East/West Hockey Classic highlights Women’s D-III season openers

Sydney Aveson (Gabe Dickens)
Sydney Aveson (Gabe Dickens)

For the fourth straight year the East/West Hockey Classic hosted by Norwich University highlights the opening weekend of the NCAA Division III women’s ice hockey season.

The annual predetermined matchup tournament features the top two teams from the ECAC West, Elmira and Plattsburgh, taking on the top two teams from the ECAC East, Norwich and Manhattanville. All four teams were ranked in the top 10 in the USCHO Poll released on Monday, to only further the distinction of the East/West Hockey Classic being the premier D-III women’s hockey tournament annually.

Elmira enters as the reigning national champions and the preseason No. 1-ranked team after finishing last season with a 25-4-1 record on its way to winning its third national championship and first since 2003. The Soaring Eagles were a bit of an underdog heading into the season after losing their coach, some key seniors and their top scorer.

However, Elmira proved the naysayers, (including me), wrong by beating Bowdoin, 4-0, in the NCAA quarterfinals, upsetting previously unbeaten Gustavus Adolphus, 4-3, in overtime in the semifinals, and then edging Middlebury, 1-0, in the National Championship.

Elmira returns six of its top-10 scorers from last year, including the top three. Juniors Ashley Ryan (17-14-31) and Ashton Hogan (19-7-26) return as the top offensive leaders from last year, as well does senior do-it-all forward Tanis Lamoureux (13-14-27).

Junior defenseman Brooke Wilgosh (7-14-21) was named to the All-East/West Classic team in 2011 and freshman forward Olivia Nystrom (6-13-19) started her career off well last season, earning All-East/West Classic Tournament team honors in 2012.

In goal, Elmira will have to replace standout Lauren Sullivan, who was a key cog in the Soaring Eagles’ run to the title last year. Senior Lisa Marshall will look to fill the void along with a pair of freshmen in Kyle Nelson and Kierra Pietramala. Marshall went 8-1-0 in nine starts with a 0.89 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage.

While Elmira was celebrating, its arch-rival Plattsburgh was left to wonder what could have been, as the Cardinals were the odds-on favorite to win last year’s title heading into the final weekend.

Plattsburgh had been dominant all season, coming into Superior, Wis., for the Frozen Four with a 26-0-2 record. However, Plattsburgh’s bid to repeat its 2007 unbeaten season was abruptly cut short by Middlebury with a 4-1 loss in the NCAA semifinals.

The Cardinals return everyone from last year’s squad, except for their leading scorer and reigning Laura Hurd Award (National Player of the Year) winner Teal Gove, who tallied 29 goals and 21 assists for 50 points.

Junior Shannon Stewart (21-18-39) had a breakout season last year, while Jenny Kistner totaled a team-leading 22 assists to go along with 12 goals for 34 points. Senior defenseman Allison Era (13-16-29) was an All-American last season, while junior Emma Rutherford (12-14-26) and senior Chelsea Van Glahn (14-8-22) round out the top offensive returnees.

Plattsburgh will also get back Jordan Caldwell for another season, who missed almost all of last season due to an injury. Although the Cardinals won’t have Teal Gove anymore, they will have her sister Tyne, who transferred to Plattsburgh over the summer after spending two seasons at Norwich. Tyne registered 20 goals and 31 assists for 51 points in 58 career games with the Cadets.

In goal, returning senior First Team All-American Sydney Aveson was 23-1-2 last year with a 1.19 GAA and a .937 save percentage.

Plattsburgh coach Kevin Houle will have a new assistant at his side this season, as former Laura Hurd Award winner Danielle Blanchard returns to her alma mater as a coach. Blanchard was one of the best to ever wear a Cardinals uniform, and helped lead Plattsburgh to back-to-back national titles in 2007 and 2008.

Norwich enters the 2013-14 season coming off making its fifth NCAA tournament appearance in the last six seasons. Norwich also fell victim to Middlebury after the Panthers upset Norwich, 4-3, in overtime in the NCAA quarterfinals to end Norwich’s bid to reach its fourth straight national championship.

Despite the early NCAA tournament exit, the Cadets still went 22-4-3 last season and return the reigning ECAC East Player of the Year in Tori Charron. She led the country with 30 goals and dished out 14 more assists for 44 points.

Senior defenseman Kayla Parsons (11-15-26) enjoyed a breakout season last year on her way to earning All-American honors along with Charron. Junior Kaycie Anderson (6-15-21), as well as senior defensemen Marie-Philip Guay (2-15-17) and Brittany Sharman (4-12-16), round out the top returning scorers for the Cadets.

In goal, junior Loren Carrier returns after compiling an 11-1-2 record with a .923 save percentage and a 1.24 goals against average. Junior transfer Taylor Fairchild and freshman Celeste Robert will also compete for time.

Like Plattsburgh, Norwich will also be welcoming a familiar face back behind the bench this season as well with Sophie Leclerc returning to her alma mater as an assistant coach for the Cadets. Leclerc ranks second in nearly every all-time program offensive category and helped lead Norwich to its first national championship in 2011.

Manhattanville is coming off an 18-9-1 season and finished as the ECAC East Tournament runner-ups to Norwich. The Valiants are ranked ninth in the USCHO Poll, but they were a senior heavy team a year ago and return just three of their top-10 scorers.

Junior forward Alla Traun (5-13-18) is the top returnee, while classmates Trenah Stauffer (5-5-10) and Rachael Morrison (1-8-9) return as the top defensemen. Junior Michelle Meggiolaro had seven goals last season.

In goal, junior Kristen Shaughnessy is the lone returner from last year’s trio of netminders. Freshmen Olivia Drew and Dana DeMartino will compete for time as well.

The Classic kicks off on Saturday when Manhattanville takes on Elmira at 2 p.m., with Plattsburgh battling Norwich in the nightcap at 5 p.m. On Sunday, Manhattanville faces Plattsburgh at 1 p.m. while Elmira takes on the host Cadets at 4 p.m. in the finale.

Little East/West Classic?
While the Norwich Tournament is certainly the headliner of the opening weekend slate of games, Oswego State will also be hosting a new tournament featuring the same format and the same two conferences.

Oswego and fellow ECAC West member Cortland will be taking on New England College and Castleton this weekend in a classic tournament format at the Campus Center Ice Arena.

While it doesn’t have the same established star power, it does feature some of the up and coming challengers in both conferences, with Oswego and Castleton making significant headway toward the nation’s elite over the past few seasons.