And Then There Were Seven
Last weekend certainly had its surprises including both Middlebury and Plattsburgh losing in their respective conference tournaments. Fourth-seeded Colby provided the biggest shock of the weekend downing the top-seed and host Middlebury Panthers 3-2 in overtime in the NESCAC semifinals.
The Elmira College Soaring Eagles also staved off elimination from their second straight NCAA tournament, rallying from a 2-0 hole against RIT in the ECAC West semifinals to win 6-2 and then defeating top-ranked Plattsburgh 1-0 in the championship.
â€œI think we were nervous because at that point, (Middlebury had already lost to Colby) we knew we needed to win two games,â€ said Elmira head coach Paul Nemetz-Carlson. â€œThis group had always competed well in the ECAC West tournament but we hadnâ€™t won it yet. We concentrated on breaking the game up into smaller chunks and take things one period at a time.â€
The Soaring Eagles were able to rally around the efforts of two fourth-line players that both scored key goals in the comeback against RIT. Senior forward Amy Hunnewell scored the game tying goal on an assist from Jenna McCall and then junior forward Erika Godwin put the game away with the Soaring Eaglesâ€™ fifth goal of the night and gave them a commanding three goal lead late in the third period.
â€œWeâ€™ve had nine different people score our 10 goals in the ECAC West Tournament,â€ Nemetz-Carlson said. â€œAmy skates really well but doesnâ€™t always get many opportunities to score. She found herself in the right place at the right time and converted nicely putting the puck over the goalieâ€™s glove on a pass from (Jenna) McCall.â€
Heading into the ECAC West championship game, the deck was certainly stacked against Elmira. The Soaring Eagles were winless in their last nine games against Plattsburgh and had to play the championship at 3 p.m. after just playing a game at 7 p.m. the previous night while Plattsburgh was able to rest after their 3-2 win over Utica.
However, none of that mattered to Nemetz-Carlson and his team.
â€œWe got a little confidence on our last trip to Plattsburgh a few weekends ago,â€ he said. â€œWe were the first team to score goals against them in the first period all season and we held 2-0 leads on them both nights. We played to win in the third period and our defense as a unit played great.â€
With the score knotted at zero heading into the third, Elmira didnâ€™t have to wait long to have their hard work finally pay off as sophomore forward Melanie Henshaw scored the first and only goal of the game nine seconds into the period.
â€œThey won the face-off and then one of their defensemen turned the puck over,â€ Nemetz Carlson said. â€œWe got a two on one off the turnover and Melanie was able to get a couple of whacks at it and scored. We knew we were a good third period team and we proved it.
Elmira ended up holding on to the lead and became the first team ever to shutout Plattsburgh at the Stafford Ice Arena, while claiming their fifth ECAC West Championship title and the first for everyone on the roster but the four seniors.
â€œThe moment spoke for itself.â€ Nemetz-Carlson said to the team after the game. â€œIt was a moment of relief and re-enforcement of how all the hard work we put in paid off. We get to play next week and thatâ€™s always the goal of any team, no one wants their season to be over.â€
Elmira now moves on to face NESCAC champion Amherst in the NCAA Quarterfinals on Saturday at 3 p.m. in Amherst, Mass.
The Soaring Eagles and Jeffs met once earlier this year in Elmira on Jan. 18 and the Jeffs defeated Elmira 3-2 in a classic back and forth playoff type struggle.
â€œWeâ€™re going to keep reinforcing the confidence we have in our self,â€ Nemetz-Carlson said. â€œWeâ€™re going to need to pressure the puck well and have everybody keep getting opportunities. These are the type of games where a bounce one way or another can decide it. Both teams have a similar make-up but they might be a bit smaller and weâ€™re probably a little more physical.â€
Tough luck for Point
Before the weekend started, the west was sitting pretty and had a good shot at getting three teams into the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in the tournamentâ€™s seven-year history. Gustavus Adolphus had an automatic bid after winning the MIAC title; Wis.- Superior had the inside track to the Pool B bid after winning the Oâ€™Brien Cup and sweeping Wis.- Stevens Point a few weekends earlier, handing the Pointers their first losses of the season. Even with their loss to River Falls in the NCHA semifinals, the Pointers were 22-3-2 on the season and seemed a lock for one of the two Pool C bids.
They had quality wins over Gustavus Adolphus (2), Wis.- River Falls (2), and Wis.-Superior and losses to Wis.- Superior (2), and Wis.- River Falls. With Middlebury and Plattsburgh pretty much dominating the Eastern region all season, head coach Ann Ninnemann and her team had to like their chances.
Then the worst possible scenario happened.
Middlebury, whose only two losses of the season were to top-ranked Plattsburgh, lost to Colby. Wis.-Stevens Point would have matched up better against Amherst, who went on to win the NESCAC title and get an automatic bid. Amherst had losses to Utica, RIT, and Plattsburgh. That would have certainly been a better comparison than with Middlebury and their losses to Plattsburgh (2) and Colby.
The final nail was slammed into Wis.-Stevens Pointâ€™s coffin when Elmira upset Plattsburgh and claimed the ECAC West automatic bid, forcing Plattsburgh into the Pool C situation.
The Pointers didnâ€™t have much of a claim over Middlebury and Plattsburgh and became the odd team out of the NCAA Tournament. Plattsburgh had a higher win percentage and Middlebury had a better record against ranked teams and a higher strength of schedule to propel them over the edge in the comparison with Wis.-Stevens Point.
Wis.-Stevens Point wasnâ€™t the only team to suffer from being left home. Wis.-Superior and Gustavus Adolphus also lost the chance at shipping the NCAA tournament west for the first time ever. With a 4-3 split between the east and west, the committee would have had a dream scenario and handed hosting privileges to Gustavus Adolphus and only had to fly two teams from the East.
Never the less it is what it is and we now have our seven teams left to compete for the 2008 NCAA Championship.
Elmira (21-5-1) @ Amherst (20-3-4)
Elmira will not only get a shot at avenging their 3-2 loss to the Jeffs earlier this season, they also will get a chance at the team that was a major factor in leaving the Soaring Eagles home during the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history last year when Amherst won the NESCAC title over Middlebury.
Amherst comes in riding the nationâ€™s longest unbeaten streak at 17 games. They havenâ€™t given up more than one goal in a game since Feb. 1 in a 2-2 tie against Hamilton. The Jeffs won their second consecutive NESCAC title defeating Bowdoin 5-1, Trinity 2-1, and then downing upstart Colby 7-1 in the finals.
Elmira players to watch for
Forward – Kayla Coady (19 goals, 14 assists = 33 points)
Forward – Jenna McCall (12 goals, 17 assists= 29 points)
Forward – Melanie Henshaw (14 goals, 10 assists= 24 points)
Defense – Jamie Kivi (3 goals, 15 assists= 18 points)
Goalie – Ally Cubberley (14-3-1, 1.49 GGA, .941 Save %)
Amherst players to watch for
Forward – Courtney Hanlon (14 goals, 19 assists= 33 points)
Forward – Tarasai Karega (15 goals, 13 assists= 28 points)
Forward – Lindsey Harrington (8 goals, 12 assists= 20 points)
Defense – Molly Malloy (11 goals, 5 assists= 16 points)
Goalie – Krystyn Elek (13-3-3, 1.24 GGA, .944 Save %)
Prediction: Amherst is just playing too well right now and they have the home ice advantage. Their speed and passing will prove to be the difference. Jeffs win 2-1.
Manhattanville (22-6-0) @ Middlebury (19-3-3)
This is now the fourth straight year that these two teams have met in the NCAA Quarterfinals. Middlebury has hosted every time and they have won all three games as well. The Valiants will be looking to change their fortunes this time around riding into Saturdayâ€™s match up with a nine game winning streak and fresh off an ECAC East Championship.
Middlebury on the other hand will be entering the game with a sour taste in their mouth after being upset by Colby in the NESCAC semifinals on their own ice. The two sides havenâ€™t met this season but Iâ€™m sure no love will be lost when they take the ice with both teams eager to break out of their respective funks.
Manhattanville players to watch for
Forward – Danielle Nagymarosi (31 goals, 18 assists = 49 points)
Forward – Holly Nonis (16 goals, 20 assists = 36 points)
Forward – Amanda Nonis (16 goals, 19 assists = 35 points)
Forward – Natalie Zitek (11 goals, 15 assists = 26 points)
Goalie – Sophia Kokkonis (12-3-0, 1.44 GGA, .933 Save %)
Middlebury players to watch for
Forward – AnnMarie Cellino (13 goals, 29 assists = 42 points)
Forward – Anna McNally (19 goals, 18 assists= 37 points)
Forward – Erika Nakamura (13 goals, 10 assists= 23 points)
Defense – Karen Levin (7 goals, 17 assists= 24 points)
Goalie – Lani Wright (10-1-2, 0.98 GGA, .949 Save %)
Prediction: Middlebury continues their NCAA Quarterfinal domination of Manhattanville with a hard fought 4-3 win. Danielle Nagymarosi does everything she can to try and keep Manhattanville in it by scoring a hat trick, but the Valiants fall short in the end.
Wis.- Superior (22-4-1) @ Gustavus Adolphus (25-2-0)
Superior comes into Saturdayâ€™s Quarterfinal showdown with Gustavus Adolphus as the second hottest team in the country with a 14 game unbeaten streak. The Yellow Jackets were off all last week as they won the Oâ€™Brien Cup the weekend before and then awaited their NCAA tournament fate.
Gustavus Adolphus has won eight straight games and their only two blemishes of the season came to Wis.-Stevens Point. The Golden Gusties won the lone meeting between the two clubs 2-1, earlier this season on Dec. 14.
Wis.-Superior players to watch for
Forward – Stacy Anderson (13 goals, 25 assists= 38 points)
Forward – Gina Baranzelli (24 goals, 8 assists- 32 points)
Forward – Lindsey Legree (16 goals, 14 assists= 30 points)
Forward – Jamie McClintock (11 goals, 12 assists= 23 points) only played half the season
Goalie – Melissa Kunzelman (11-1-0, 0.83 GGA, .962 Save %)
Gustavus Adolphus players to watch for
Forward – Mari Gunderson (16 goals, 6 assists= 22 points)
Forward – Molly Doyle (10 goals, 12 assists= 22 points)
Forward – Allie Harwood (9 goals, 11 assists= 20 points)
Defense – Stephanie Ubl (14 goals, 16 assists= 30 points)
Goalie – Breanna Scavo (22-2-0, 0.87 GGA, .918 Save %)
Prediction: Superior continues their hot streak and upsets Gustavus Adolphus to advance to the Frozen Four in Plattsburgh. Look for Gina Baranzelli to continue to be captain clutch for the Yellow Jackets in a 3-2 win over GAC.
First Team All-East
F. Danielle Blanchard, Plattsburgh
F. Danielle Nagymarosi, Manhattanville
F. AnnMarie Cellino, Middlebury
D. Karen Levin, Middlebury
D. Julie Devereux, Plattsburgh
G. Isabel Iwachiw, Trinity
Second Team All-East
F. Maria Nasta, UMass-Boston
F. Sarah Graham, New England College
F. Kayla Coady, Elmira
D. Robyn Armstrong, Neumann
D. Jamie Kivi, Elmira
G. Krystyn Elek, Amherst
All-Rookie Team East
F. Anna McNally, Middlebury
F. Holly Nonis, Manhattanville
F. Amanda Klassen, RIT
D. Katie Stack, RIT
D. Kelsey Cone, Norwich
G. Lexi Bloom, Middlebury
Player of the Year — Danielle Blanchard, Plattsburgh
Rookie of the Year — Anna McNally, Middlebury
Coach of the Year — Andrew McPhee, Trinity
First Team All-West
F. Gina Baranzelli, Wis.-Superior
F. Nicole Grossman, Wis.-Stevens Point
F. Ashley Reinhardt, St. Thomas
F. Sandra Felten. Bethel
D. Stephanie Ubl, Gustavus Adolphus
D. Kerry Gotowka, Lake Forest
D. Jessie Dyslin, River Falls
G. Melissa Kunzelman, Wis.-Superior
G. dâ€™Andra Phillips, Wis.-Stevens Point
F. Stacey Kempson, Adrian
F. Lindsey LeGree, Wis.-Superior
F. Jamie Briski, Wis.-River Falls
D. Kirstin Peterson, Gustavus Adolphus
D. Julien Olson, Bethel
G. Cassi Campbell, Wis.-River Falls
Player of the Year — Nicole Grossman, Stevens Point
Rookie of the Year — Stacey Kempson, Adrian
Coach of the Year — Dan Laughlin, Wis.-Superior and Mike Carroll, Gustavus Adolphus
Congratulations to all coaches and players that made the all-region teams and everyone else for an exciting year of Womenâ€™s D-III hockey. Even though there are just two weeks left in the season, there have been many memories throughout this season that will last a lifetime.
Good luck to the remaining seven teams, may the best team win.