This Week in D-III Women’s Hockey: December 10, 2009

Change of guard in the MIAC?

The Gustavus Adolphus Gusties have been the premier team in the MIAC ever since the NCAA started sponsoring a Division III women’s ice hockey championship for the 2001-2002 season. The Gusties have won every MIAC Tournament since 2004 and a majority of the regular season crowns as well.

However, this year the Gusties could be in danger of losing their stranglehold on the conference. The St. Thomas Tommies handed Gustavus Adolphus its first conference loss since 2007 this past weekend on their way to a three point weekend against the Gusties.

“They’ve had our number in playoff games the last five or six years,” said St. Thomas coach Tom Palkowski. “In the game of hockey one goal is a bounce here and a bounce there. We hadn’t been getting the bounces against them. We played a good solid weekend of hockey and were able to come away with three of four points.”

Palkowski said that is was especially bittersweet for his seven seniors that were a part of the last MIAC team to beat Gustavus Adolphus.

“This group knew they could compete obviously with results we’ve had in the last year tying River Falls and Gustavus Adolphus and beating Amherst,” Palkowski said. “They had the confidence they could win but you still have some self doubt until you actually do beat them. Traditionally we’ve actually played better against them in their barn then we do in our barn. I think when we tied it up in the second we got the confidence to take it the distance and then we scored with four minutes and held on from there.”

Currently, first place in the MIAC back to sixth place is separated by just three points making every conference game vital for every team involved. Each team has played four games and currently St. Thomas sits atop the standings with seven points. Upstart St. Catharine is 5-1 overall and 3-1 in the MIAC sitting in a second place tie with St. Olaf with six points. Gustavus Adolphus and St. Mary’s are tied with five points and Concordia-Moorhead sits sixth with four points. To say things are far from over is an understatement but St. Thomas certainly has the upper hand early.

“Beating Gustavus Adolphus is a huge win for the program,” Palkowski said. “But, I told the girls the win is only as big as what you do with it. If we go and falter down the stretch against some teams we should beat and they go on to win the conference, the win doesn’t really mean a lot. We need to take care of business the rest of the way in the conference and try and get that home ice for the playoffs and then go from there.”

Coming into the season, St. Thomas had to deal with the loss of all-everything forward Jackie Carroll. Carroll scored 136 points over her four-year career as a Tommie including being named MIAC Player of the Year last season.

“Losing Jackie Carroll was huge but it’s been a team effort all the way around to step up and fill her shoes,” Palkowski said. “Kara Ledel has stepped up and scored quite a few goals for us including both goals in Friday night’s win. Kara and her line mates have stepped it up a bit. But we’re also pretty solid in the net with Bradel and our six defensemen I think stack up with most in the country. It starts at the goal line and works its way out from there for us when we’re at our best.”

Kara Ledel’s five goals and three assists (5-3-8) lead a contingent of six players with five or more points on the young season. Kristine Beese (3-4-7), Taylor Shluter (3-2-5), Rachel Zilles (2-3-5), Amy Zimniewicz (1-4-5), and Meghan Parker (1-4-5).

Palkowski said he believes that the Tommies depth this season has been a huge asset compared to some of the teams they have played so far.

“When you can roll six defensemen and four lines every night it helps wear down teams,” Palkowski said. “We tend to typically play four lines more than most out here. I think even Gustavus only played three lines most of the weekend while we were able to play four and I think that does play some dividends in the end.”

The Tommies didn’t have much time to celebrate their three-point weekend as they had a quick turnaround with a Tuesday night game against Wis.-Superior. The Yellow jackets brought St. Thomas down a notch shutting out the Tommies on their home ice with a 3-0 win.

“I knew when I scheduled that game it was going to be a difficult task coming off the Gustavus weekend no matter if we won or lost,” Palkowski said. “The girls were obviously more focused on that series. Superior hadn’t played for two weeks and they were ready to go. To be honest they have had our number over the years as well for some reason and that continued on Tuesday. That was a nice measuring stick as well as Superior has a good team and they should be a mix in the (NCHA) down the stretch.”

Around The Country

Manhattanville turned some heads this past weekend when they stomped Norwich 7-0 in a crucial ECAC East early season test for both teams. The Valiants have been one of the more intriguing stories of the season so far by beating Elmira and Norwich already.

Manhattanville brought in a big recruiting class over the off-season despite not losing many players to graduation from last year’s team. So far 10 freshmen have been playing regularly for the Valiants led by Katie Little and Lynsey Schill. Little leads the nation with 14 goals and five assists for 19 points. Schill has recorded seven goals and nine assists for 16 points.

The Valiants will close out the first half of their season with a rubber match road game at Elmira on Saturday. The Soaring Eagles will desperately be looking for a win after getting swept by Plattsburgh and losing to Manhattanville already.

Plattsburgh continued its strong start to the season shutting out Neumann 6-0 and 7-0. The Cardinals have established themselves as the clear early favorite in the ECAC West with their sweep of Elmira and Neumann.

Along with the Manhattanville/Elmira showdown, R.I.T. will travel to Amherst for a big two game series between two Eastern powerhouses. Even though it’s only December these games will be crucial for both team’s NCAA resumes.

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