The last time the Hamilton Continentals faced Williams, it was early November, and the Continentals were playing just their second series of the season. Williams swept the weekend while limiting Hamilton to just a goal in each game.
This weekend, the two faceoff again, with a trip to the NESCAC tournament semifinals on the line. Hamilton has played much better since that weekend, including beating No. 2 Middlebury, the only conference loss the Panthers suffered this year.
“Our league is crazy; any game can go either way, but I think we are in a good place mentally,” said Continentals coach Emily McNamara. “We have a lot of young players, so I think there has been a lot of learning and growing. It’s a really, really good group of kids, and they have fun playing together, and I feel like that’s the key, just enjoying playing on a day like Saturday.”
Last weekend, Hamilton faced Connecticut College, coming away with a win and a tie. In the tie, Hamilton built a 2-0 lead after Michaela Giuttari scored at 12:13 of the third, but Hamilton gave up two goals in the last 1:47 of the game and settled for a tie, which McNamara feels is a valuable learning lesson for her team.
“Yeah, it was not exactly how we drew it up, I would say,” said McNamara. “I hope that the end of that Conn College game was sort of a little wake-up call that if we get a lead, we need to dial it up a notch. What we tried to talk about with the players after is we still got done what we needed to get done to have home ice, so I think that’s kind of the key going forward.”
Hamilton will look to its defensive leaders, including senior defender Giuttari and sophomore goalie Sidney Molnar, to key the team’s efforts against Williams. In the November series, Hamilton gave up five goals in one game and three in the other. Molnar has a 1.45 goals-against average and .928 save percentage, and under her Hamilton has been playing better offensively, too.
“I think she’s really, really stepped up this year for sure,” said McNamara of Molnar. “She’s just a really calm kid. I think adjusting to college and all the differences took a little bit, but I think it’s been impressive how much she’s stepped up. She’s just kind of been a rock down the final stretch of the season for sure. I think our team has a lot of belief in her, and that’s really helped. Interestingly, I think our scoring has actually increased since that.”
Giuttari leads the team in scoring with 24 points. The forwards are led by juniors Missy Segall and Kate Piacenza, who have 18 and 17 points, respectively. While Hamilton doesn’t have a single dominant forward, McNamara praises her team’s depth.
“I think with our forwards, that’s been the biggest difference in this season compared to previous seasons,” said McNamara. “We’ve a lot more depth up front, and Missy and Kate lead the way with their competitive energy. They might not be at the top of the league in points, but they’ve scored at really key times and in big moments. They definitely bring some experience and some leadership, and they just play with a ton of energy.”
One likely key in the Williams game will be the play of special teams. While both teams are good on the power play, Hamilton has struggled at times on the penalty kill.
“The starting point I think is us being disciplined with our sticks and our feet and staying out of the box as much as possible,” said McNamara. “That’s always the first goal. We’ve done a lot of work in the last couple of weeks to try to make gains in the penalty kill. We’ll have to be ready. They haven’t played for a week and a half, so we don’t know exactly what we’ll face from them on the power play. I think shutting down some of their key players on the power play will be a big part of it, then just trying to limit their time of possession in the offensive zone.”
While Hamilton has played its way to ninth in the PairWise, McNamara says all her team’s focus is currently on the Williams game, rather than any NCAA tournament factors. She also doesn’t feel like the series in November is much of a factor.
“I think we’re definitely just focused on trying to get that win on Saturday, and we’ll go from there after that. They’re really strong offensively. I think we have to be ready for that and play really sound defensively. It’s crazy; we haven’t seen them since November, so I think we’re both probably going to be slightly different teams, so you have to be ready for that as well.