This Week in D-III: Nov. 13, 2008

Splits and Upsets for Everyone

This past weekend featured two national powerhouses falling to unranked opponents in what turned out to be the first of what I expect to be many weekends this year with parity being the only word to describe it. The gap between the traditionally top-ranked teams and some of the middle-of-the-pack teams continues to close each year with Division III women’s hockey now in its eighth season under NCAA sponsorship.

The first upset came out West on Friday night as the second-year Adrian Bulldogs upended fifth-ranked Gustavus Adolphus 2-1 in overtime. Freshmen forward Olivia Rork scored her first collegiate goal 1:30 into overtime to send the Bulldogs into a frenzy. In net, junior Dana Timm shut down the Gusties’ offense, making 40 saves in the win to improve to 4-1 on the season. Freshman Danielle Justice picked up the loss for Gustavus Adolphus, who lost their opening game of the season for the fourth straight year.

“We’re always disappointed when we don’t win a game,” said Gustavus Adolphus head coach Mike Carroll. “Shots are just one stat (Gustavus won 41-19) as I didn’t think we competed hard enough. They had better scoring chances and they were playing in their fifth game while we were playing our first.”

Gustavus Adolphus bounced back the next night to down Adrian 3-0 and get their first win of the season as well as drop Adrian to 4-2 on the year. Lynn Hillen paced the Gusties’ offense with two goals and Alyssa Saunders added the third tally to round out the Gustavus Adolphus goal scorers.

Danielle Justice played the first two periods and recorded 17 saves to pick up her first collegiate win, before being replaced by fellow freshman Emily Klatt for the final period. Dana Timm stopped 32 shots in the loss for Adrian.

Carroll was pleased with his team’s effort the next night believing it was a big factor in the win.

“We worked on some things and competed more on Saturday,” Carroll said. “We have 11 freshmen this year and it’s going to take some time for them to get up to speed and into the routine of things.”

All four Gustavus Adolphus’ goals on the weekend were scored on the power play as Adrian took a combined 22 penalties between the two games.

“They handed us the game on both nights, we just didn’t get it done on Friday,” Carroll said. “Historically, we’ve done pretty well on special teams and with the new rules this year you’re going to see a lot more of player up and player down situations then in season’s past.”

This season, Gustavus Adolphus faces arguably their stiffest competition for the MIAC crown that they have held a firm grip on the last seven seasons winning every single championship. With St. Thomas looming in their shadows and an improved Concordia-Moorhead team looking to make in-roads towards the MIAC elite, the Gusties certainly face a lot of questions this season.

However, Coach Carroll is not panicky.

“We’re always looking to get off to a good start,” Carroll said. “The past four seasons we haven’t done that in our opening game but we’d much rather close the sale at the end of the season in February and March.

“I think our team is as skilled as it has ever been. Our league is obviously getting better and better and most teams are bringing their A-game each night because we are the defending champions.”

The Defending Champs Fall

In the East, top-ranked and two-time defending national champion Plattsburgh split as well over the weekend with upstart Utica as the Pioneers were able to beat the Cardinals for the first time in program’s history on Saturday with a 2-1 overtime victory.

Michelle Witz cemented her name forever in the Utica record books as the senior forward scored the game-winning goal with five seconds left in overtime to clinch the historic win.

Mackenzie Roy scored the first Pioneer goal to tie things at one a little over midway through the second period after Kate Fairfield had given Plattsburgh the 1-0 lead in the first period with a power play goal for her team leading third goal of the season.

Jill Doherty picked up the win in net for Utica stopping 31 shots and Danielle Beattie lost her first game of the season making 15 saves to drop to 2-1 on the season.

Utica head coach Dave Clausen was pleased that his young team was able to pull off such a big win so early in the season.

“It was pretty exciting,” Clausen said. “The girls are obviously happy about it and anytime you can go up to Plattsburgh and get points in their barn is a positive.”

The ironic part of the weekend was that both coaches thought that their teams played better in the game that they lost in the series.

“Hockey is a funny game,” Clausen said. “We played better on Friday and lost and then we took too many penalties on Saturday and won. A few bounces went our way and a few changes in our lines to generate more offense were the only real changes we made from Friday to Saturday. Obviously, the Witz-Gonzales-Galluzzi line turned out to be a good decision as they scored both of the goals.”

Plattsburgh head coach Kevin Houle echoed Clausen’s statements just in reverse on the game.

“It’s disappointing to drop a game but I give a lot of credit to them, they played well. We played better on Saturday in the loss,” Houle said. “It was a good weekend overall but Jill Doherty played extremely well in goal for them. We didn’t get that killer instinct that we’ve had in past seasons and we never got the second and third goals to put away Utica. It was certainly a wake up call for our team and hopefully we can rebound.”

While Jill Doherty was solid in net for the Pioneers, Clausen believes that Kelley Peers was just as good if not better the previous night in the loss.

“We won the lottery a bit with our goaltending,” Clausen said. “They are a great combination as we have two goaltenders that would play for 99 percent of the teams out there. We’re in a great situation where we can rotate them every game and continue to throw different looks out there each night for our opponents.”

While the young Utica can be pleased with their win over Plattsburgh, the Pioneers still have a long road ahead of them and Clausen won’t let them basque in glory too long.

“For a team that was so incredibly young last year, we had great upperclassmen and leadership that demanded the freshmen grow quickly,” Clausen said. “We have a lot of sophomores that now have a year under their belt and are starting to learn the importance of team defense and systems. We’ve been stressing all week that this was just one game in a 25 game season and an 18 game conference schedule.”

When you look at the Plattsburgh box scores from this season, the first thing that has to jump out is the lack of a Danielle Blanchard goal in the first three games so far. In the past teams have tried to shadow Blanchard and make sure there is always a player on her, but that wasn’t the case this past weekend according to Houle.

“Utica didn’t do that this weekend after they had done it like other teams in the past,” Houle said. “(Blanchard) is getting her chances, she’s just not putting them away right now. It will come in time though as she’s skating hard and I think her numbers will be where they normally are at the end of the season.”

Plattsburgh will now look to shake off the loss and move on and focus on a much-improved Chatham team that they’ll play this weekend.

“We hope to continue to get better with each game and come out of the locker room fired up and ready to play with intensity,” Houle said. “We haven’t done that in our three regular season games so far and we’ve got to start taking advantage of our scoring chances. We need to get some of the ugly goals as well as the pretty ones.”

The Weekend Ahead

This weekend much of the nation’s focus will be on Pine Valley, N.Y. and the Murray Athletic Center where the new number one team in the country, Elmira will be hosting fifth-ranked RIT for a crucial ECAC West two game series. The Soaring Eagles and RIT split the regular season match-ups last year in Rochester before Elmira knocked off the Tigers in the ECAC West Tournament Semi-finals, on their way to winning their fifth ECAC West championship.

However, two other games to keep on eye on this weekend will be defending national runner-up Manhattanville will take on one of their chief challengers for the ECAC East crown, UMass-Boston. Also, out west Adrian will take a crack at Wisconsin-Superior in a crucial game for both teams as Adrian continues to teter on the edge of a legitimate western contender and Superior will look to rebound after a slow start with a mediocre 2-2 record so far.

Gustavus Adolphus Player Blog

Have you ever wondered what goes on inside of Division III women’s hockey players everyday life? Well here’s your chance, Jesse Doig, a senior for the Gusties will be updating a blog all throughout the season as Gustavus Adolphus looks to capture their eighth straight MIAC title. She’s already wrote quite a few entries and I’ve been meaning to give a plug to this blog every since I received the e-mail a few weeks ago but I kept forgetting.

BUT, I remembered this week so here’s the link to the blog.

Please do read it, I’ve been following it and really have enjoyed it as it is a good read and another source of information for you on the everyday workings of women’s hockey.