This Week in D-III Women’s Hockey: February 5, 2010

St. Catherine Continues to Impress in MIAC

The St. Catherine women’s hockey team got off to a strong 9-1 start this season and few people took notice as the Wildcats never cracked the top 10 in the USCHO.com rankings.

Granted, St. Catherine didn’t play an all-world schedule in the first half of the season but 9-1 is still a pretty good record, especially for a team that won just 10 games the year before and the program’s best win total is 15, set in 2000-2001.

The schedule has gotten tougher for the Wildcats the last three weeks and although they are 2-3 in their last five games, St. Catherine has salvaged splits with perennial conference powerhouse Gustavus Adolphus and currently fourth place St. Olaf. Their other loss came to Wis.-River Falls.

All in all, St. Catherine sits in second place in the MIAC standings behind only St. Thomas. The Wildcats are 11-4-0 on the season and 7-3-0 in conference play.

St. Catherine’s crowning achievement so far this season though came last weekend when the Wildcats downed Gustavus Adolphus 2-1 on Friday night for the first time since Feb. 21, 2003.

“We had a good game plan and the girls bought into it,” said St. Catherine coach Brad Marshall. “We went over everything in what we needed to do to try and limit Gustavus Adolphus’ chances. They are a team that had around 75 shots against us two years ago and to be honest they are still a very good team despite their record. They had maybe two or three mistakes all game and it just happened to be we were able to capitalize on them.

“It’s a huge step for our program to be able to compete with those guys. I think the next night we might have been a little happy with what we did the night before but it was still pretty respectable game 3-1.”

Beating Gustavus Adolphus and having double-digit wins is quite impressive for St. Catherine, considering the state the program was in when Brad Marshall took over in the summer of 2005. The Wildcats limped through the first two seasons with Marshall at the helm, winning just one game and having a 1-43-3 record.

However, things started to look up in 2007-2008 season as the Wildcats won nine games and followed that up with 10 in 2008-2009.

“My first year I didn’t have a single recruit because I didn’t come in until July so I was dealing with what the old coach had, which was fine in a way,” Marshall said. The improvement is largely due to just like every other coach out there trying to recruit the right kid for your system and I think we’ve done that. We’ve got some steady defensemen that all have good size and some forwards that are quick.”

The 2007-2008 season also saw two of the programs top players brought in as freshmen in forward Michaela Michaelson and goaltender Mel Gerten. Michaelson burst onto the scene scoring 16 goals in her sophomore season and tallied 29 points after 21 in her freshman season. So far this year, she has 12 goals and eight assists for 20 points.

“We’re led by our junior class. Michaela Michaelson should be and has been a top player in our league,” Marshall said. “She’s got 70 career points in 64 games. She’s an all-american type of player and kind of flashy kid that likes to control the puck. However, she’s also one of our better fore-checkers and one of our best, if not the best back-checkers. At all ends of the ice she can pretty much handle herself out there in every situation. She’s one of those kids you like to have on your team because she doesn’t take a night off. She’s going to bury it if you give her any time or space.”

Mel Gerten has been a staple in between the pipes for the Wildcats posting a 9-4-0 record on the season with a 1.89 GGA and .935 save percentage and picking up one shutout.

“Mel’s numbers speak for themselves,” Marshall said. “She’s pretty much been the only goalie I’ve had. Her numbers are outstanding as far as this year and her career numbers considering what she had in front of her the first two years. I feel really comfortable with her back there and she’s a gamer. She’s usually been even better in the second half of the year and that’s what we’re expecting from her again this season. I think she’ll be known as one of the best goalies in the west here soon.”

With such a young team, Marshall has a needed a strong leader and he found that in the team’s lone senior this year.

“Right now we only have one senior that has made it through all four years in the program in our captain Aryn Ball,” Marshall said. “She’s our backbone and is a good kid that has been our captain for awhile now and provided a young team with leadership.”

Marshall that coming into the season he was realistically hoping for the team to improve on last year’s record and be in contention for a playoff spot. They’ve already topped last year’s record and have positioned themselves in a good spot for the postseason as well.

“Coming into the season I was hoping we would be in contention for the fourth or fifth playoff spot in the last weekend,” Marshall said. “Right now, unless we have a major collapse we’re setting ourselves up in a good position to lock up a playoff spot here in the next few weeks.

“It’s a testament to the team and buying into what we’re trying to do here. The other coaches and I aren’t out on the ice playing, we can only control putting the players out on the ice. The girls are the ones playing the game and they’ve done a great job of it this season so far.”

St. Catherine will continue its quest for the playoffs and get closer to the all-time program win mark of 15 this weekend when the Wildcats take on Bethel for a pair of MIAC games.

Bethel hasn’t given up more than three goals in a game since Nov. 20 against Gustavus Adolphus. However, they haven’t scored more than three goals in a game this season either.

“Positions one through seven are super tight in the conference,” Marshall said. “Bethel is going to play tough. They know how to play in tight games. I think I counted 10 or 11 one goal games they’ve played so far in their 15 games this season. It’s going to be a challenge and we’re definitely looking forward to it. They graduated three girls last year that were All-Americans at one point and we’re certainly not looking past them. They’ve got some freshmen that have stepped in and are playing in key positions for them.”

Around the Country

This weekend the biggest game on the schedule sees Manhattanville traveling to face defending ECAC East Champion Norwich for likely the de-facto ECAC East regular season championship game. The two rivals sit in first and second place in the ECAC East standings out of the Division III schools and are separated by just one point.

The two schools have met twice so far this season with Manhattanville trashing Norwich 7-0 back in December, and Norwich claiming a 3-2 win on Jan. 16. Sunday’s showdown will likely go a long way in determining who wins the ECAC East crown and who will have hosting rights to the conference tournament.

The other interesting note is that the competition for the final two spots in the ECAC West playoff race is heating up; especially since current fifth place Buffalo State is ineligible for the postseason after the NCAA hit them with a one year ban on postseason play as part of financial aid violations.

Neumann and Potsdam were scheduled to meet each other this weekend in Potsdam but inclement weather has forced the two games to be cancelled. That series will be vital to the playoff race as both teams have the inside track to the final two positions.

Last year, Oswego finished sixth but the Lakers will face a tall order trying to get back to the postseason as they will have to find a way to take points from Utica, Elmira, or Plattsburgh.

Cortland faces a similar daunting task, but instead of Utica, the Dragons face RIT along with Elmira and Plattsburgh.

Division III Players up for the D-I Frozen Four Skills Competition

The NCAA released the names of those players up to be voted to the D-I Frozen Four Skills Competition to be held at Ford Field in Detroit earlier this week.

There are five Division III players eligible, including three women’s players in Elmira’s Jamie Kivi, UMass-Boston’s Maria Nasta, and St. Thomas’s Lauren Bradel.

The three men’s players are Oswego’s Neil Musselwhite, Wis.- Stout’s Joel Gaulrapp, and Gustavus Adolphus’ David Martinson.

Please take the time to go to the following link the throw your support in for these five fine Division III talents so they can prove there are some hidden gems in D-III hockey that can compete against the D-I players.

Vote for the NCAA Frozen Four Skills Challenge!

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