New coach O’Neil leading Bowdoin’s resurgence

During the first four years of the NCAA sponsoring Division III women’s hockey, the Bowdoin Polar Bears made it to every NCAA tournament, including two Frozen Fours.

However, since 2005, Bowdoin hasn’t made the NCAA tournament again.

The Polar Bears hit rock bottom in 2007-08, struggling to a 5-12-6 record, which was the second worst in the program’s 27-year history. Over the next two seasons, Bowdoin went .500 and continued to trail the NESCAC heavyweights of Middlebury, Amherst and Trinity.

This season, with a new coach at the helm, Bowdoin has been starting to turn heads as the Polar Bears try to reestablish themselves among the nation’s elite.

After spending a year as the head coach at Williams, Marissa O’Neil returned to Brunswick to take over the vacant coaching position at the helm of her alma mater.

O’Neil was a key member of the Bowdoin “glory years” squads, accumulating 133 points in her career as a Polar Bear from 2001 to 2005.

Under O’Neil’s guidance this season, Bowdoin has already matched last year’s win total of 12 — it sports a 12-6-2 record — and is coming off a weekend split with Amherst. After falling 3-2 the first night, the Polar Bears rebounded the next day to upset the fifth-ranked Lord Jeffs 2-1 for their first signature win of the season.

Bowdoin will have two more chances to pick up wins over ranked teams with a game at Trinity on Saturday and then closing the season with a home date against Middlebury. The Polar Bears also have a chance to lock up third place in the NESCAC with wins over Trinity and Wesleyan.

Some of the biggest reasons for Bowdoin’s resurgence this season have been the emergence of a pair of sophomore standouts in forward Kayte Holtz and goaltender Tara Connolly.

Holtz ranks second in the nation with 23 goals on the season, including six game-winning goals that tie her for the national lead. Two weeks ago, Holtz had a remarkable weekend, netting seven goals and an assist to lead Bowdoin to a sweep over Sacred Heart. She trails only Elmira freshman Tori Charron, who has 24 goals on the year.

Although Bowdoin has split the goaltending starts between three different goalies, Connolly stepped up last weekend against Amherst, making 30 saves in the 2-1 win. She is 5-1-2 on the season with a 1.76 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage.

Laura Hurd Award watch

We are a little over a month away from crowning the winner of the Laura Hurd Award, which is given to the Division III women’s player of the year by the American Hockey Coaches Association at the Frozen Four banquet.

Like I have said countless times before, the award is usually more of a career achievement award rather than just a single-season accomplishment award. Most of the time it is reserved for seniors, although Danielle Blanchard won it as a junior in 2008.

For the first time in the 11-year history of the award, a goaltender won it last season after Trinity’s Isabel Iwachiw became one of the driving forces behind putting the Bantams on the map in the D-III women’s hockey world.

Middlebury has had the most winners with four, while Elmira and Gustavus Adolphus each have had two.

This year’s group is taking shape and if I were picking, these are the six finalists that would be up for the award.

Sophie Leclerc, Norwich

• Leading the country in points with 20 goals and 18 assists for 38 points.

• Accumulated 67 goals and 81 assists for 148 career points.

•All-time points leader at Norwich.

Katie Stack, Rochester Institute of Technology

• Has 15 goals and 16 assists for 31 points this year.

• Scored 76 goals and has 53 assists for 129 career points.

• Four goals away from becoming the all-time goals leader at RIT

Sarah Dagg, RIT

• Tallied 14 goals and 20 assists for 34 points this season, which ranks third in the nation.

• Has 59 goals and 87 assists for 146 career points.

• All-time assists leader at RIT

Steph Moon, Plattsburgh

• Has eight goals and 20 assists for 28 points this season.

• Tallied 24 goals and 62 assists for 86 career points.

Kristin Faber, Wisconsin-Eau Claire

• Tallied 17 goals and eight assists for 25 points on the year.

• Has 61 goals and 44 assists for 105 career points.

• All-time goals leader at Eau Claire.

Lexi Bloom, Middlebury

• Has compiled a 13-2-1 record this season with a nation-leading .958 save percentage, as well as a 0.84 goals-against average, which also tops the nation. National leader with eight shutouts, too.

• 39-11-6 career record with a 1.47 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.