This Week in D-III Women’s Hockey: Jan 15, 2009

The Day Hockey Took a Backseat

Sunday January 11, 2009 started out just like any other road-trip for the UMass-Boston women’s hockey team. The Beacons were headed to Castleton State for a 2 p.m. league contest against the Spartans. However, as their bus traveled north farther on Interstate-93 crossing into New Hampshire the weather worsened. The bus continued on though and unfortunately around Derry, NH they became involved in a 59 car pile-up.

“Everybody was thrown out of their seats,” said UMass-Boston head coach Maura Crowell. “Fortunately however no one on the bus was injured or any other person in the other 59 cars. We were stuck on the bus for three hours though as our door was jammed shut amongst all the cars piled on top of each other.”

The game with Castleton was postponed and is tentatively scheduled to be played on February 22nd. I think I speak for the whole D-III women’s hockey community when I say I’m thankful that no one on the team was injured and the team can now get back to playing hockey again after a very scary experience.

With that being said, the Beacons 7-3-1 (6-1-1 ECAC East) will kick off their toughest stretch of games of the season on Friday when they host unbeaten Holy Cross. They follow that up with a rematch with Manhattanville on Saturday afternoon and then on Tuesday the Beacons will round out their brutal three game stretch as they host third-ranked Middlebury at 4 p.m.

“We’re really excited to play the best and the cream of the crop in Division III women’s hockey,” Crowell said. “We’ve been playing some uninspired hockey during 2009 and I think this bus accident has brought our team a little closer and is going to give us a spark that we’ve needed.”

UMass-Boston will need their superstar junior forward Maria Nasta to play well if they are going to be competitive this weekend. Nasta leads the team with eight goals and 11 assists for 19 points on the season. Last year, in her first year as Beacon after transferring from New England College, Nasta ranked third in the country in scoring tallying 20 goals and 25 assists for 45 points. Only, Manhattanville’s Danielle Nagymarosi and Plattsburgh’s Danielle Blanchard had more points.

“Since she got here last year, [Maria] Nasta has been a staple in our offense and power play,” Crowell said. “She’s a unique talent as she can just step onto the ice and make things happen. She’s one of the best players in our league and it’s nice that she’s getting noticed beyond the ECAC East. We’re very fortunate to have her.”

This season has been an up and down one to say the least so far for UMass-Boston. They lost 8-1 to Manhattanville in their previous meeting this season as well as dropping both games in the Codfish Bowl to Oswego (5-1) and Neumann (4-3). However, they’ve also played well against Holy Cross tying the unbeaten Crusaders 4-4, and then picking up quality wins against St. Anselm, Norwich, and Salve Regina.

“I’d like to think that the Manhattanville game was a blip on the radar,” Crowell said. “We had a difficult start to that game giving up three goals in 10 minutes and it’s going to be tough to come back on any good team with that kind of deficit. I think the team showed a lot of character bouncing back from the loss to play more like we are capable of against Holy Cross the next night. We could have had the two points as we were up 2-0 at one point.”

Crowell pointed to goaltending as a key to the Beacons’ next three games. Freshman Leah Hallett will get the call between the pipes. Hallett is 3-2 on the season with a 3.21 GGA and .899 save percentage.

This weekend should prove to be one of the most important weekends of the season this year with at-least seven match-ups involving ranked teams against quality opponents. Trinity travels to Middlebury for a NESCAC showdown. The Bantams have been rolling after dropping a pair of games to Amherst. Trinity is unbeaten in their six games including just this past weekend taking three points from Utica.

Middlebury will be looking to close the gap on conference leading Amherst who is perfect so far with an 8-0-0 record in NESCAC play. The Panthers started off their 2009 with three wins including a big 5-4 overtime win over Elmira. Bill Mandigo’s club has been battling injuries all season long but they are finally starting to get healthy and they have super sophomore Anna McNally back now who missed the whole first half of the season with an injury. McNally made her presence felt immediately scoring the game winning goal in overtime against Elmira.

Second-ranked Plattsburgh will continue their eight game road trip as they travel to number three Amherst for a huge non-conference tilt that could end playing big dividends come NCAA selection time. The Cardinals split with arch-rival Elmira over the weekend in Pine Valley and could use a marquee win since they are 2-2-1 against Utica, Elmira, and Middlebury.

Amherst on the other hand will look to continue their road to recovery after dropping both games in Minnesota against Gustavus Adolphus and St. Thomas. The Lady Jeffs (8-2-0) returned to the East coast and beat Hamilton and Wesleyan to get back on track but this will be their first big test come Friday against the Danielle Blanchard led Plattsburgh Cardinals.

As mentioned before, Manhattanville meets UMass-Boston in a battle of top ECAC East clubs. UMass-Boston will try and keep pace with Manhattanville in the race for the ECAC East playoff hosting rights as unbeaten Holy Cross is ineligible for the playoffs since they are Division I. The Beacons trail the Valiants by seven points but they have three games in hand on Manhattanville.

Fourth-ranked Elmira will host another key ECAC West series this weekend at the Murray Athletic Center as the Soaring Eagles will welcome fifth place Utica. Utica has been a thorn in the power trio of Elmira, Plattsburgh, and RIT’s sides over the years as they continue to steal points from them each season. This year the Pioneers already have an upset win over Plattsburgh.

Adrian will travel to NCHA power Wis.-River Falls for a set of games. The Bulldogs have been a tough team to gauge this season as they split with Wis.-Superior, Gustavus Adolphus, and Concordia-Moorhead and took one point from Wis.-Eau Claire. Adrian comes into the weekend with a 9-5-1 record and will look to continue and take points from the top western powers. River Falls could get a leg up on their western foes in the NCAA selection criteria with a sweep being the first team to do so out of all the western teams.

The MIAC Rivalry

When it comes to Minnesota Division III women’s hockey, two names jump to the top of the list. This weekend, Gustavus Adolphus and St. Thomas will renew their rivalry and once again MIAC bragging rights for all intents and purposes are on the line.

Both teams did the west a favor by beating previously top-ranked Amherst two weeks ago giving the west a very good chance at hosting the Frozen Four for the first time in eight seasons this year. However, before the Amherst game, St. Thomas came in reeling off two straight losses to Wis.-Superior. The Tommies were able to rebound with a 2-1 win over Amherst.

“The Superior series was a week before our finals and some of our better players were banged up with injuries,” said St. Thomas head coach Tom Palkowski. “We couldn’t score in the first game and they got some tremendous goaltending performances. The Amherst game was a great game with up and down action and we were fortunate to get a bounce to go our way and it definitely gave us some confidence to get the win after the Superior weekend.”

St. Thomas was paced by their all-everything forward Jackie Carroll who tallied both goals for the Tommies in their 2-1 over the Lady Jeffs.

“Both of [Jackie] Carroll’s goals were on the power play,” Palkowski said. “She has a knack for being around the net at the right time. Carroll and Jamie Tiede have been great on the power play and burying the puck this year.”

Palkowski acknowledges that this weekend will probably be the biggest weekend of the regular season for his team with so much on the line.

“This rivalry is great and these are definitely two games both team’s circle on their calendar when the schedule comes out,” Palkowski said. “It’s a love/hate kind of relationship as both teams love playing against each other but once we’re on the ice there isn’t a whole lot of love lost out there. Home ice for the playoffs is huge and they have gotten the best of us lately so we’re going to try and change that this weekend.”

Palkowski believes there are going to be numerous keys for St. Thomas if they are going to be successful this season.

“The team that controls the neutral zone and makes the other team play more defense is going to be key,” Palkowski said. “Both of our teams like to play offense and both team’s power plays are very good and as always goaltending will be a huge factor in who gets the points.”

Another NCHA Showdown

It seems like every week the NCHA has two teams engaged in a big two game showdown. This weekend, the feature series will be between Wis.-Stevens Point and Wis.-Eau Claire.

The Pointers come into this weekend’s series on the heels of Tuesday night’s 2-2 tie with Gustavus Adolphus. The Pointers are 7-1-3 on the season and currently trail first place Wis.-River Falls by one point. However, Wis.-Stevens Point has a game in hand heading into this weekend’s play.

“We came out a little bit nervous as we were pretty excited playing the number two team in the nation,” said Wis.-Stevens Point head coach Ann Ninnemann. “We improved during the course of the game and battled our way through it though as came away with a tie.”

Michelle Snosnowski and Kellye Nelson accounted for the two Pointer goals on the night. For a team that has relied heavily on their top line of Nicole Grossmann, Dana Carothers, and Erin Marvin, the spread out scoring was a relief.

“Michelle and Kellye’s line played tremendous for us,” Ninnemann said. “They are usually not looked upon to put the puck in the net and it was definitely nice not to have to rely on Grossmann’s line against a really good team.”

Wis.-Stevens Point took five more penalties than Gustavus Adolphus with Sarah Phillips getting tagged for five of them. Both of the Gusties’ goals were scored on the power play.

“We didn’t adjust to the officiating,” Ninnemann said. “That’s typically not a problem for us but the bottom line is we didn’t make the adjustments after the first period and it cost us a chance at two points.”

Ninnemann is excited to see how her team matches up against an improved Wis.-Eau Claire who has been making major inroads this season in the NCHA. The Blugolds are 9-3-2 on the season and 4-2-1 in the NCHA.

“It should be two really good games,” Ninnemann said. “It’s always tough to go their place and play. They always bring out their best against us. The second half of our season is going to be really tough for us.

We’ve got to keep building off the way we have played in our first three games of 2009. Consistency is going to be key night in and night out and making the necessary adjustments as the game progresses, which we haven’t done at some points this season.”

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