In terms of kicking off the second half of their season with a bang, the No. 1 Plattsburgh Cardinals certainly had that on the agenda with their participation in the East-West Hockey Classic. Plattsburgh was scheduled to play No. 3 Norwich, the host of this year’s Classic, with a game against either No. 6 Adrian or No. 8 Elmira after the Norwich game.
Plattsburgh passed the test with flying colors, defeating Norwich, 6-3, and then winning the tournament with a dominating display against Adrian, 4-1.
According to Plattsburgh coach Kevin Houle, the scorelines don’t tell the story.
“I think they were a little closer than what the score would indicate,” said Houle. “I think our success certainly was due to converting offensively. I thought we did a very good job of moving the puck through the neutral zone, and our power play was effective as well. When those things happen, the puck goes in the net for you. I thought we finished well, which isn’t always the case with our team. Sometimes it takes us 60 shots to score two goals. This past weekend, against very good competition, we were able to convert and finish. If you can do those things, you’re going to be successful.”
Plattsburgh had lost to Elmira in the final of last year’s East-West Hockey Classic, and earlier in the year lost to Middlebury in the final of the Panther-Cardinal Classic. That loss is Plattsburgh’s only loss this season, but Houle acknowledged that recent regular season tournament results were discussed with the players ahead of the Adrian game.
“We talked about that as a team, that we didn’t win that tournament, and we hadn’t won this one in Norwich last year. It was something we wanted to be able to finish and to go out and be prepared to play and come out with a win. We certainly were prepared for that, as we hope to be every game. When you play against a really good team like Adrian, you’re going to get a lot of pushback. Even though the scored didn’t indicate it, it was certainly a tough game from start to finish.”
One thing that stands out for Plattsburgh is the team’s depth. Six players average a point a game or better, and two more are just below that. That depth was one thing that helped in the Norwich game. Norwich senior Amanda Conway got the game’s first goal, and then assisted on another in the first period to put Norwich back up. Norwich then got five straight goals over the second period and early part of the third, with all coming from different players.
“We didn’t have to match her play in terms of individual effort, and we were able to do that with depth scoring, with secondary scoring, and that’s something we’ve been able to do this year,” said Houle of Conway. “Thus far, we’re not relying on one or two players. I mean, if you look at our scoring, we probably have four or five girls that have seven, eight, nine goals at this stage in the season, which certainly provides depth and allows you to rely on different players, different lines. Certainly the scoring department has been key for us, and in that game it was. As you said, we weren’t able to shut that line down, but we were their other lines. It’s interesting. We’ve played Norwich quite a few times over the last few years, and that was the most effective she had been in a game against us. She’s a tough player to play against.”
The East-West Hockey Classic also crystallized Plattsburgh’s goaltending situation. Houle had played all three goalies over the first half of the season, but sophomore Ashley Davis made 29 saves against Norwich in the first game, then followed that with 32 saves against Adrian.
“Honestly, I think that our goaltending has been not in question,” said Houle. “I think they’ve played well. I think it was in question in terms of who our number one goalie is. I think this weekend was an opportunity for Ashley to come in, and she played great the first game we thought against Norwich. If she did that, we were going to give her the start in the next game, and I think she played even better against Adrian. I think once you solidify that position, it obviously gives that goaltender confidence, and I think it gives the team confidence playing in front of her. After this weekend, certainly Ashley has earned the number one position as our goalie. That doesn’t mean the kids won’t get opportunities, but when you have a weekend like that and play as she did, it gives her confidence and gives the team confidence as well.”
Plattsburgh is back in league action with four games in the next 10 days, but looming on the schedule is rematch with No. 2 Middlebury on Jan. 21. According to Houle, that game likely isn’t a focus for his players yet.
“I know they don’t look that far ahead. They’re just looking forward to the next few games here. And if we don’t, then someone can certainly step up and beat us. Buffalo’s been a tough team for us lately, and I think Oswego’s a good young team. Those are the games, our next two, the next one game really, that we’re looking at. When that game comes about in late January, that will be something that the girls will be excited about and certainly looking forward to.”
The reason for Houle’s caution is that he knows in each game, his players will face the fiercest possible play from their opponents. That’s what you get when you’ve won five of the last six national championships, often in dominating fashion. The Cardinals won four in a row, and after missing out in 2018, won it again last season. They always have a target on their backs.
“I think it’s certainly not easy playing with that target on your back, because you do get everybody’s best game. Whether it’s one of the top teams in the country or a team that’s not ranked, you’re definitely getting their best effort. As simple as it sounds, we just try to play one game at a time and go out and give our best effort. There’s only so hard you can play and so hard you can try, and I think if we’re able to match teams’ intensity, then we have a good shot at beating those teams. We try not to talk about it too much in terms of the end result and what we’ve accomplished, and worry about the game at hand.”