville holding a 6-0-3 record against the Valiants. However, led by senior forward Amanda Nonisâ€™ hat trick, Manhattanville defied all odds and shocked the nation and the hockey world bringing college hockeyâ€™s longest active win streak to a screeching halt.
How many D-III teams have a better record than St. Thomas?
I bet many of you were thinking at least 10 teamâ€™s records had to be better than the Tommies, right?
Wrong. The Tommies are 8-1-0 on the season so far and right on the heels of MIAC juggernaut Gustavus Adolphus. I ranked St. Thomas in my preseason top-10 rankings and so far they havenâ€™t disappointed. Last year, the Tommies were extremely young, having 12 freshmen playing regularly in their starting line-up as well as their top goalie being a freshman and they still produced a 15-12 record.
â€œI think the biggest reason for our teamâ€™s success so far has been our maturity from having so many of our impact players being freshmen last year and now sophomores,â€ said St. Thomas head coach Tom Palkowski.
With such a young team, Palkowski has counted heavily on the leadership of his top two scorers and captains, Jackie Carroll and Ashley Reinhardt. Carroll, a junior from St. Paul, Minn., has six goals and 11 assists so far for 17 points. Not to be outdone, Reinhardt, a senior from Eagan, Minn., has five goals and 12 assists for 17 points.
â€œAshley Rheinhardt, Jackie Carroll, and our goaltender Lauren Bradel have been a big reason for our success so far and will be if we are going to have more in the future,â€ Palkowski said.
Bradel, a sophomore from Bemidji, Minn., has stepped up enormously for the Tommies getting most of the minutes this year after splitting with Katie Jetland last year. She leads the country in goals against average with a 0.57 average as well as save percentage with an unheard of mark of .977.
The Tommies great start will be tested early in 2008 as they head east over winter break and take on Bowdoin, Colby, and Southern Maine in a span of 4 days. They then return to the west for a big game against NCHA foe, Wisconsin-River Falls. St. Thomas closes out January with their biggest pair of games on the schedule, the home and home series with their top MIAC title challenger, the Gustavus Adolphus Golden Gusties.
â€œWeâ€™ve been playing pretty consistent hockey so far and weâ€™re going to have to keep that up with the meat of our schedule coming up,â€ Palkowski said. â€œAnything can happen when youâ€™re playing two games in two nights. Last year, thatâ€™s what typically plagued us playing really well the first night and then marginal the next.â€
St. Thomas has yet to see their results translate to votes in the USCHO.com Poll. However, they certainly have the schedule of games in January to state their claim in the poll as well as get their name in the discussion among the elite western powers of Stevens Point, Superior, and Gustavus Adolphus.
Itâ€™s time to give out some awards and some extra Christmas presents to a few individuals who are certainly deserving, after the first half of the season they have all had.
Eastern MVP — Danielle Blanchard, Plattsburgh
Blanchard, a junior forward from Newmarket, Ont., leads the country with 16 goals and 8 assists for 24 points. She led Plattsburgh to the Panther-Cardinal Classic Tournament title scoring all 5 goals the Cardinals scored in the tournament. She has also tallied three game winning goals, five power-play goals, and four short-handed goals leading the top-ranked Cardinals to an 11-1 record at the break.
Western MVP — Nicole Grossman, Stevens Point
Grossman, a junior forward from Lindstrom, Minn., leads the Pointers with nine goals and six assists for 15 points in nine games. Grossman has been a big reason why Stevens Point is the lone remaining unbeaten team in D-III womenâ€™s hockey at 9-0-0. She has also chipped in three game winning goals and three power-play goals.
Eastern Rookie — Anna McNally, Middlebury
McNally, a freshmen forward from St. Paul, Minn., has been everything head coach Bill Mandigo could have hoped for so far in her young Panther career. McNallyâ€™s 10 goals rank her second in the country behind only Danielle Blanchard. She also has chipped in seven assists for 17 total points on the season in just seven games. McNally and teammate AnnMarie Cellino have combined to form the nationâ€™s top 1-2 scoring punch so far and have led the Panthers to a 5-1-1 record.
Western Rookie — Stacey Kempson, Adrian
Kempson, a freshmen forward from Windsor, Ont., has been the leader of perhaps D-IIIâ€™s biggest surprise story this year with the 9-3 record Adrian accomplished in the 1st half of the season. Kempson has seven goals and 11 assists for 18 points. She also has two power play goals and one game winner for the Bulldogs.
Eastern Goalie — Isabel Iwachiw, Trinity
Iwachiw, a sophomore goalie from New York, N.Y., has been giving Eastern teams headaches all season trying to solve her. Iwachiwâ€™s performance between the pipes have Trinity off to their best start in school history at 5-1-1 and currently ranked 10th in the country. Iwachiw has a 0.99 goals against average and the nationâ€™s third best save percentage at .959. She also has posted two shutouts on the season
Western Goalie — dâ€™Andra Phillips, Stevens Point
Phllips, a sophomore goalie from Swartz Creek, MI., has backstopped the Pointers to a perfect record through the first half of the season. She has picked up big wins against Gustavus Adolphus, River Falls, and Superior. She is 5-0-0 on the season with a 0.86 goals against average and a .960 save percentage. This was the toughest decision for me as Lauren Bradel was certainly deserving as well but I gave the edge to Phillips because she has faced better competition.
Eastern Coach — Andrew McPhee, Trinity
McPhee has coached the Bantams to their best start in school history and a top 10 ranking during the first half of the season. Trinity won just 8 games last year and has yet to win 10 games in a season in program history. McPhee looks to have the Bantams well on their way to surpassing that mark this year.
Western Coach — Chandy Kaip, Adrian
Kaip, has led her first year Bulldogs to a 9-3 record at the break as well as some big wins against Neumann, Utica, and Superior. Adrian, like Trinity was ranked for the first time in program history earlier this year at number 10. Adrian has a very favorable schedule in the second half of the season with their biggest tests coming against River Falls and Stevens Point. Other than those four games, the Bulldogs should cruise if they keep up the play they have shown in the first half.
Check back next week for first column about 2008 as Iâ€™ll preview the second half of the season as well as list some things and teams to watch out for. Hope everyone is having a safe and happy holiday season and eagerly awaiting the drop of the puck again next week!
For now, throw Slap Shot or Miracle in to help get you through the hockey drought till after New Yearâ€™s. If you donâ€™t know what either those movies are, please go rent them and watch.