This Week in D III Women’s Hockey: Nov. 6, 2008

Sleeper in the MIAC?

This past weekend no team made a bigger statement than the Concordia-Moorhead Cobbers who upset, defending NCHA champion and Frozen Four finalist, Wisconsin-Superior 2-1 on the road. The Cobbers battled back after falling behind 1-0 in the first period on a goal from Superior’s Jessica Tyra.

Kaylee Black knotted things up at one 7:30 into the second period with an assist coming from Brit Vander Kooy. The two sides battled back and forth with a relatively even pace until sophomore forward Emily Sell notched the eventual game winner a little over 13 minutes into the third period to propel the Cobbers to arguably their biggest win in program history.

Sophomore Julie York picked up the win in net for Concordia-Moorhead stopping 31 shots on the night. Junior Melissa Kunzelman came out on the short end for Superior, making 26 saves in the loss.

Concordia-Moorhead head coach Ace Gregg was pleased with his team’s performance on Friday night, noting the team’s effort was one of the deciding factors.

“We went in with the expectation of winning,” Gregg said. “Superior is a quality team with a great coach in Dan Laughlin and it felt pretty good to be able to pick up a big win so early in the season on the road.”

The next night however, Superior righted the ship and outworked the Cobbers on their way to a 3-1 win. Shana Katz, Jessica Tyra, and Ashley Birdsall tallied goals for the Yellowjackets while Rikki Nespor stopped 27 shots to pick up her first win of the season for Superior.

“We came out flat and didn’t have as much jump on Saturday,” Gregg said. “We had some great opportunities but we didn’t close the door and that helped Superior gain a little bit of confidence throughout the game as they outworked us in the second game.”

Although Superior lost their two top scorers from last season in Stacey Anderson and Gina Baranzelli, Gregg thought they were a similar team for the most part.

“Obviously losing two players of the caliber Anderson and Baranzelli were is going to be very hard to replace,” Gregg said. “But, Superior plays a strong system where they can plug in different players and be successful still. I don’t think they have as much high end scoring power but they certainly have a lot of depth and two outstanding goaltenders.”

One of the more intriguing items of note from the series was the role special teams played in the games. This season, the NCAA has followed suit to the NHL with not allowing line changes for team’s that ice the puck as well as anytime a team takes a penalty, the face-off will be in their defensive zone no matter where the infraction was committed on the ice.

“Everyone’s adjusting to the new rules that have been implemented this season,” Gregg said. “Special teams are going to play a huge role each night and that’s something we’re going to have to look at and keep our eye on as coaches to make sure we’re doing everything we can to prepare the team each game.”

With eight new players on the team this year, Gregg and his coaching staff have their work cut out for them in trying to keep up the success from this past weekend.

“Our focus is to get those kids game ready, Gregg said. “They’ve had limited practice and haven’t had a chance to work in our team systems that much so we’ve had to run a shorter bench so far. We’ve got to get them up to speed so they can contribute to our success.

We’re focusing on preparation each week. I believe strongly that winning is a by-product of how we prepare. Closing the gap to the top teams and winning a MIAC championship are our goals and we don’t try and hide that. Our kids are committed.”

Gregg and the Cobbers have made some lofty goals for the season considering how much of a dominant force Gustavus Adolphus and St. Thomas have been in the MIAC lately. However, maybe it shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise considering the results they had this past weekend. Only time will tell if the Cobbers are for real, but they’ve certainly started bridging the gap to the MIAC elite.

Oswego State takes home the first Rutland-Herald Invitational title

Back in the east, the Oswego State Lakers garnered some headlines sweeping their first two games of the season at the Rutland-Herald Invitational, hosted by Castleton State.

The Lakers downed St. Michael’s 4-1 in their opening round game before taking down Potsdam 2-1 in the championship game. Junior captain Jenna Kirkwood sparked the scoring for Oswego in the opener beating St. Michael”s Melanie Cullen 2:54 into the game on the power-play to put the Lakers up 1-0.

Oswego never looked back from then adding goals from Stephanie Esposito, Jessica Lister, and Krista Pattemore to notch their first win of the season. Junior goalie Erin Robson picked up the win in net for Oswego making 28 saves on the night. Senior Melanie Cullen stopped 36 shots for St. Michael’s.

With the win, Oswego moved on to face Potsdam, who downed Castleton 4-2 in their opening round match-up the night before. Oswego had two underlying motivations coming into the championship game with Hilary Hitchman, a former Oswego goaltender who transferred to Potsdam before the start of this season in net for the Bears, as well as being ranked below Potsdam in the pre-season ECAC West poll without the Bears ever even playing an NCAA game before.

“It’s always fun to play against players you know,” said Oswego head coach Diane Dillon. “We know players on every team though so we were more concentrated on working as a team to beat Potsdam, a team that was ranked ahead of us in the ECAC West pre-season poll. That was the biggest motivation for the game.”

Freshman forward Jillian Bergeron got the Lakers on the board first once again with a goal one minute into the second period. Plattsburgh transfer Tiarra Garrow notched the eventual game winner a little over 11 minutes later unassisted. Danielle Compagni cut the Laker lead in half a little over halfway through the third period but the Bears didn’t quite have enough to push across the equalizer.

Sophomore Emi Williams stopped 21 shots for the Lakers picking up her first win of the season. Junior Hilary Hitchman didn’t quite have enough to beat her former mates making 25 saves for the Bears and dropping her first contest of the 2008-2009 season.

One encouraging note for the Lakers to take away from the Castleton tournament, other than the fact they won the hardware was the spread on the scoring sheet. Six different players scored for the Lakers showcasing their team depth, something that has been lacking in their previous two seasons.

“We’ve been bringing in more and more talented players each year,” Dillon said. “We’ve been getting better and better in each of our three seasons by getting players that wanted to come here and be part of something special and establish a tradition of Oswego women’s hockey. Our leadership is starting to come around as we now have some juniors and seniors for the first time.”

Dillon praised Jay Green’s Potsdam Bears and believed they are on their way to building a solid foundation for their program.

“They have a solid core of players,” Dillon said. “Playing a year as a club team helped but they have tremendous recruits that played tough and never gave up. It all starts with good goaltending though as that puts you in every game and they certainly have that with Hitchman.”

We’ll find out how far Oswego has come from last year during their next three weekends where they will play three conference series against Potsdam, Neumann, and Buffalo State.

“It’s certainly going to be a tough stretch but we’ll take it one day at a time,” Dillon said. “We need to keep doing the little things right as we’re starting to understand what that means. We’ll continue to work on our systems and be versatile. Special teams will probably be the biggest factor as we struggled with them last year. We have a lot of different threats on offense this year and I think it will pay off in the end.”

The Weekend Ahead

This weekend holds some interesting match-ups that are worth keeping an eye on while you’re sipping back on your camper’s coffee on Friday and Saturday night. The two series I’m intrigued in are the Utica vs. Plattsburgh tilts up at the newly renovated Stafford B. Ice Arena in Plattsburgh. Also out west Gustavus Adolphus will travel to Adrian, who’s off to another strong start in their second season of play with a 3-1 record under first year coach Melissa Lomanto.

Utica dropped all three games they played against the Cardinals last season but they got progressively better each game before bowing out 3-2 to the eventual national champions in the ECAC West semi-finals. The Pioneers have never beat Plattsburgh in their seven years of NCAA D-III hockey. They’ll look to change that this weekend with a group of young and talented players that really started to heat up as the season progressed last year.

Adrian finds their selves in a similar situation to Utica in facing the mighty Gustavus Adolphus Gusties. Gustavus has been one of the premier teams in the west ever since the NCAA started hosting Division III women’s hockey national tournaments. Adrian is one of the up and comers out west that had a very successful first year and is now looking to build on their success in season two. The Bulldogs dropped their first game of the season last weekend to St. Thomas 3-2. Sophomore forward Stacey Kempson continues to lead the charge for Adrian as she leads the team with four goals and two assists on the season. For the Bulldogs to be successful it will have to start with Kempson creating chances and putting the puck in the net.