This Week in D-III Women’s Hockey: December 3, 2009

ECAC West Rivals Heading In Separate Directions?

Two weeks ago, Elmira and Plattsburgh met for their annual ECAC West conference games at the Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena in Plattsburgh. Although both games were tightly contested, Plattsburgh walked away with a sweep and four crucial ECAC West points against its arch-rival.

On the first night, Plattsburgh took the early lead on a goal from Erika Shaubel. However Elmira’s Caitlin Metcalf knotted the score at one at 10:32 of the second period to get the Soaring Eagles back in the game. Then with 1:40 left to go in the period, everything broke lose. Plattsburgh tallied two quick goals just 14 seconds a part from Mackenzie Lee and Kayla McDougall. Elmira’s Lindsey Mitchell was able to cut the lead back to one with a power play goal with 30 seconds to go in the period but the damage was already done.

Elmira dominated the shots in the third period 15-6 but the Cardinals and Mandy Mackrell stood tall to turn away every Elmira shot and preserve the 3-2 victory.

“Plattsburgh played well and established a fore-check early on us and executed their game plan,” said Elmira coach Greg Fargo. “Towards the end of the game we started to play better and we took it to them in the third period but their goaltender came up big.”

The next afternoon Elmira took one goal leads on Plattsburgh three separate times but the Cardinals had an answer each time. Alex Bresler opened the scoring just 2:20 into the first period. However, Megan DiJulio answered at 14:33 of the first to tie things back up. Tiffany Hart gave the Soaring Eagles the lead with exactly two minutes to go in the period with a power play goal. However, DiJulio had the answer once again for Plattsburgh just 45 seconds later to tie things at two going into the first intermission.

Elmira took a 3-2 lead at 16:17 of the second period on yet another power play goal, this time from freshman forward Jillayne DeBus. The Soaring Eagles would go on to hold the lead until just over three minutes to play in the game when Brittany Meade played the role of hero for Plattsburgh to tie the game up at three.

Steph Moon then tallied the game winning goal just over a minute into the overtime session to complete the Plattsburgh comeback and give the Cardinals a dramatic four point sweep over previously second ranked Elmira.

“We played well the second game and were working hard and getting pucks deep but one mistake came back to bite us as we left a player alone in front of the net and she buried it on us to tie it late in the third,” Fargo said.

Plattsburgh coach Kevin Houle said he was pleased with his team’s performance in the Elmira series.

“Obviously we’re happy to come out with the two wins,” Houle said. “It’s a good boost for our confidence to be able to win two close one goal games against a great team like Elmira.”

Plattsburgh entered this season with a lot of questions after losing a significant portion of its leaders from last season and some important cogs from the Cardinals back to back National Championship seasons.

However, new faces are popping up all over the place in the box scores now for Plattsburgh led by junior Megan DiJulio’s five goals.

“Megan is a player that’s always had a lot of potential,” Houle said. “She’s a hard worker and can control the play. She’s got a great shot and she tenacious. She has finally gotten the chance to break into the forefront this year after showing flashes the last two seasons. Anytime you lose a big class like we did you’re going to have some upperclassmen put up point totals that they hadn’t before and you’re seeing that this year with Megan, Steph Moon, Mandy Mackrell, and Brittany Meade.”

The Cardinals are a perfect 5-0-0 on the season and currently hold the second ranking in the latest USCHO.com Poll. Plattsburgh will put its win streak on the line this weekend against a feisty Neumann squad that has been tough to gauge so far this season after playing R.I.T. tight for two games and then losing to Utica last week.

“The ECAC West is always a tight league and Neumann has a ton of talent,” Houle said. “They made the leap up to the number four spot last season and have been playing good hockey. We can’t afford a slip-up or everything we worked for in the Elmira series will be for not.”

On the flip side of things, Elmira was not off Thanksgiving weekend like Plattsburgh and they traveled down to Purchase, N.Y. to face ECAC East powerhouse Manhattanville. On the first night Elmira rode a three goal first period to a 3-2 win over the Valiants. However, the next night Elmira dropped a decision by the same score as they were the ones that got down early and were unable to rally late.

Elmira’s last loss to Manhattanville before Sunday came all the way back on Nov. 22, 2005 when the Soaring Eagles fell 7-3.

“It took awhile for us to get going on the second night and we weren’t able to comeback all the way,” Fargo said. “It’s been a little frustrating to have some bumps in the road here early in the season but I still think we have yet to put together a 60 minute game. I’m excited about the potential that is there.”

Elmira has faced a brutal schedule to start the season especially playing so many tough teams on the road like they will this season, but in fairness, Plattsburgh played the same schedule Elmira faces this year as far the tough road league schedule.

“We want to compete all the time,” Fargo said. “We want to play the best teams and beat the best teams. We’ve just got to do a better job of finding a way to win those games. The schedule is what is all we can do is go out and compete each night and play the team in front of us.”

While things haven’t been rosy for the Soaring Eagles so far this season, they have seen the emergence of an impact freshman forward in Caitlin Metcalf. Metcalf leads the team with four goals and four assists on the season so far.

“Caitlin has a ton of potential and we’ve been leaning on her a bit to spark the offense,” Fargo said. “Her line mates Alex Bresler and Lindsey Mitchell have been working hard to get her the puck and Caitlin has been in the right place at the right time to put a lot of pucks in the net. She’s the type of kid you want on the ice at all times and she’s been a great asset to our program.”

One problem Elmira has had this season is staying out of the box. Some of their top returning players from last season are leading the team in penalty minutes and it’s hard to be successful when your best players aren’t on the ice.

“We’ve got to work on keeping the penalties down and get some of our senior leaders going and then I think things will start turning around,” Fargo said.

Elmira will look to get things going in a more positive direction this weekend as the finally return home to the friendly confines of the Murray Athletic Center to host Chatham for a pair of ECAC West conference games.

Around the Country

This weekend offers up some exciting and interesting match-ups as the first half of the season winds down to a close before the student-athletes start hitting the books finals. On top of the Neumann/Plattsburgh series, there are four other games I’m keeping a keen eye on this weekend.

In the ECAC East, Norwich gets its first tough test of the season as they play D-I Holy Cross on Friday and then follow it up with a crucial conference bragging rights game against Manhattanville on Sunday. Mark Bolding’s Cadets are my pick for a dark horse final four team this season and they can go a long way towards proving that with a strong showing this weekend.

In the NESCAC, the defending National Champion Amherst Lady Jeffs face a stern test in Trinity and the Bantams’ standout goalie Isabelle Iwachiw. The Bantams have been looking to make that next step towards the nation’s elite teams for a few years now but Middlebury and Amherst have always been in the way blocking Trinity’s path.

Out west, both conferences have two huge showdowns as the MIAC’s two powerhouse programs, Gustavus Adolphus and St. Thomas re-new their rivalry. Will the Tommies finally be able to get over the hump and beat the Gusties? Or will Mike Carroll’s bunch tighten their stranglehold on the MIAC crown that they have held the whole decade?

In the NCHA, surprise conference leader and unbeaten Lake Forest will have its streak put to the test against the always tough Wis.-Stevens Point Pointers. Will the Foresters continue to prove they are not a fluke or will the traditional power Stevens Point crush Lake Forest’s Cinderella season.

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