The St. Anselm women’s hockey team has come a long way in its short four-year history as a varsity program. The Hawks have won 20 or more games every season, an ECAC East regular-season championship, and amassed a 76-13-1 record in that time with half of this season left to play. Oh yeah, they’re a perfect 11-0-0 this season too.
Have you noticed?
Probably not, because the St. Anselm Hawks are a Division II school and therefore unable to compete in the ECAC East playoffs or the Division III NCAA tournament.
“It’s discouraging for the girls and I to not be able to compete in the postseason,” said St. Anselm head coach Dave Flint. “We’re a Division II school because of our basketball team. I’ve petitioned the NCAA but they blow us off every year and choose not to deal with it.”
St. Anselm, located in Manchester, N.H., is a member of the Division III ECAC East conference and plays an entirely Division III schedule. If anything, the Hawks are at a disadvantage compared to Division III schools because of the rules and regulations D-II schools must abide by.
“We offer no athletic scholarships on our team, nor does any other team at the school other than basketball,” Flint said. “Our players must pass NCAA clearinghouse as well as abide by the NCAA minimum grade point average guidelines, unlike all Division III schools.”
The NCAA Clearinghouse is a system that all Division I and II athletes must pass in order to play at those schools. Clearinghouse takes into account a set NCAA core criteria of credits that students must complete and pass while in high school in order to compete for the school.
Even with having to deal with all these extra rules and regulations on top of the fact St. Anselm can’t compete for an NCAA championship, Flint has been able to defy the odds and bring some tremendous players to the program.
“Not being able to compete for an NCAA title has affected the men’s team more than us,” Flint said. We’ve certainly lost kids we were recruiting because of it, but overall I think we’re a pretty desirable school. We have a new $8.5 million arena that was opened in 2003 as well as a great location. Also, a lot of girls have picked St. Anselm for the education first rather than hockey.”
St. Anselm heads into Wednesday’s showdown with Middlebury with a perfect 14-0-0 record and in sole possession of first place in the ECAC East with an 10-0-0 record. The Hawks’ biggest wins have come against rival Manhattanville and a 2-0 win against a resurgent Bowdoin team that beat both St. Thomas and Manhattanville during the same week.
Flint points to the current eight-player senior class as one of the biggest reasons for the team’s success so far.
“Senior leadership,” Flint said. “The eight seniors we have this year were my first recruiting class. They have won since they got here and instilled a winning tradition at St. Anselm. They have helped build this program from the ground up.”
Along with a strong senior class, St. Anselm has also benefited from having extraordinary depth. Every player on the team except for one has scored at least one point in a game this year.
“We haven’t been scoring as much as we have in years past this year but it’s always good to see the scoring spread out,” Flint said. “We’ve rolled four lines in every game this season and it really pays dividends in the third period when other teams are exhausted because of double shifts while we’re still fresh.”
Leading the scoring for the Hawks so far this season have been juniors Kelsey Johnson (10-7–17) and Kathleen Twomey (9-8–17) and sophomore Arianna Rigano (8-9–17). Senior Cindy Lebel (4-7-11), junior Bianca DeSantis (6-3–9) and sophomore Daniella Lyons (2-7–9) round out the top scorers for St. Anselm.
In goal, the Hawks have ridden senior Andrea Berlin and she hasn’t disappointed, putting up impressive numbers in her final campaign in the St. Anselm blue and white. Berlin is 9-0-0 on the year, giving up just five goals on the season while posting four shutouts. That would tie her for the Division III lead if the Hawks’ statistics were included. Berlin also has an 0.56 goals against average and a .960 save percentage, both of which would be among the tops in the country.
Those players have been important factors in helping St. Anselm to one of the best scoring margins in the country. Its stingy defense has allowed just nine goals in 14 games and posted seven total shutouts while never giving up more than two goals in a game so far this season.
For St. Anselm to continue its success, Flint singled out two players who will have to lead the Hawks.
“Cindy Lebel has been playing hurt the last two years and is still one of our best players,” Flint said. “Berlin has been phenomenal keeping us in games and making big saves for us all season.”
As far as the rest of the season goes, Flint and St. Anselm are highlighting two games on the schedule that they’re looking forward to playing.
“Manhattanville and Middlebury,” Flint said. “Playing teams of their caliber gives us a chance to see where we measure up against Division III’s best.”
The Middlebury showdown looms as the Hawks host the third-ranked Panthers for a huge Wednesday night non-conference tilt, when St. Anselm will face its toughest challenge to date to keep the perfect season going.
The second Manhattanville game will have to wait a little bit longer for Flint and his team as the Hawks won’t face the Valiants again until the last weekend of the season when they travel to the Playland Ice Casino in Purchase, N.Y., on February 23. In all likelihood, St. Anselm will have the chance to clinch a second consecutive ECAC East regular-season title that night.
That brings up another problem that St. Anselm faces every year because of its Division II status; scheduling. Division III powers such as Plattsburgh, Elmira and RIT, won’t schedule the Hawks.
“I’ve tried,” Flint said. “They won’t schedule us because the game won’t count for them NCAA-wise and it could end up hurting their at-large bid possibilities.”
Flint said that the team set a goal at the beginning of the year, and they are still standing by it.
“They set the goal to go undefeated,” Flint said. “27-0 is a pretty tough thing to do. We’re going to focus on one game at a time and hopefully win the ECAC East regular-season championship.”
It’s a shame that a team that’s having such a great year and is a tremendous hidden story can only play for pride and love of the game rather than postseason championships and NCAA titles.
Do the right thing, NCAA: let them play Division III hockey and be eligible for the postseason.