When you think of M.I.T., the first thought that comes into your mind is probably not womenâ€™s hockey. However, the world renowned university based in Cambridge, Mass., has had a womenâ€™s hockey program for eight years.
You might not have heard of their program because coming into the 2008-2009 season the Engineers have compiled an 11-110-2 record. Mixed in that record are three seasons where they failed to win a game.
This season, the Engineers have just 12 skaters and one goaltender leaving them well below the standard roster size of 18 skaters and three goaltenders. On some nights, head coach Rick Chrusciel has only been able to dress eight or nine skaters due to various injuries.
With all these factors going against them, you would think theyâ€™d be a pushover, right?
Wrong. You should start taking notice of the Engineers.
New England College and Southern Maine are two schools that have found out quickly that if you donâ€™t come to play against them, you can wind up on the short of the end stick when the game is over.
M.I.T started off the season in impressive fashion, with a 3-2 win over New England College. However, they struggled through the next eight games, failing to win a game and coming up with just one point in a 4-4 tie to Nichols.
â€œWe played the cream of the crop in our conference during that stretch and were battling injuries throughout,â€ Chrusciel said. â€œWeâ€™re a very small team and possibly the smallest roster in all of college hockey. Some of the kids on the team are playing hockey for course credit and with a tough schedule like we had, the results were expected as we didnâ€™t have our act together.â€
Chrusciel took over the M.I.T program virtually at the very last moment possible. The team still did not have a coach in September, and the athletic department told the team to basically go find a coach. Chrusciel lived in the area and stepped up to the plate knowing what he was getting into when he took the job. He didnâ€™t have an office and had to bring his stick and skates to the rink everyday, but he didnâ€™t care about that.
â€œWhen I met with the team I told them whatever happened in the past is in the past and it was now time for a different day here,â€ Chrusciel said. â€œI wanted to build a new attitude that didnâ€™t exist here in seasonâ€™s past. Many of the players played the game expecting the roof to cave in at any moment in the game and thatâ€™s not how youâ€™re going to win hockey games. Weâ€™ve changed that mindset now and we show up every night and can be competitive with almost every team in our league.â€
The Engineers newfound success under Chrusciel started to come full circle this past weekend as M.I.T. came away with one of their few weekend sweeps in program history when they downed Plymouth State 8-0 and upset Southern Maine 5-3 the next night.
Leading the way in that effort was M.I.T.â€™s freshman sensation forward, Kameron Klauber. Klauber, from Carlsbad, Calif., tallied five goals and two assists in the 8-0 rout of Plymouth State. She then chipped in two more goals and an assist in the Southern Maine victory. Klauberâ€™s efforts earned her ECAC East Player of the Week honors, her second time winning the award this season.
â€œKameron is one of the top three players in this league,â€ Chrusciel said. â€œI think everyone is starting to find out that she is an elite player that can take over a game. However, weâ€™re not just one player as we have six or seven really good players. We have two of the best defensemen in the league that arenâ€™t getting noticed because Iâ€™ve asked them to concentrate more of the defensive aspects of the game rather than offensive this season.â€
Klauber, a very bright student, was looking at school first rather than hockey otherwise she probably could have gone Division I according to Chrusciel.
â€œKameron looked at M.I.T. as a place where she could get a great education and play hockey as well and weâ€™re certainly glad to have her.â€
Chrusciel believes the turning point for the team really started right at the beginning of the second semester with the teamâ€™s first games in January. Even though the Engineers didnâ€™t get a win until they beat Nichols 2-1 on Jan. 13, Chrusciel thought they outplayed Nichols and Salve Regina but didnâ€™t have the puck bounce their way.
â€œEver since the beginning of January the team has started to believe in what weâ€™re doing here and the lucky breaks have been kind of going our way more and more,â€ Chrusciel said. â€œWe took it to Plymouth State and Southern Maine this past weekend playing two of our best games of the season.â€
This weekend, M.I.T. will have the chance to add to their recent winning streak as they host Castleton on Friday night before traveling out to Plymouth State on Saturday for a 2 p.m. game.
â€œCastleton is a huge game for us as they are right behind us in the standings,â€ Chrusciel said. â€œIt will definitely have big playoff implications. No one wants to finish eighth and be stuck playing Manhattanville in the first round of the playoffs.â€
With M.I.T. starting to make a splash into the Division III womenâ€™s hockey scene recruiting should surely be easier right?
Chrusciel says yes and no.
â€œThe recent improvement of the program has definitely helped get our name out there and let kids know what weâ€™re all about,â€ Chrusciel said. â€œHowever the tough part that always remains is the admissions process. We have no wiggle room when it comes to athletics and trying to help kids get in.â€
However, one positive that Chrusciel and the Engineers have to look forward to, is that for the first time ever in M.I.T. womenâ€™s hockey history, three recruits got through the early admissions process and will be attending in the fall. They have never even had one before this season.
â€œI tell recruits that everyone that comes here knows they are going to play,â€ Chrusciel said. â€œWe only have two lines. There is no power play or penalty kill. We donâ€™t have that luxury. You can go to a top school and collect dust on the bench as a fourth line player or you can come here and play all the time. I think that definitely helps us.â€
Around the Country
This past week featured many important games that helped clear up as well as muddy some playoff pictures all at the same time. With the R.I.T. and Plattsburgh action packed series split, Elmira now controls their own destiny for the conference regular season title and home ice in the playoffs. The Soaring Eagles will have the opportunity to host their first ECAC West Tournament since 2005 so long as they hold serve in their remaining conference games against Neumann, Oswego, and Cortland.
In the NESCAC, Amherst continues to lead the way with a perfect 10-0-0 record. The Lady Jeffs however have slipped up out of conference with losses to Gustavus Adolphus, St. Thomas, and Plattsburgh. They still have important non-conference games with Elmira and R.I.T. remaining that they could really use to help boost their NCAA resume in case they donâ€™t win the NESCAC Tournament. The one advantage they do have going for them is that their losses to the two western schools, Gustavus Adolphus and St. Thomas are not taken into account when the NCAA ranks the eastern schools come tourney time.
Out West in the NCHA, parity is the only word to describe the top four positions. River Falls and Stevens Point are currently tied 17 points but the Falcons do have a game in hand on the Pointers. Eau Claire sits in third with 14 points but they dropped a very critical game to Finlandia over the weekend hurting their chances to close the gap. Superior sits fourth with 12 points but they do have a game in hand on River Falls and Eau-Claire and two on Stevens Point.
The Yellow Jackets had a golden opportunity to close the gap this past weekend but they only took one point from River Falls in a two games series at home at Wessman Arena.
This weekend, Stevens Point will face a pivotal weekend as they host Eau Claire and River Falls on back-to-back nights. The Pointers have not lost a game at home this season as they are currently 5-0-1.