All coaches say that they want to see their teams playing their best hockey at the end of the season. Well, two teams have taken that message to heart and have saved their best for the second half of the season to surge to the top of their respective conferences.
Amherst currently holds the nationâ€™s longest unbeaten streak at 15 games. The Jeffs are 13-0-2 as they head into the NESCAC final four this weekend, where they will compete for the conference title and automatic bid with Middlebury, Trinity, and Colby.
Wis.-Superior isnâ€™t far behind as the Yellow Jackets have gone 14 games without a loss. Superior is 13-0-1 in their last 14 and this past weekend won their first ever Oâ€™Brien Cup (NCHA championship). They beat Lake Forest 3-0 in the semi-finals and then downed Wis.-River Falls 2-1 in a dramatic, come-from-behind overtime victory.
The Yellow Jacketsâ€™ unbeaten streak and title hopes were in serious jeopardy on Sunday when they ran into a smoking hot goaltender in Wis.-River Fallsâ€™ Cassi Campbell. The Falcons shocked the country with a huge 2-1 upset win over fifth-ranked and second-seeded Wis.-Stevens Point and looked to have done it again the next night until Wis.-Superiorâ€™s Brianne Mosher tied the game with 25 seconds left and the Jacketsâ€™ goalie pulled.
â€œBrianne had been working hard all game and was always around the net,â€ said Wis.-Superior head coach Dan Laughlin. â€œWe had our chances but werenâ€™t able to convert until then.â€
Wis.-Superior then rallied from there and scored the golden goal 10:51 into the first overtime when Teagan Cassan lit the lamp giving the Yellow Jackets their first Oâ€™Brien Cup title in program history.
â€œWe won the face-off and got a shot on net and Cassan was able to put in for us,â€ Laughlin said. â€œIt was great to see because we had lost a couple games earlier in the season in like that.â€
Wis.-Superior now sits at 22-4-1 and the odds on favorite to win the Pool B bid. However, this was not always the case as at one point the Yellow Jackets dropped four games in a nine game stretch with losses to Adrian, Wis.-Stevens Point, Gustavus Adolphus, and Wis.-River Falls.
â€œWe established goals from day one,â€ Laughlin said. â€œWe just had everyone concentrating, trying to stay focused and work on them all year. We got some key players back in the second half of the season that added to our ammunition and helped us achieve our goals.â€
Wis.-Superior now plays the waiting game this week and await their fate and the rest of the conference tournament results starting on Wednesday with the MIAC Championship between St. Thomas and Gustavus Adolphus (1-0 Gustavus) and then the ECAC East, ECAC West, and NESCAC tournaments will all crown their champions this weekend.
â€œWeâ€™ve been trying to keep things loose and obviously working on our skills,â€ Laughlin said. â€œTowards the end of the week weâ€™ll start working on special teams and get some rest. The long layoff between games can go both ways as it can get teams out of their normal rhythm but it also helps getting some time to recover and heal from the bumps and bruises.â€
With the NCAA tournament selection process completely up in the air right now, Laughlin commented on how itâ€™s pretty much impossible to predict how things are going to shake out come Sunday night.
â€œThereâ€™s over a hundred different scenarios that could still happen,â€ Laughlin said. â€œA lot of things depend on the East. Where ever we end up and who we play, so be it. Whatever route we take, itâ€™s going to be tough.â€
East Region Conference Championship Outlook
There is still plenty left to be decided in the East as all three eastern conferences will hold final four type format tournaments this weekend to decide their champions and automatic bid winners.
The ECAC West tournament will be hosted in Plattsburgh, N.Y. and the top-ranked and top-seeded Cardinals are the heavy favorites. Plattsburgh will play dark horse Utica in the early game on Saturday. Utica has been playing very good hockey in the second half of the season with wins over Amherst, Elmira, and RIT so theyâ€™re certainly capable of pulling an upset on Plattsburgh if the Cardinals overlook them.
In the late game, RIT and Elmira will renew their developing rivalry with a lot on the line. The winner will move a leg up on the other in the Pool C race and of course have the chance to play for the ECAC Westâ€™s automatic bid as well. The two sides have been pretty much evenly matched all season. They both split with Utica and dropped games to Plattsburgh and Middlebury. The difference comes with RIT defeating Amherst and Plattsburgh once while Elmira lost to the Lady Jeffs and only tied Plattsburgh.
Star Player — Jr. Forward, Danielle Blanchard
26 goals, 19 assists = 45 points (7 PPG, 5 SHG, 6 GWG)
Key Player — So. Forward, Laurie Bowler
18 goals, 6 assists = 24 points (1 PPG, 2 SHG, 1 GWG)
Goalie — Jr. Danielle Beattie
(18-2-1) .930 Save Percentage, 1.32 GGA
Star Player — Sr. Forward, Isabelle Richard
12 goals, 16 assists = 28 points (7 PPG, 1 SHG, 4 GWG)
Key Player — Fr. Defense, Katie Stack
13 goals, 11 assists= 24 points (3 PPG, 2 SHG, 2 GWG)
Goalie — Jr. Sandra Grant
(15-5-0) .924 Save Percentage, 1.75 GGA
Star Player — Jr. Forward, Kayla Coady
19 goals, 13 assists = 32 points (4 PPG, 1 SHG, 5 GWG)
Key Player — So. Forward, Lauryn DePaul
12 goals, 6 assists = 18 points (3 PPG, 0 SHG, 4 GWG)
Goalie — Jr. Ally Cubberley
(12-3-1) .938 Save Percentage, 1.55 GGA
Star Player — So. Forward, Andrea Maxon
13 goals, 15 assists = 28 points (7 PPG, 0 SHG, 5 GWG)
Key Player — Sr. Forward Kelly Bills
8 goals, 10 assists = 18 points (3 PPG, 0 SHG, 4 GWG)
Goalie — So. Jill Doherty
(9-6-0) .929 Save Percentage, 1.70 GGA
The ECAC East Tournament will be hosted in Purchase, N.Y. at the Playland Ice Casino and the home of the top-seeded Manhattanville Valiants. Manhattanville will take on Salve Regina in the first semifinal. New England College and UMass-Boston will meet in the other semifinal. Manhattanville is the odds on favorite especially since St. Anselm isnâ€™t allowed to compete in the conference playoffs because of their Division II status.
No team has a chance at an at-large bid in this conference so the conference champion will be the ECAC Eastâ€™s lone representative in the tournament this year.
Star Player — Jr. Forward, Danielle Nagymarosi
25 goals, 18 assists = 43 points (7 PPG, 0 SHG, 5 GWG)
Key Player — Sr. Forward, Amanda Nonis
15 goals, 16 assists = 31 points (6 PPG, 1 SHG, 1 GWG)
Goalie — Jr. Karine Turmel
(8-3-0) .932 Save Percentage, 1.54 GGA
Star Player — So. Forward, Maria Nasta
19 goals, 25 assists = 44 points (2 PPG, 1 SHG, 4 GWG)
Key Player — Sr. Defense Rose Devlin
4 goals, 5 assists = 9 points (3 PPG, 0 SHG, 1 GWG)
Goalie — Jr. Jessica Sams
(7-4-0) .919 Save Percentage, 2.51 GGA
New England College (14-10-1)
Star Player — Jr. Forward, Sarah Graham
22 goals, 16 assists = 38 points (6 PPG, 1 SHG, 2 GWG)
Key Player — Jr. Forward, Jaime Collins
9 goals, 15 assists = 24 points (0 PPG, 0 SHG, 5 GWG)
Goalie — So. Mary Roux
(12-7-1) .919 Save Percentage, 2.64 GGA
Salve Regina (11-13-2)
Star Player — Jr. Forward, Caitlin Campbell
14 goals, 11 assists = 25 points (3 PPG, 0 SHG, 3 GWG)
Key Player — Fr. Forward, Gabrielle Gardner
12 goals, 11 assists = 23 points (6 PPG, 0 SHG, 2 GWG)
Goalie — Jr. Tamsin Gosselin
(4-8-1) .915 Save Percentage, 2.90 GGA
The NESCAC Tournament could provide the same excitement as the ECAC West Tournament with four of their own powerhouse teams converging on Middlebury, Vt., this weekend. Middlebury is the top seed and will host fourth seeded Colby who is coming in off a big win against Trinity two weeks ago and a win last week against Conn. College. In the other semifinal, Amherst meets Trinity in a game that will feature two of the best goaltenders in the country that could easily steal a game for their team.
Middlebury and Amherst are the neck and neck favorites with Trinity a step or two back and then Colby a step behind the Bantams. The biggest advantage to pick Middlebury is they will be playing at home on their huge Olympic ice sheet. However, Amherst can skate with the best of them so Iâ€™m sure Coach Plumerâ€™s team wonâ€™t be affected too much by the big surface.
Star Player — Jr. Forward, AnnMarie Cellino
12 goals, 29 assists = 41 points (2 PPG, 1 SHG, 1 GWG)
Key Player — Jr. Forward, Erika Nakamura
13 goals, 10 assists = 23 points (4 PPG, 1 SHG, 5 GWG)
Goalies — So. Lani Wright
(10-1-2) .949 Save Percentage, 0.98 GGA
Fr. Lexi Bloom
(9-1-1) .945 Save Percentage, 0.97 GGA
Star Player — Jr. Forward, Tarasai Karega
15 goals, 12 assists = 27 points (8 PPG, 1 SHG, 3 GWG)
Key Player — Jr. Forward, Lindsey Harrington
6 goals, 11 assists = 17 points (4 PPG, 1 SHG, 2 GWG)
Goalie — So. Krystyn Elek
(11-3-3) .942 Save Percentage, 1.27 GGA
Star Player — Fr. Forward, Kim Weiss
15 goals, 12 assists = 27 points (3 PPG, 1 SHG, 5 GWG)
Key Player — So. Forward, Michelle Chee
11 goals, 11 assists = 22 points (8 PPG, 0 SHG, 4 GWG)
Goalie — So. Isabel Iwachiw
(14-3-3) .959 Save Percentage, 1.10 GGA
Star Player — Jr. Forward, Laura Anning
17 goals, 12 assists = 29 points (3 PPG, 0 SHG, 3 GWG)
Key Player — Jr. Forward, Rebecca Julian
18 goals, 14 assists = 32 points (3 PPG, 0 SHG, 3 GWG)
Goalie — Jr. Lacey Brown
(10-4-2) .937 Save Percentage, 1.95 GGA
Pool C Pecking Order
Hereâ€™s my guess at the current Pool C pecking order if the season ended today. Iâ€™m keeping conference leaders in there in case they lose.
I think you can switch Elmira and RIT if Elmira beats the Tigers. However, Amherst did beat Elmira head to head so that comparison would be very interesting. I think Stevens Point gets in over the RIT/Elmira/Amherst trio, I have a feeling this tournament is heading West this year and itâ€™ll be easier with three West teams.