This Week in D-III Women’s Hockey: Mar. 20, 2008

Frozen Four Preview

For the third straight year, Plattsburgh and the Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena will play host to the NCAA D-III Women’s Frozen Four. Last year, Plattsburgh completed an unbeaten season with wins against Amherst and then beating Middlebury in the finals to halt the Panthers three straight National Championship streak.

This year, three completely different teams will converge on Plattsburgh in search of denying Plattsburgh back-to-back titles. The Elmira College Soaring Eagles will be making their first appearance in the Frozen Four since 2005.

Manhattanville is in a similar boat as they ended a three year losing streak to Middlebury in the NCAA Quarterfinal round and will be making their first Frozen Four appearance since 2004. Wis.-Superior is the new kid on the block making their first ever Frozen Four appearance in program history.

In the first semifinal on Friday, the ECAC East champion Manhattanville Valiants will take on NCHA champion Wis.- Superior at 3:30 p.m.

Manhattanville Valiants (23-6-0)

Fourth Frozen Four Appearance
All-time NCAA Record: 4-7
Best NCAA Finishes: 2nd (2002, 2003) 4th (2004)
How they got here: Manhattanville won the ECAC East title defeating Salve Regina 6-1 and then downing New England College 6-3 in the championship. The Valiants then upset Middlebury with a 4-3 overtime last weekend in the NCAA Quarterfinals.
Records vs. Teams in the FF: All-time (Season)
Plattsburgh — 1-7-3 (1-1-0)
Elmira — 3-10-1 (0-2-0)
Superior — Never played

Head coach Lauren McAuliffe and her Valiants were hardly given a chance to make it this far in the minds of many across the country. Manhattanville had lost three straight games in the NCAA tournament at Middlebury. Also Manhattanville’s schedule was called into question playing in a weak ECAC East conference. The Valiants proved everybody including myself wrong and defeated Middlebury 4-3 in overtime.

“All of our senior’s seasons have ended every year at Middlebury,” McAuliffe said. “They felt that couldn’t happen again and did everything thing they could to push us on to the win. When (Danielle) Mazurek scored the game winner, everything we worked for all season came true.

We played really well defensively. They possess the puck really well and we had to work extra hard to overcome that. We showed a lot of heart making the small, subtle plays that made a big difference in the end.”

Since Manhattanville and Wis.-Superior have never met, McAuliffe commented on how limited her knowledge was on their opponent.

“I know they’re quick and can skate but we don’t really know much more,” McAuliffe said. “We’re going to focus on our game more since we don’t have any video and have never played [Superior] in the past. It’s not always a bad thing going in and playing an opponent blind.”

When you think of Manhattanville, the first names that come to mind are Danielle Nagymarosi and the Nonis sisters. However, a line to keep an eye out for this weekend that could have a huge impact on how Manhattanville does is their “third line”.

“People refer to Mazurek, Alex Blackwell, and Jess Zimmerman as our third line but I don’t,” McAuliffe said. They play extremely hard every shift and do an excellent job killing penalties. They stepped up big time against Middlebury and were a big part of our effort. They showed a lot of leadership.”

Wis.-Superior Yellow Jackets (23-4-1)

First Frozen Four Appearance
All-time NCAA Record: 1-1-0
Best NCAA Finishes: Made the Quarterfinal round in 2006 before losing to Wis.- Stevens Point.
How they got here: The Yellow Jackets won the NCHA championship (O’Brien Cup) by defeating Lake Forest 3-0 in the semifinals and then beating Wis.- River Falls 2-1 in overtime in the finals. Last weekend, Superior upset heavily favored Gustavus Adolphus 3-1.
Record vs. Teams in the FF: All-time (Season)
Manhattanville — Never Played
Elmira — 1-0-0 (0-0-0) Won 4-3 last season
Plattsburgh — Never Played

The Wis.-Superior comes in as the hottest team in the Frozen Four field. With Elmira ending Amherst’s 17 game unbeaten streak, the Yellow Jackets now hold the longest streak at 15 games. Wis.-Superior knocked off the top seed in the West, Gustavus Adolphus last weekend 3-1, scoring their three goals on just nine shots. With the win, Wis.-Superior avenged their 2-1 loss to Golden Gusties on Dec. 14.

Head coach Dan Laughlin’s Yellow Jackets are led by seniors Stacy Anderson and Gina Baranzelli. Anderson has scored 13 goals and tallied 26 assists for 39 points to lead the team. Baranzelli has emerged as the Yellow Jackets’ go to goal scorer with an impressive 25 goals on the season and a nation leading eight game winning goals.

Junior Jamie McClintock has been one of the key factors in Wis.-Superior’s resurgence. McClintock, who missed the first half of the season, has tallied 11 goals and 13 assists for 24 points in just 19 games.

Freshmen Lindsey LeGree and Shana Katz will be two players to keep an eye on that could provide the Yellow Jackets with a spark. LeGree has 16 goals and 14 assists on the season for 30 points. She also has six game winning goals and four power play goals. Katz has 10 goals and eight assists for 18 points.

In goal, Wis.-Superior has used a rotating goalie tandem all season. Sophomore Melissa Kunzelman and junior Rikki Nespor have been excellent all season for Laughlin’s Yellow Jackets. Kunzelman is 12-1-0 with a 0.85 GGA and a .963 save percentage. Nespor is 11-3-1 with a 1.37 GGA and .933 save percentage. Kunzelman started the quarterfinal game and shut down Gustavus Adolphus making 28 saves and only allowing one goal to knock out the Golden Gusties.

Prediction: Manhattanville has won 10 straight; Superior is unbeaten in 15 straight. Both were heavy underdogs in their quarterfinal games but both prevailed with wins. Danielle Nagymarosi will be a tough matchup for Wis.-Superior. She had a goal and two assists in the win over Middlebury and will need to contribute to the offense if the Valiants are going to prevail. Wis.-Superior can’t seem to do anything wrong as of late but historically the western teams have struggled come Frozen Four time. Whether it’s the flight or the lack of knowledge about their opponent, western teams haven’t had much luck.

I’m going to go with Manhattanville 3-2. I correctly picked the Superior upset over GAC last week and said Manhattanville was going to give Midd a great game, I was correct on both but I didn’t think Manhattanville would win.

Plattsburgh State Cardinals (23-3-1)

Fifth Frozen Four Appearance
All-time NCAA Record: 7-4
Best NCAA finishes: Champions (2007), 2nd (2006), 3rd (2004), 4th (2005)
How they got here: Lost in the ECAC West finals to Elmira 1-0. They got an at-large bid into the tournament though and were the top overall seed getting a bye through the quarterfinal round and right to host the Frozen Four.
Records vs. Teams in the FF: All-time (Season)
Elmira — 11-11-3 (1-1-1)
Manhattanville — 7-1-3 (1-1-0)
Superior — Never Played

The Plattsburgh Cardinals enter this weekend as the favorites to take home back-to-back championships on their home ice. However, if you ask Plattsburgh, they are none to pleased after losing the ECAC West finals two weeks ago to Elmira.

Head coach Kevin Houle and his Cardinals are led by junior all-everything forward Danielle Blanchard. Blanchard has tallied 27 goals and 19 assists for 46 points on the season. Her 27 goals and 46 points are good enough to rank her second in he nation in both categories behind only Danielle Nagymarosi.
Her line mates Shay Bywater and Steph Moberg have had outstanding seasons as well with 35 and 34 points respectively to combine with Blanchard to form one of the nation’s best line combinations, if not the best.

If that’s not enough offense for you, Plattsburgh also boasts Laurie Bowler who has 19 goals and 6 assists for 25 points this season.
On defense, seniors Julie Devereux and Sharis Smith have led the way. Devereux has 17 assists and Smith has 13 ranking them among the nation’s leaders in assists for defensemen.

Devereux and Smith have combined with Ainsley Brien, Tara Khan, Kara Beuhler, and Kristen Bond to form the nation’s second best team defense behind only Gustavus Adolphus. Plattsburgh’s defense, along with goalie Danielle Beattie have given up just 1.11 goals per game and have been a big reason for the Cardinals’ repeated success this year.

Beattie, a junior, has done a solid job replacing Bre Doyle in the Plattsburgh net. Beattie is 19-3-1 on the season with a 1.34 GGA and a .930 save percentage.

Elmira College Soaring Eagles (22-5-1)

Fourth Frozen Four Appearance
All-time NCAA Record: 6-2
Best NCAA Finishes: Champions (2002, 2003), 2nd (2005)
How they got here: With their backs against the wall, facing a win or go home situation, Elmira rallied from down 2-0 to beat RIT 6-2 in the ECAC West semifinals. They then went on to beat Plattsburgh 1-0 in the finals to win the ECAC West tournament and an automatic qualifier. Last weekend, the Soaring Eagles defeated Amherst 3-2 in the quarterfinals.
Records vs. Teams in the FF: All-time (Season)
Plattsburgh — 11-11-3 (1-1-1)
Manhattanville — 10-3-1 (2-0-0)
Superior — 0-1-0 (0-0-0)

Elmira College has had an up and down season to say the least. The Soaring Eagles swept Manhattanville and had 2-0 leads on Plattsburgh twice. However, they lost one of those games and tied the other. They lost to Middlebury and Amherst and split with Utica and RIT during the regular season. Then, the Soaring Eagles went on their current run, which has led them straight to the Frozen Four. They’ve avenged losses to every team they have played during the post-season run and will now look to do it again against Plattsburgh in the second semifinal on Friday night at 7 p.m.

Head coach Paul Nemetz-Carlson’s Soaring Eagles have been led by junior forward Kayla Coady. Coady has 21 goals and 14 assists on the season for 35 points. She also tallied two of Elmira’s goals in their 3-2 upset win of Amherst in the quarterfinals.

Elmira has relied on team depth all season and has 10 players with 14 or more points on the season. The Sophomore trio of Jenna McCall, Melanie Henshaw, and Lauryn DePaul have been key in Elmira’s post-season run. McCall has 12 goals and 19 assists for 31 points. Henshaw has tallied 14 goals and 10 assists including the game-winning tally in the ECAC West championship game against Plattsburgh. DePaul has 12 goals and seven assists for 19 points.

The defensive pair of Tiffany Hart and Jamie Kivi have provided the Soaring Eagles with a potent attack from the blue line. Hart has 4 goals and 16 assists for 20 points and Kivi has 3 goals and 15 assists for 18 points.

In goal, Allison Cubberley has been the story down the stretch for Elmira. Cubberley has been the backbone of the Elmira defense keeping them in games and giving them a chance to win every time they take the ice. Cubberley is 15-3-1 on the season with a 1.52 GGA and a .940 save percentage. Cubberley hasn’t given up more than 2 goals in a game in over a month. The last time she did was against Plattsburgh on Feb. 17 in a 4-3 loss to the Cardinals.

Prediction: Elmira and Plattsburgh have formed one of the premier rivalries in Division III hockey. During the first four seasons, Elmira was getting a majority of the breaks and big plays to go their way. However, over the last three seasons Plattsburgh has started to get the 1 goal wins and breaks to go their way and now the all-time series is dead even at 11-11-3. Before the ECAC West championship, Elmira was winless in their last nine games against Plattsburgh.

I’ve got to go with Plattsburgh in this one in a 2-1 overtime win. They are going to be playing on their home ice and have the motivation factor of losing to Elmira their last time out. It should be an absolute classic of a game and definitely worth the price of Friday’s admission itself.

I apologize for only having an interview with one of the four coaches. Due to the planning and early travel of the Frozen Four I was only able to get in contact with Manhattanville’s McAuliffe. No other coaches returned phone calls.

Good luck to all four teams and safe travels to everyone going to Plattsburgh this weekend!