Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Women's Hockey - 2010-11 Season Preview

With the season set to get underway in just 10 days, it's high time we take a look at what the coming year has in store for the Engineers. In the coming week we'll be breaking down the ECAC, a few teams at a time, before bringing you an overall ECAC preview to wrap things up before the team hits the ice on 9/25 for their opening game, an exhibition against the University of Montreal.

RPI will play 34 games this season, including one exhibition, 11 non-conference tilts, and 22 ECAC matchups. The opposition comes from 19 teams, including last year's national runner-up Cornell, 8 teams who spent at least a week in the top 10 of the USCHO.com Division I poll, and a range of talent that spans from Wisconsin (a perennial power who finished 34-2-5 en route to the national championship two seasons ago) to Union (who has won just 17 games in the past 5 seasons combined). All in all, the season stands to be an interesting one, with the Engineers being put to the test by several top teams - before October comes to an end.

As noted, the season opens on 9/25 against the University of Montreal, in its second season overall and first in CIS, the Canadian college league. Montreal is well-respected in CIS for many of its teams, but its hockey team is a relative unknown due to its youth. Most importantly, it gives the Engineers a chance to get their feet under them in a game that doesn’t count, as they waste no time jumping into the thick of things by hitting the road for a pair of games in Madison against Wisconsin on 10/1 and 10/2.

RPI returns to Houston Field House the following two weeks, where they play a pair against Vermont on 10/8 and 10/9, and a single game against New Hampshire on 10/15. The Engineers are 6-8-0 all-time against Vermont, but haven’t won a game against the Catamounts since 2000, in an ECAC Division III tournament game. RPI played New Hampshire for the first time last season, blowing a 3-1 lead to lose 4-3 in regulation – thanks primarily to Kelly Paton’s hat trick for the Wildcats.

Next up is a Friday/Sunday pair against Hockey East’s Providence and Northeastern on 10/22 and 10/24. Providence was the Hockey East regular season champion last year, and Northeastern finished tied for second with UNH and BU, so expect this to be a tough test for RPI. Providence boasted the second best offense in Hockey East last season, averaging 2.81 goals per game in conference play. Northeastern had the second stingiest defense in the conference, allowing just 1.62 goals per game. The contrast should be a good chance to see how RPI can adapt to different styles of play without a week to prepare.

RPI opens its ECAC schedule the following weekend at St. Lawrence and Clarkson on 10/29 and 10/30, before a pair at home against Princeton and Quinnipiac 11/5 and 11/6, and another week on the road taking on Yale and Brown 11/12 and 11/13. We won’t get into the specifics on the ECAC matchups here, but will break each one down in the coming ECAC previews.

11/19 and 11/20 have Niagara paying a visit to the Field House. The Engineers went 1-0-1 against the Purple Eagles last season, who return top scorer Jenna Hendrikx (14-10-24) and starting goalie Jenni Bauer (.915%, 2.25GAA). Niagara loses nine seniors, 6 of whom were regular starters last season, so expect to see a younger team take the ice than we saw last season.

RPI travels to Syracuse after Thanksgiving, for a pair of games on 11/26 and 11/27. The Orange took a pair of games against RPI in Troy last season by one goal each, en route to an 18-17-1 finish in just their second season as a Division I club. Syracuse brings in the top rated high school goalie in Minnesota, Kallie Billadeau, who was a teammate of RPI freshman Missy Mankey on the Hopkins HS team last season. Aside from outgoing goalie Lucy Schoedel, Syracuse graduated just two players after the 09-10 season, so they should prove to be a tough and experienced team this season.

RPI closes out the first half of the season before the holidays with a home-and-home against Union, in Schenectady on 12/3 and Troy on 12/4. The Engineers play four in a row at home after the break, taking on Dartmouth, Harvard, Cornell, and Colgate on 1/7, 8, 14, and 15 respectively. Two weekends on the road follow as RPI heads east to take on Harvard and Dartmouth on 1/21 and 1/22 before heading west to face Colgate and Cornell on 1/28 and 1/29.

The Engineers enter the home stretch of the season in February with a pair at home against Brown and Yale on 2/4 and 2/5, travel to Quinnipiac and Princeton on 2/11 and 2/12, and close out the season at home on 2/18 against Clarkson and Senior Night on 2/19 against St. Lawrence.

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Coach Burke has put together a solid non-conference schedule this season, as he has reliably done the past several seasons. RPI has a chance to get some good experience on the ice before heading into the ECAC schedule, but there are still some big question marks about this year's team. As we discussed early in the summer when reviewing the graduating seniors and incoming freshmen, RPI’s success on the ice this season is going to boil down to two main points – can the upperclassmen and new freshmen forwards generate enough offense to overcome the loss of last year’s seniors, and can Sonja van der Bliek continue to be one of the top goalies in the ECAC in her senior season?

Either one would make life a lot easier for the Engineers. If they manage both, the potential is there for another successful season.

Check back on Friday when we break down RPI’s first four ECAC opponents – St. Lawrence, Clarkson, Princeton, and Quinnipiac.

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