NCAA D-III Quarterfinal Previews

NCAA Tournament First Round Preview

And then there were seven. Nineteen weeks of hard work and preparation paid off for seven teams this past Monday when they were selected to the 2010 NCAA Division III Women’s Ice Hockey Tournament.

This year we have one new face in the crowd as Trinity makes its first NCAA Tournament appearance, garnering one of the at-large bids after losing to Amherst in the NESCAC finals.

The regular crowd of Plattsburgh, Elmira, Gustavus Adolphus, and Amherst returns. River Falls, making its third tournament appearance and Norwich it’s second; round out this year’s field.

For the first time in the nine-year history of the NCAA sponsoring a Division III tournament, Middlebury failed to make the field.

Also for the first time, the Division III women’s ice hockey championships will be held in the West. The winner of the NCAA Quarterfinal between Wis. River Falls and Gustavus Adolphus will also win hosting rights as well.

Amherst earned the No. 1 overall seed and the bye through the first round. They’ll await the winner of the Gusties and Falcons matchup in the semis.

Norwich (18-5-5) @ Plattsburgh (23-2-2)

Plattsburgh was the No. 1 ranked team in the country for a majority of the season, but the Cardinals slipped up on home-ice in the ECAC West championship game for the second time in three years, falling to Elmira 4-2.

“We came out flat and didn’t play the type of game we needed to play for whatever reason,” Plattsburgh coach Kevin Houle said. “We didn’t play our best game but give credit to Elmira for that. They played well.”

Plattsburgh met Norwich on Jan. 26 and won 7-2 at the Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena for the first time ever in the two program’s histories.

“We played them over a month ago and the game wasn’t a 7-2 game,” Houle said. “It was one of those games where the puck was just going in the net for us. Norwich played pretty well and they had the puck in our zone a lot.”

Norwich coach Mark Bolding said that the Cadets struggled defensively against Plattsburgh in the first meeting.

“Last time against Plattsburgh, we didn’t play so hot in our zone and they pounced on top of opportunities,” Bolding said. “We let the wrong team get in tight. They are such a great and consistent team. We’ll need to score early and then try and maintain it.”

Both teams stay out of the penalty box as they each are averaging less than 10 penalty minutes a game. Norwich is averaging just 9.8 minutes per game, good enough for 10th fewest of any team in the nation. Meanwhile, as always under Houle, Plattsburgh averages 8.9 minutes per game good enough for 6th lowest in the country.

“We’ve got to do a good job coming out of our zone and establishing our forecheck early,” Houle said. “Norwich is a pretty disciplined team that forechecks well. I expect them to do some of the same things they did against us last time, but we have to be prepared for everything they are going to come at us with.”

Plattsburgh has a lot of scoring up front with two 20 goal scorers in senior Steph Moberg and junior Megan DiJulio.

“Everybody knows about Moberg from last year,” Houle said. “She was one of our two best forwards last season and was an All-American. She’s continued to play very consistent this season. DiJulio came into her own this season and being able to have two 20 goal scorers on separate lines has been good for us.”

Norwich, the trendy pick by many to make a run to the final four this year, started off the season strong with a perfect 7-0 start. However, since a 2-2 tie against Holy Cross and a 7-0 loss to Manhattanville in early December, the Cadets couldn’t string more than back-to-back wins the rest of the season coming into the playoffs last weekend.

“We started the season strong and then hit some stiffer competition,” Bolding said. “We found it a little more challenging to try and repeat and couldn’t put a streak of wins together after that seven game streak to start the year.”

Norwich closed out the regular season with a 3-1 loss to the defending national champions, Amherst. Bolding said he thought that game was the turning point as Norwich dominated the ECAC East Tournament with three straight wins, including an 8-0 win over UMass-Boston, a team that beat the Cadets earlier in the season.

“We finished our season with Amherst and played them pretty tight,” Bolding said. “It was fun to see someone different and I think we turned it around from that point. Everything came together during the ECAC East tournament. Hopefully this is the start of a streak that can keep going.”

Bolding said that the experience the Cadets gained last season when Norwich lost 3-2 to Elmira in the first round of the NCAA’s will be valuable coming into the Plattsburgh game this weekend.

“We’ve been there once now so we’re more comfortable with going in than we were with Elmira last year,” Bolding said. “We’re pretty excited and we know that to be the best you’ve got to beat a team like Plattsburgh at some point.”

Trinity (21-4-2) @ Elmira (22-4-1)

Elmira enters the NCAA Tournament this season coming off its third straight ECAC West Tournament championship, and seventh overall out of the nine that have been contested. The Soaring Eagles also won it for the third time on away ice, the only ECAC West team to do so in the tournament’s history.

“We knew going in we would be playing two very good teams,” Fargo said. “We wanted to focus on taking it one period at a time at this point in the year. We didn’t make a lot of mistakes and puck movement was good all weekend.”

Elmira beat R.I.T. 2-1 in overtime in the semifinals, and then downed arch-rival Plattsburgh 4-2 in the championship game, behind a hat trick from senior forward Lauryn DePaul.

“Momentum was huge in the Plattsburgh game,” Fargo said. “The first period I thought we might have been a little nervous. We came out better in the second and even though they outshot us, I thought we had chances to score.

“DePaul was obviously great and getting that two goal lead was big. They answered right back to take the wind out of our sails. But, Henshaw scored a big goal to put us back up two and she just seems to have a knack for scoring against Plattsburgh. She’s stepped it up since Christmas.”

Fargo said that Elmira doesn’t plan on changing anything drastic as they look to get back to their third straight final four and sixth overall.

“We’re not going to change a whole lot going into the Trinity game,” Fargo said. “We might make a few adjustments on special teams. We’ve seen their tape and know what to expect. They’ve got some players that can hurt you if you let them get space.”

Just like last year when Elmira’s Kayla Coady and Allison Cubberley stepped up to lead the Soaring Eagles to the national championship, they’ll need their seniors and big players to step up and lead again this year.

“The more important the games, the more focused we are,” Fargo said. “The girls have a knack for playing their best hockey late in the season. As I’ve said all along, your best players have to be your best players in the big games.”

Trinity has been knocking on the door step of being a national contender the last few seasons. But, come NESCAC tournament time the Bantams were always beaten out by Amherst and Middlebury. This season though, Trinity finally broke through in an epic 2-1, four overtime win over Middlebury in the semifinals.

“It was a surreal weekend,” Trinity coach Andrew McPhee said. “I lost track of the overtimes we were in at times. We got down 1-0 in the Middlebury game, but battled back and were able to get the goal in the fourth overtime finally. We knew it was going to be a tough test. It was our first semifinal win ever. Both goalies were tremendous. It was an amazing effort by both. It was a shame one team had to lose.”

Trinity fell to Amherst in the NESCAC finals, but not before taking the No. 1 seed Lady Jeffs to another overtime game before falling 2-1.

“We’re kind of the new kids on the block and there is a lot of excitement in our program,” McPhee said. “We’re taking the step to be a little bit better than before and that’s a statement to the players that have played here before.”

Playing a large part in Trinity’s emergence as a national powerhouse has been the play of senior goaltender, Isabel Iwachiw. She has compiled an 18-4-2 record this season with a 1.18 G.A.A. and a nation-leading .953 save percentage. Her seven shutouts rank second in the country behind Superior’s Melissa Kunzelman’s eight.

“Trinity was nothing before Isabel [Iwachiw] showed up,” McPhee said. “I couldn’t think of a person that deserves the Laura Hurd award more than her. She’s been our rock for four years. She was unbelievable and put on a show in the tournament last weekend.”

The Bantams will need another dazzling performance from Iwachiw on Saturday when they take on a high-flying Elmira offense, averaging 4.15 goals a game, fourth highest in the country. The Soaring Eagles also post the nation’s top power play unit, clicking at 29.7 percent.

“They are a very good team,” McPhee said. “It’s going to be a tough task and this is a brand new world for us. They took Amherst to overtime in the national championship game last year and are well coached.”

Wis. River Falls (20-3-6) @ Gustavus Adolphus (21-4-2)

For the second straight season, Gustavus Adolphus and River Falls will meet in the NCAA First Round as the champions of the MIAC and NCHA respectively.

Last year, River Falls topped the Gusties 2-1, handing Gustavus Adolphus its third straight loss in the NCAA First Round and denying them a trip to the final four. Last year’s loss hasn’t affected Gustavus Adolphus Coach Mike Carroll however; as his team carries a 12 game winning streak into Saturday’s game and has won 19 of its last 20.

“Not many teams can say that they’ve got to where we have the last few seasons,” Carroll said. “We don’t care about the past; we expect to win these games. Our goal is to win the next game and if we play well we’ll have a chance. If we don’t, River Falls will win.”

After splitting a series with St. Catherine, Carroll said he shook things up a little bit in the lineup and the changes have been reaping benefits for the Gusties.

“The first of February we changed things up a bit and stuck with it,” Carroll said. “We’ll approach Saturday as nothing really new. We’ve got to play well in our own end. We have dominated play in our own end lately.”

Gustavus Adolphus dominated teams down the stretch, shutting out four straight opponents, before finally surrendering a goal to St. Catherine in the MIAC finals, but still winning 5-1. The Gusties have outscored opponents 23-1 in their last five games.

“We felt we needed to win the conference to get where we wanted,” Carroll said. “The season started tough, but we learned as the season went on and played pretty darn good in the tournament. We took care of business early and got up right away.”

Carroll said that the two previous meetings have provided mixed results for Gustavus Adolphus in the 3-3 tie in each team’s first game of the season as well as a 2-1 Gustavus win in January.

“We had some flashes of playing well after getting down 3-1 to come back and tie it,” Carroll said. “I didn’t think we played particularly well at all in the win against River Falls. We were still working on things and we weren’t satisfied even though we won. But, that’s not a reflection on River Falls at all.”

River Falls won its second straight O’Brien Cup and fourth overall by downing Wis. Superior 2-1 in the finals.

“It was pretty exciting to win back-to-back O’Brien Cups.” Cranston said. “We went in as the third seed, but we really didn’t think of ourselves as the third seed. We thought of ourselves as the team to beat. We controlled the whole game against Adrian and controlled the first two periods against Superior, but they rallied a bit in the third.”

Cranston compared this year’s game to last year’s with one added element that wasn’t a part last season.

“This is so similar to last year. Last time we had lost was to them, same as this year and both teams have been playing well,” Cranston said. “We’re going in with the same mindset we had as last year and will play a defensive style of hockey. Having the chance to host the final four brings a whole new element to the game though.”

One difference River Falls has had this season however, has been the ability to roll four lines instead of having a short bench and just three lines.

“This year we have rolled four lines and five defensemen,” Cranston said. “We can count on every line to score goals and they can all play well defensively too. The five defensemen played as well as a unit as they have all season last weekend.”

The Falcons have also received strong goaltending from their two goalies, Melissa Deardorff and Cassi Campbell, who have split time pretty much the whole season. Deardorff is 10-1-4 with a 1.33 G.A.A. and a .935 save percentage. Campbell is 9-2-2 with a 2.00 G.A.A. and a .928 save percentage.

“We’ve been splitting them and it just depends which goaltender has done better against certain teams,” Cranston said. “We’ll probably go with Campbell against Gustavus Adolphus because she’s played better against them.”

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