This Week in D-III Women’s Hockey: February 12, 2010

New Kids On The Block

The Manhattanville women’s hockey team started off the 2008-2009 season much like every other season in the program’s history. The Valiants started the season 13-1 before going on to finish the season 7-6, including a loss in the ECAC East semifinal to Salve Regina.

Manhattanville coach Eric Lang wasted no time in orchestrating a dramatic overhaul of the team bringing in 13 freshmen after graduating just five players from last year’s squad.

So far the decision and large rookie class has been turning up roses for Manhattanville as the Valiants are 15-4-1 on the season and 13-2-1 in ECAC East play.

Most importantly, Manhattanville took two of three games from arch-rival Norwich this season and took a game from last year’s national runner-up Elmira early in the season.

“We have five of the top 20 rookie scorers in the country and they certainly haven’t been playing like freshmen during most of the season,” Lang said. “We’ve got some players in here who have won a lot of hockey games in their careers. We’ve tried to bring the freshmen in slowly here and we try not play three of them together so we basically try and play two freshmen to a line with an upperclassman.

“At times we have 10 or 11 freshmen in the line-up. They’ve just been very good this season and we’ve told them you’re here for a reason and you’re playing for a reason so don’t be a freshmen out there, play like a hockey player and they’ve certainly taken to that so far this year.”

Leading the way for Manhattanville’s super freshmen class has been Katie Little. The 5’11 power forward from Victoria, B.C., ranks fifth in the country with 32 points. Her 19 goals tie her for third in the country with Wisc.- Eau Claire’s Kristin Faber. She also has 13 assists and leads the country with five shorthanded goals on the year.

“She enjoys scoring goals as most good goal scorers do,” said Lang of Little. “Her eyes get big when she has the puck and she’s got a killer instinct around the net. We’ve paired her with Monique Rafferty since day one, who’s a senior 100-point scorer for us. They’ve had really good chemistry going where Katie works real well without the puck and Monique seems to find her. Katie considers herself a goal scorer and she’s scored some big goals for us this year.”

Sonia Occhionero (6-16-22), Lynsey Schill (10-11-21), Mary Rose Morrison (5-13-18), and Lauren Nutkevitch (6-9-15) have also had outstanding rookie campaigns for the Valiants.

Manhattanville cemented its claim to the ECAC East regular season crown by downing Norwich 7-2 last weekend.

After struggling through the first period and getting outshot 10-3 and down 1-0 on the scoreboard, the Valiants responded with the help of some veteran leadership for motivation during the first intermission.

“I thought in the first period Norwich was a lot more intense than us,” Lang said. “We went into the locker room and some of our upperclassmen stepped up and weren’t going to accept losing. It all comes down to battles and we started winning those in the second and third period. I thought the last 40 minutes of the game we’re the best we’ve played all season.

“That’s one of the big things we have going for us is that now we’re into the second semester and more of our rookies are starting to get more comfortable. I don’t think we’ve played our best game yet so it’s definitely exciting from that standpoint. We could surprise some people down the stretch.”

You may or may not have noticed that Manhattanville and Norwich played each other three teams in league play this season while playing all their other league opponents either twice or in some cases just once.

The reason?

With M.I.T. dropping its hockey program at the conclusion of last season, the ECAC East was left in limbo as far as scheduling. The conference left it up to each individual team to schedule a game against another team in the conference on its own.

“We had a game to book in our league and I said heck we might as well play the best team in the conference that won the championship last year so I called Mark [Bolding] up and we agreed that it was better for both of us to schedule each other.”

Along with last weekend’s win over Norwich, Lang thought that another turning point for Manhattanville was splitting with Elmira on Nov. 28 and 29.

“That was our first measuring stick and that three game stretch allowed our girls to realize that we belong,” Lang said. “We could have won all three of those games and we could have lost all three. They were that good of games and I think at that point our team started to realize that hey we’re a pretty good team too. Our girls felt good about that, especially getting the split at home.”

This weekend, Manhattanville will face another stern test as the Valiants will play three games in three days against two of the best teams on their schedule. Manhattanville faces St. Anselm on Friday and then travels to top-ranked Plattsburgh on Saturday and Sunday, who the Valiants have beaten just once in their program’s history. Plattsburgh currently holds the edge in the all-time series with a 9-1-3 record against the Valiants.

“We did this schedule by design,” Lang said. “We think that this will be our toughest stretch of the year including any playoff series we will be involved in. We’re going to go three straight and we do like our team depth. We’ll be able to insert some girls in and out of our lineup and get some rest that way, but it’s certainly going to be a challenge for our team and we’re looking forward to it.”

“We know who Plattsburgh is and we know they are a good team. They are well coached and if you’re going to beat them in their place, you better bring your A game. It will be interesting because we have some girls that lost in a national championship to Plattsburgh two years ago and we have some freshmen that have heard a lot of stories regarding Plattsburgh. These kinds of weeks are easy to get up for so we’ve been sharp in practice and have had a good week.”

In goal, Manhattanville has found solitude in splitting time between senior Sophia Kokkonis and Emy Cote between the pipes this season. Kokkonis is 7-1-1 on the season with 1.11 GGA and .941 save percentage. Cote is 7-3-0 with a 1.51 GGA and a .934 save percentage.

“Sophia has won a lot of big games in her career here,” Lang said. “We’ve been rotating them on Friday and Saturday most nights this season. Emy has usually been getting the starts on Friday but that will change this week with our senior night being Friday, so we’ll go with Sophia on Friday and Emy Saturday.

“They’ve both been really good for us this season and the team is equally confident with both of them in net. I don’t know if there is a better freshman goalie in the country then Emy Cote right now. She’s just been fantastic this season.”

Around The Country

Out west, Wisc.-River Falls and Lake Forest meet for a pair of games that will go a long towards determining how the NCHA standings might shake out. Adrian also travels to Wisc.-Stevens Point to try and keep its lead in the NCHA.

Adrian leads second place Lake Forest by one point 21-20, but the Bulldogs have played two more games than the Foresters. River Falls will be looking to made headway towards the top two in its series with Lake Forest, as the Falcons sit in third with 17 points. Stevens Point will be looking to try and distance themselves from the bottom half of the NCHA and still try and challenge River Falls for third place with the Pointers having 14 points and fifth place Eau Claire, Superior, and Concordia WI having 12 points each.

In the NESCAC, Amherst has an intriguing series with a dangerous Williams team with Sara Plunkett between the pipes, capable of stealing any game for the Ephs. The Lady Jeffs will close their season traveling to Williams to try and lock up the NESCAC crown and then they finish out the regular season by hosting Norwich on Feb. 20.

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