As we enter the final week of February, playoff fever will be in full swing as every conference begins their league tournament this weekend.
Although all five conferences begin their tournaments, only one of them will crown their tournament champion this weekend, the NCHA.
The NCHAâ€™s Oâ€™Brien Cup will be back on the line this weekend with River Falls coming in as the top seed and hosting rights for the tournament. Superior won the NCHA title last year defeating River Falls 2-1 in overtime. The Yellow Jackets and Falcons are the top two seeds this year and are poised for a rematch in the title game.
Standing in their way will be third-seeded Stevens Point, who takes on Concordia Wisconsin in the quarterfinals and fourth-seed Eau Claire, who takes on Lake Forest.
The MIAC Tournament wraps-up on Wednesday of next week. Gustavus Adolphus comes in as the nationâ€™s top-ranked team and perennial favorite to take home yet another MIAC title. The Gusties have won five straight MIAC Tournament titles dating back to the 2003-2004 season.
Just like the past five seasons, St. Thomas is the favorite to take on Gustavus in the final. The Tommies however will have to get by upstart Bethel first. The Royals took 3 points from St. Thomas last weekend and will be coming in with all the confidence to be able to take down the Tommies.
The NESCAC, ECAC East, and ECAC West will all wrap-up their conference tournaments next weekend. Elmira is already set in stone as the host of the ECAC West Final Four. So long as Amherst and Manhattanville win their quarterfinal games, they will host their respective tournaments next weekend as well.
Since the regular season has commenced, here I will hand out my end of the season conference awards. Here are my first and second all-conference teams as well as Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and Coach of the Year awards for every conference.
(Only D-III teams considered)
F. Holy Nonis, Manhattanville
F. Sophie Leclerc, Norwich
F. Kameron Klauber, M.I.T.
D. Amanda Wilks, Norwich
D. Erin Brawley, Manhattanville
G. Karine Turmel, Manhattanville
F. Alex Blackwell, Manhattanville
F. Maria Nasta, UMass-Boston
F. Danielle Ward, Southern Maine
D. Stephanie Brenman, M.I.T.
D. Hannah Davis, UMass-Boston
G. Teraysa White, New England College
Player of the Year- Holly Nonis, Manhattanville
I had a tough time deciding between Nonis and Leclerc. Both players have been invaluable to their team this year. Leclerc doesnâ€™t have the same supporting cast as Nonis but Manhattanville did get the better of Norwich in both games they played against each other this year and Nonis had one goal and four assists while Leclerc was shut out in those games.
Rookie of the Year- Kameron Klauber, M.I.T.
Case closed. Easiest decision I had to make for the ECAC East. Klauber has single handedly brought M.I.T. womenâ€™s hockey onto the map and made them relevant in discussion now. Wish I had the chance to see Klauber play this year, maybe sometime during her next three years as an Engineer.
Coach of the Year- Mark Bolding, Norwich
Bolding is starting to mold Norwich into a national level contender. The Cadets are still improving but for a second year team to finish second out of the Division III teams in the ECAC East is pretty impressive. They still have work to do and that is evident by their two games against Manhattanville. Weâ€™ll see how they fare in the ECAC East tournament.
F. Molly Vitt, Middlebury
F. Courtney Hanlon, Amherst
F. Rebecca Julian, Colby
D. Julie Radziewicz, Amherst
D. Lindsey McNamara, Bowdoin
G. Krystyn Elek, Amherst
F. Dominique Lozzi, Bowdoin
F. Annmarie Cellino, Middlebury
F. Stephanie Miguel, Hamilton
D. Kirsten Dier, Amherst
D. Laura Komarek, Trinity
G. Isabelle Iwachiw, Trinity
Player of the Year- Krystyn Elek, Amherst
Elekâ€™s numbers are absolutely incredible. Amherst won the regular season championship and a big reason for it was the play they got from Elek in goal. She has given up just six goals in league play this season with a 0.63 G.A.A. and a .971 save percentage.
Rookie of the Year- Dominique Lozzi, Bowdoin
I had a very tough decision between Lozzi and Melberg of Middlebury for this. I ended up going with Lozzi because she had more goals and not as a good of a supporting cast as Melberg.
Coach of the Year- Stacy Wilson, Bowdoin
Wilson has led a resurgence of the Bowdoin womenâ€™s hockey program. After a dreadful 2007-2008 campaign where the Polar Bears won just five games. Wilson has the Polar Bears with a winning record again and a 11-10-1 record heading into the playoffs.
F. Kayla Coady, Elmira
F. Stephanie Moberg, Plattsburgh
F. Sarah Dagg, R.I.T.
D. Jamie Kivi, Elmira
D. Erica Owczarczak, R.I.T.
G. Allison Cubberley, Elmira
F. Danielle Blanchard, Plattsburgh
F. Jamie Huntley, Elmira
F. Keltie Jones, R.I.T.
D. Tiffany Hart, Elmira
D. Kayla Dubowski, Neumann
G. Danielle Beattie, Plattsburgh
Player of the Year- Kayla Coady, Elmira
Coady has truly evolved as a complete player this year for the Soaring Eagles. She leads not only the conference but the nation as well in points. She is well rounded too, picking up six power-play goals, four game-winning goals, and four short-handed goals.
Rookie of the Year- Leah McNaughton, Chatham
This is a tough decision here between McNaughton, Owczarczak, and Thomson. I went for the sentimental pick with McNaughton because Chatham has never had a member of an all-conference team or a player of the year award. McNaughton had nine goals and six assists in conference play this season trailing only Nuemannâ€™s Jasper Thomson for rookie conference points.
Coach of the Year- Greg Fargo, Elmira
Fargo guided the Soaring Eagles back to their first ECAC West regular season title since 2005 in his first season at the helm in Elmira. I also considered picking Diane Dillon at Oswego for guiding the Lakers to their first conference playoff berth and Jay Green at Potsdam for a solid first season in a very tough conference to compete in.
F. Jackie Carroll, St. Thomas
F. Melissa Mackley, Gustavus Adolphus
F. Michaela Michaelson, St. Catherine
D. Anna Carlson, Bethel
D. Kristine Beese, St. Thomas
G. Danielle Justice, Gustavus Adolphus
F. Lauren Tomford, St. Olaf
F. Jamie Tiede, St. Thomas
F. Jessica Doig, Gustavus Adolphus
D. Kirstin Peterson, Gustavus Adolphus
D. Brit Vander Kooy, Concordia-Moorhead
G. Lauren Bradel, St. Thomas
Player of the Year- Jackie Carroll, St. Thomas
Carroll led the MIAC in scoring and was a big part of guiding St. Thomas to second place in the conference. Carroll will hang up the skates at the end of the season as one of the most decorated players to every wear the St. Thomas womenâ€™s sweater.
Rookie of the Year- Danielle Justice and Emily Klatt, Gustavus Adolphus
I decided to split the Rookie of the Year award since I couldnâ€™t split the first team all-conference selection. Klatt and Justice have both been spectacular for the Gusties this season and a big reason why Gustavus Adolphus is ranked number one in the latest USCHO.com poll.
Coach of the Year- Mike Carroll, Gustavus Adolphus
He already has plenty of these but the man flat out wins games. He reached his 200th win this year in a game earlier in the season. He trails only Middleburyâ€™s Bill Mandigo in Division III womenâ€™s coaching victories.
F. Nicole Grossmann, Stevens Point
F. Jodi Holland, Superior
F. Jessica Thompson, River Falls
D. Rachel Graves, Stevens Point
D. Courtney Bean, Lake Forest
G. dâ€™Andra Phillips, Stevens Point
F. Dana Carothers, Stevens Point
F. Jamie Briski, River Falls
F. Kristin Faber, Eau Claire
D. Steph Boem, Concorida, WI
D. Breanne Hrabe, River Falls
G. Cassie Campbell, River Falls
Player of the Year- Nicole Grossmann, Stevens Point
Grossmann beats out Holland, Carothers, and Phillips for Player of the Year honors in a very tough decision. Grossmann led the team in points and has been a staple on the Stevens Point womenâ€™s hockey team the past four seasons.
Rookie of the Year- Erin Marvin, River Falls
Marvin wins the Rookie of the Year in another close decision. Hilary Christiansen, Melissa Deardorff, and Kim Herring had good claims as well.
Coach of the Year- Joe Cranston, River Falls
Cranston guided the Falcons to the regular season title in what was a frantic mess of an NCHA this year. River Falls, Stevens Point, Superior, and Eau Claire beat up on each other week in and week out but the Falcons reined supreme in the end. Theyâ€™ll know look to win their first NCHA Tournament since 2003.
Those are my thoughts. Iâ€™m sure Iâ€™ll be completely wrong in some cases and Iâ€™ll be pretty close in others when the coaches vote on the conference awards in the coming weeks.
Good luck to all the remaining teams that are still in their respective playoffs.