This Week in D-III Women’s Hockey: Feb. 7, 2008

Western Champs?

The Stevens Point Pointers now officially have a stranglehold on the top position in the western region after defeating chief challenger Gustavus Adolphus on Tuesday night 3-2. With the win, Stevens Point stayed unbeaten and improved to 17-0-2 on the season. Gustavus Adolphus, who has only lost twice this year and came into Tuesday’s showdown on a 17 game winning streak, dropped to 17-2-0 with their only losses this year coming at the hands of Stevens Point.

Stevens Point head coach Ann Ninnemann was pleased with the team’s effort and very satisfied with the big win Tuesday night.

“It’s great to get two wins over an outstanding team like Gustavus,” Ninnemann said. “We played pretty well and pretty competitive and competed very hard.”

Stevens Point executed their defensive style of play well giving up just 13 shots to a Gustavus Adolphus team that averages over 40 a game.
Ann Hulme was solid in net making her eighth consecutive start for the Pointers after splitting time with d’Andra Phillips through the first half of the season. Hulme made 11 saves and improved her record to 11-0-1 on the season.

“We’re going with whoever is playing well in practice and has the hot hand,” Ninnemann said. “Ann (Hulme) has stepped up very well. She has started so many in a row because it’s just the way things have worked out.”

Junior forward Nicole Grossmann has been the obvious offensive leader for the Pointers all season long with 18 goals and 10 assists for 28 points. However, the Pointers aren’t one player deep as they have been receiving timely contributions from others as well, especially the seniors.

Jesse Suter, Jamie Lewandowski, and Katy Lankey have all stepped up and lead the Pointers with various big goals to keep their unbeaten season alive. Lewandowski ended up being the hero on Tuesday night.

“Our defense has been exceptional all year and against Gustavus, our captain, Jamie Lewandowski blasted a shot from the blue-line in what ended up being the game winning goal for us.

Dana Carothers has been awesome in her freshmen season as well, but the biggest thing for us has been everybody doing their own part and fulfilling their role.”
Although Stevens Point is undefeated and coming off a big win against Gustavus, the road to an unbeaten season gets even tougher this weekend when the Pointers travel to NCHA rival Superior for a two-game set that is crucial to both teams for different circumstances.

Stevens Point has all but clinched the NCHA regular season title. The Pointers need just one win in their remaining four games or a Superior loss to clinch. However, the Pointers are playing for the number one overall seed in the NCAA tournament right now.

With a 17-0-2 record, and no undefeated teams in the East right now, you’d
think the NCAA committee would have to send the tournament west for the first time in seven years if Point remains unbeaten. Whether they do or not, remains to be seen. But if Point does go undefeated, count me in on the bandwagon for them hosting the Frozen Four regardless of most likely having to fly three teams from the East.

“We still have a few games left to go,” Ninnemann said. “We’re going to take them all one game at a time and take each one as they come rather than looking ahead. It’d be a lot of fun to have it out here but we’ve got to do what we need to do and get there first and foremost. Then, we’ll play it wherever the NCAA decides to have it.”

Superior (14-4-1) on the other hand is coming in on a six game unbeaten streak with a 5-0-1 record. The Yellow Jackets biggest wins came in a sweep of River Falls. Superior is trying to keep up with the pack in the race for a Pool C at-large bid. Teams like Elmira, RIT, Amherst, Trinity, and St. Thomas are all looking to add big wins to their tournament resumes and Superior’s best chance is this weekend with two games against Point.

A sweep by Superior or taking three of four points puts them right into the mix with the other contenders. However, if the Yellow Jackets get swept, it’ll put a serious dash and probably all but eliminate them from NCAA contention with the lack of an NCHA auto-bid for the tournament winner.

“We’re certainly expecting great games this weekend,” Ninnemann said. “The last game we played against Superior was a hard fought battle. It was kind of a little sloppy on both sides but we’ve got to be ready for whatever they have.”

Around the Country

In other games around the nation this weekend, Elmira and Manhattanville will complete their annual home and home series as the Valiants travel up to Pine Valley, N.Y. and the Murray Athletic Center to take on the seventh ranked Soaring Eagles on Friday.

In their first meeting this season, Elmira rallied from being down 2-1 going into the third period, scoring two unanswered goals and picking up a big non-conference win against the Valiants in January.

Elmira (15-4-0) comes into Friday’s showdown off a two game sweep of ECAC West foe Neumann. Although the Soaring Eagles appear to have a very good record, they only really have two marquee wins against RIT and Manhattanville. They have losses to Amherst, Utica, Middlebury, and RIT.

A win for Elmira is critical if they want to keep their at-large tournament possibilities alive and not have to rely on winning the ECAC West tournament where FOUR, yes I said four teams are ranked currently.

Manhattanville enters with a 13-5-0 record and the leaders of the ECAC East. While the Valiants are the prime front-runner for the ECAC East tournament championship, they did have a slip up last weekend falling to New England College. What would have appeared to have been a sure thing penciling in Manhattanville at the beginning of the season, now has a little bit of doubt as the Valiants can be beaten in the ECAC East. Teams like UMass-Boston, NEC, and Norwich are right there looking to pull the upset.

Another team to keep your eye on that could possibly mix things up this weekend is Neumann. The Knights will travel to New England and take on the region’s best in Amherst and Middlebury. RIT and Utica did the same trip earlier this year and they both split as they beat Amherst but both lost to Middlebury.

Neumann may not have the depth and scoring power that Plattsburgh, Utica, Elmira, and RIT have but they do have one thing going for them; An outstanding freshmen goaltender.

Mel Brunet from Sudbury, Ont., has been impressive for the Knights this season with a .947 save percentage and a 2.14 goals against average. Not impressed? How about the fact she made 63 saves against Elmira last weekend in a 1-0 loss to the Soaring Eagles. One ECAC West coach went on record saying she’s the real deal and the best goaltender in the conference making Neumann a very dangerous team to watch out for.

Not exactly words to be taken with a grain of salt considering names like Danielle Beattie, Sandra Grant, and Allison Cubberley occupy the net for some of the teams in the ECAC West.

Lastly, I’d like to give a little press to Oswego State for turning things around quite nicely after the embarrassing loss to Chatham, who was previously winless in their last 97 games.

The Lakers have won three games in a row since falling to Chatham with wins over Castleton and two against ECAC West foe Cortland. The two wins against Cortland last weekend put Oswego right back into the mix for the sixth and final playoff spot in the ECAC West tournament.

This weekend, the Lakers will get a chance to prove how far they’ve come as they will welcome the newly ranked Utica Pioneers to the Oswego State Campus Center Ice Arena on Friday and Saturday.

The Pioneers are ranked 10th in the latest poll and have been picking up some impressive wins in the second half of the season while playing spoiler in the ECAC West. Utica is 12-8-0 on the season and 8-4 in the ECAC West with wins over Amherst, Elmira, and RIT.