This Week in D-III Women’s Hockey: Jan. 31, 2008

With the end of January upon us, the beginning of February signals the start of the home stretch run in Division III women’s hockey. For teams like Elmira, Amherst, Trinity, Superior, RIT, and St. Thomas it’s time to make their best pitch for an NCAA tournament bid if they fail to win an automatic bid.

Middlebury (holds tie-breaker over Amherst with a better overall record), Plattsburgh, Manhattanville, and Gustavus Adolphus control their own destiny right now and are in the best position to win their respective conference titles. Middlebury is also in the driver’s seat to be the host of the Frozen Four. However, they still have challenging games remaining against Amherst and Plattsburgh as well as playing six of their final nine games away from the friendly confines of the Kenyon Ice Arena.

Going along with the NCAA tournament outlook, lets dip a little bit into the race for the 2008 Laura Hurd Award, given to the top Division III women’s player as voted on by the American Hockey Coaches Association.

This season presents us with a very intriguing dilemma. Traditionally, the award has been given to a senior and seemingly rewarding a career rather than a single season. This year, there is just one senior in the top 10 nationally for scoring in Superior’s Stacy Anderson (15-12-27).

Plattsburgh junior Danielle Blanchard leads the country in scoring (18-14-32) and is arguably the best player in all of Division III. Many thought Blanchard should have won the award last year, leading Plattsburgh to an undefeated season and a national championship while scoring 51 points.

Not to be outdone, Manhattanville junior Danielle Nagymarosi has started to pick up her play. Nagymarosi led the nation in scoring last season at RIT with 61 points. This year, she is leading the Valiants’ offense with 15 goals and 11 assists for 26 points. She also leads the country in game winning goals.

Out west, Nicole Grossmann has been Stevens Point’s go-to girl in the clutch with 17 goals and nine assists for 26 points. The junior forward is second to Blanchard in the nation in goals scored and is tied for the lead with Amherst’s Tarasai Karega in power play goals with eight each.

Super(ior) Resurgence

The Superior Yellow Jackets (12-4-1) currently sit in sole possession of second place in the NCHA (7-2-1) and the chief challenger to Stevens Point and their undefeated season. However, this was nowhere near the case throughout most of the first half of the season and into the second half after the Jackets lost to River Falls 5-4 in overtime on Jan. 12.

Superior struggled through the first half of the season dropping games to Adrian, Stevens Point, and Gustavus Adolphus. The Jackets lacked a marquee win on their schedule up until this past weekend when Superior swept a hot River Falls team 4-0 and 3-2.

“We’re going well now,” said Superior head coach Dan Laughlin. “Our goal was to stay in the upper half of our conference and have a chance to compete in the post-season. We control our own destiny.”

Laughlin attributed the Jackets’ slow start to being a young team and working through the growing process and the transition to D-III hockey.

“We have a young team so the chemistry took awhile to develop,” Laughlin said. “We couldn’t expect miracles right away. The girls have been working hard though and we’re coming together at the right time for the stretch run.”

As part of the growing process, two of Superior’s young star scorers — Shana Katz and Lindsey Legree — have been in the box a little bit more than you’d like to see. Legree is second on the team in scoring, but leads the team in penalty minutes with 34.

“We’ve been taking a few too many penalties but it’s part of the transition to Division III,” Laughlin said. “The game is called a little tighter here. The big problem is we have been taking penalties at the wrong time. Special teams are going to be huge for us.”

Superior travels to winless Concordia (WI) and Lake Forest this weekend before their looming showdown with Stevens Point next weekend at Wessman Arena.

“We all know as a team that it doesn’t matter who we play, every game is important,” Laughlin said. “We’re going to focus on Concordia and our team and worry about Point when that comes.”

Tribute to the Troops

On Tuesday, Feb. 5, the Norwich Cadets will host the inaugural “Tribute To The Troops” night to recognize 45 current or former Norwich students serving our country in Iraq or Afghanistan. St. Michael’s College comes to the Kreitzberg Arena at 7 p.m. to take part in this historic event for Division III women’s hockey.

Heading the planning committee were Norwich head coach Mark Bolding and assistant coach Dana Bean.

“Our assistant coach Dana Bean has had the idea for awhile and now we’re finally putting it into action,” Bolding said. “It’s a natural fit for us being a military school and it’s unique because we are the only women’s military school with a hockey team.”

Bean and Bolding rather quickly gathered a list of 45 names of Norwich students and decided to make special commemorative jerseys for the team and the event that would list a name of a NU student currently serving overseas.

“We worked with a company that was great with us and we were able to get a very heavy camouflage practice-like jersey with a ton of detail on it for $70 each,” Bolding said.

The event was made possible through a ton of help from other people as the St. Michael’s game was originally scheduled for a weekend.

“Chris Donovan (St. Michael’s head coach) is a Norwich graduate and he was more than willing to help us out,” Bolding said. “Also, Tuesday is one of the few nights we could get radio coverage from WDEV’s George Commo. We’re going to have our color guard there to present the colors and we’re hoping to draw between 600 and 800 fans or more to the event.”

After the game, the jerseys will be packaged up and sent overseas to their respective alums’ name on the back.

Events like these are great for the sport of Division III women’s hockey and my hat is off to the Norwich coaching staff and everyone else that had a part in the planning of this event.

Speaking of the Cadets, Norwich and Mark Bolding are in their first Division III season after being a club team for at least five years before.

So far, the Cadets have had mixed results in their inaugural season of NCAA play. Currently, Norwich sits at 6-7-2 overall on the season and in ninth place in the ECAC East with a 3-5-2 record in conference play.

“We’re not doing too bad,” Bolding said. “We’ve been sitting around .500 all year. We’ve been a little inconsistent but we don’t have a lot of depth so it’s not been unexpected.”

The Norwich University name is well known in the college hockey world as the men’s team is constantly a national title contender year in and year out behind legendary coach Mike McShane. With such a successful men’s program it’d be expected that the women’s program would have a little extra pressure to perform well because of the precedent the men’s team has set.

“We definitely feel a little bit of pressure, especially when we’re out recruiting,” Bolding said. “Recruits know Norwich has a very good reputation and having a successful men’s team reminds we have to keep doing our job. It keeps us going and trying to go the extra mile to get better.”

Because of the previous club hockey years, Norwich has an untraditional number of upperclassmen for a first year hockey team. Just half of the team is freshmen and the rest are upperclassmen brought over from the club hockey team.

“We still do have a lot of freshmen but we also have a lot of players from our club hockey team last year,” Bolding said. “Everyone works hard in practice to get better and that’s always great to see.”

However, hands down, junior all-everything captain Sophie LeClerc leads the Cadets.

“Sophie (LeClerc) is consistent,” Bolding said. “She plays great defense and can score. She never quits and brings everybody else’s game up around her. She’s also a local kid from Vermont and many of the young kids look up to her at clinics.”

The Cadets have the ability to finish off their first collegiate season very strong as just two of their remaining nine games come against teams with a winning record.

With one season under their belt, a strong hockey tradition, and class events like Tribute for the Troops nights, the future is certainly bright in Northfield, Vt., for not just one hockey team, but two.