With only one month remaining in the regular season, parity has run rampant amongst the D-III womenâ€™s ranks.
Sure you have Amherst leading the NESCAC and Plattsburgh leading the ECAC West, which are no real surprises. On the other hand, Lake Forest leading the NCHA and St. Catherine and St. Thomas currently ahead of Gustavus Adolphus in the MIAC is nothing short of shocking. I would be willing to bet not too many people had those three teams pegged to be leading their respective conferences this late in the season.
Additionally, though Plattsburgh topping the ECAC West isnâ€™t a huge surprise, how many people would have guessed they would take all eight points from RIT and Elmira; with their only blemish in conference play coming at the hands of Utica?
Amherst and Plattsburgh have separated themselves from the pack a little bit so far in terms of NCAA selection. Both teams will more than likely hold home ice in their respective conference tournaments.
The Lady Jeffsâ€™ toughest challenge remaining on their schedule is a non-conference tilt to close out the season against Norwich. Plattsburgh also has a couple tough non-conference matchups remaining as they host Manhattanville for a pair of games and Middlebury for a single game, all in the same week.
That week will go a long way towards determining the Eastâ€™s number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.
In a year where all signs so far have pointed that the committee is set to send the NCAA Division III womenâ€™s ice hockey championship tournament out west for the first time, itâ€™s imperative for teams like Elmira, Trinity, Manhattanville, Norwich, and Middlebury to find resume boosting wins to strengthen their case to be in the tournament and keep a 5-2 split.
Will someone in the NCHA please step up?
The conference that has intrigued me most this season has undoubtedly been the NCHA.
Wis. Superior, currently ranked in a tie with Manhattanville for ninth in the country sits seventh in its own conference!
How is this possible you might ask? Well, the Yellow jackets have played a brutal schedule so far including two games each against Wis. Stevens Point, Wis. River Falls, and Lake Forest. Superior split with Stevens Point and River Falls and managed only one point from Lake Forest.
The schedule doesnâ€™t get any easier for the Yellow jackets this weekend as they host second place Adrian for a pair of games, who has been giving the NCHA teams fits in their first season as a full member of the conference. The Bulldogs are 6-3-1 in NCHA play and have split with Wis. Eau Claire, River Falls, and Lake Forest.
First to seventh place in the NCHA is currently separated by six points, and the two teams leading the conference, Lake Forest (16 points) and Adrian (13 points) have both played two more games than Stevens Point, Eau Claire, River Falls, and Superior.
There is still a lot of hockey left to be played in the NCHA and itâ€™s anyoneâ€™s guess as to who will end up emerging from that conference and be hoisting the Oâ€™Brien Cup in March. In my 20 predictions for 2010 segment of my first column of the year, I projected Adrian to make the NCHA finals. So far that pick hasnâ€™t looked too shabby compared to the rest of the atrocious picks I made in that column.
However, with the way things have gone in the NCHA this year, it wouldnâ€™t surprise me if Adrian won the Oâ€™Brien Cup or was a first round exit. Itâ€™s just been that tough to predict.
The downside to all of the parity in the NCHA this year has certainly hurt every teamâ€™s chances of securing an at-large Pool C bid in the case that they donâ€™t win the NCHA Tournament.
More than likely with the losses that have already been accrued and the losses that are surely still to come for almost all the NCHA leaders (unless someone gets very hot), will take all but the Oâ€™Brien Cup winner out of the NCAA Tournament picture.
Saddle up western hockey fans, youâ€™re in for a treat the last month of the season watching things play out between those seven teams. Will Lake Forest be able to ride its hot start out and host the Oâ€™Brien Cup? Or will traditional powers Stevens Point, River Falls and Superior rise to the occasion and keep the trophy among the elite three? Or will Adrian and the up and coming Eau Claire squad spoil it for the rest of the conference.
Like I said, itâ€™s anyoneâ€™s guess. But boy would I like to be able to be at three places at once and watch how all those games end up playing out.
Laura Hurd Award
Last season around this time I tried to take a look at the Laura Hurd watch to see which players were positioning themselves for a chance to take home the trophy at the awards banquet the night before the NCAA semifinals.
For those unfamiliar with the Hurd Award, here is the press release from last yearâ€™s finalist announcement that briefly describes the award and to whom it is named after:
Also here is a press release from Elmira College from 2007 with more information about the award and why it was named after Laura Hurd:
Last year, Elmira Collegeâ€™s Kayla Coady won the award, becoming the second player from Elmira to do it after Hurd was the programâ€™s first to do it in 2005.
Middlebury leads the nation with four players having won the award since its inception in 2000, with Emily Quizon the latest to win in 2006.
The award has traditionally been given to a senior rewarding a career, rather than one individual season. Although, Plattsburghâ€™s Danielle Blanchard became the first underclassmen to win the award as a junior in 2008.
This season presents the toughest year yet to try and find a group of seniors that have stood out over their four years over some of the underclassmen that are having a terrific season this year.
The first name that popped into my mind that has to be up for the award this year is Trinityâ€™s Isabel Iwachiw.
Iwachiw has been an instrumental part of putting the Trinity Bantams womenâ€™s hockey program on the map. So far this season she has continued her stellar performance between the pipes leading the country with 12 wins and a 12-1-2 record. Her five shutouts tie her for best in the nation with Williamsâ€™ Sara Plunkett and her .953 save percentage is also tops in the country. She also ranks fourth in goals against average with a 1.12 GGA.
In 71 games played so far in her career, Isabel has a 42-21-8 record with 16 shutouts and a career GGA of 1.81 and a save percentage of .936. Her career save percentage currently ranks her third all-time in NCAA Division III womenâ€™s ice hockey history.
A goaltender has never won this award and Iâ€™m not even certain if one has ever been a finalist for it. However, it would be a shame if Isabel was left off the list this season given the dramatic effect she has had on Trinityâ€™s hockey program and bringing them up to the elite level that they are at now.
As far as other senior candidates, itâ€™s really hard to find any that stick out. Elmiraâ€™s Jenna McCall is a possibility, but for all intents and purposes she has had a down year this season for her standards.
UMass-Bostonâ€™s Maria Nasta is a possibility. She topped the 100 career points mark this season after playing just three and a half seasons of D-III after transferring from New England College her freshman year to UMass-Boston.
However, I think for the first time a majority of the candidates are going to be underclassmen and if you look at the numbers, why shouldnâ€™t they be?
Lake Forestâ€™s Kim Herring has been a scoring machine this year. The sophomore has been one of the key ingredients to the Foresters bursting onto the scene this season and their rise to the top of the NCHA standings. She has 22 goals and 12 assists for a nation-leading 34 points on the season. She has also scored six game-winning goals and six power play goals as well.
RITâ€™s Katie Stack is second in the country in goals with 18 and leads the nation in power play goals with eight so far this season. The junior is 18 points away from reaching the 100-career-point mark and will have a shot at it if she keeps up her torrid scoring pace.
Neumannâ€™s Jessica Schroeder is quietly second in the country in points trailing only Herring with 32. She is six points away from 100 career points as a junior.
If I had to pick five finalists right now it would go as follows, with hard consideration given to seniors since this has predominantly been a career award:
G. Isabel Iwachiw, Trinity, Sr.
F. Kim Herring, Lake Forest, So.
F. Katie Stack, RIT, Jr.
F. Jenna McCall, Elmira, Sr.
F. Maria Nasta, UMass-Boston Sr.