Friday, September 17, 2010

Women's Hockey - Around the ECAC (Part I)

While we ran through the season at a glance on Wednesday, breaking down some of the non-conference matchups and hitting each game on the schedule, the meat and potatoes of the Engineers’ schedule comes from competition within the ECAC. Over the course of the next week, we’ll break down RPI’s ECAC opponents a few at a time before pulling it all together next week before the team hits the ice against Montreal.

Hitting the Engineers’ competition in the same order they’ll see them on the ice, in this installment we’ll take a look at travel partner pairs St. Lawrence and Clarkson, and Princeton and Quinnipiac. Sunday we’ll break down Yale, Brown, and Union, and tackle Dartmouth, Harvard, Cornell, and Colgate on Wednesday.

*****

St. Lawrence
  • Last Season's Record: 16-14-7, 11-8-3 ECAC (7th)
  • Key Players: Vanessa Emond (F, Jr), Kelly Sabatine (F, So), Kayla Sullivan (F, So)
  • Key Losses: Britni Smith (D, 8-17-25), Brittony Chartier (G, .909%, 2.32GAA), Maxie Weisz (G, .918%, 1.89GAA), Tara Akstull (F, 7-10-17)
  • Last Season vs. RPI: 3-1 SLU (1/8/10 in Troy), 3-1 SLU (2/6/10 in Canton).
  • 2010-2011 games: 10/29/10 in Canton, 2/19/11 in Troy.
  • 2010-2011 Preseason Coaches’ Poll: 5th
St. Lawrence is coming off a disappointing season, having finished 7th in a conference they had shown dominance in for years. After finishing in the ECAC’s top three every season since 2000-2001, SLU faced a reality check when the were forced to hit the road in the 2010 playoffs and take on rival Clarkson, the second seed in league and one of the top teams in the nation. Although they squeaked out a win in game two of that series, Clarkson outscored the Saints by a combined 10-3 across three games en route to punching a quick ticket to the offseason.

Against RPI, SLU has had better luck. To call the series lopsided doesn’t do it justice; the Saints are 11-0 all-time against the Engineers and are the only team in the ECAC that has consistently had RPI’s number whether having a good season or bad. When RPI took a big step forward last season picking up wins against Harvard and Dartmouth both, SLU still handed RPI a pair of 3-1 losses without much trouble.

The Saints lose some talent as senior goaltenders Brittony Chartier and Maxie Weisz both graduate, leaving incoming freshman Caitlyn Lahonen and senior Nicolien Bongaerts (who saw all of 15 minutes of ice time last season) to take charge in net. Also out is defenseman Britney Smith, the team’s second leading scorer in 2009-2010. Fortunately for the Saints they return five of their six top scorers and have just two freshman forwards, but defense may be a sore point. With only six defensemen currently listed on the roster – three freshmen, a sophomore, a junior, and a senior – the Saints are going to need to be very careful to avoid injuries and will be relying on a lot of young players on the blue line. For a team that ranked 5th defensively in the ECAC last season, this could be a tough pill to swallow.

Each of the goal scorers that gave RPI trouble last year return for another season, however, and RPI will need to step up its game to avoid giving up 3 or more goals a game to SLU. If the Engineers can be opportunistic and take advantage of a young Saints defense, this may be the season we see RPI’s first win in the series, but don’t expect it to come easy.

*****

Clarkson
  • Last Season's Record: 23-12-5, 14-5-3 ECAC (2nd)
  • 2010 ECAC Tournament Runner-Up
  • 2010 NCAA Playoff Berth (Eliminated in quarterfinals)
  • Key Players: Juana Baribeau (F, Jr), Melissa Waldie (F, Sr), Lauren Dahm (G, Sr)
  • Key Losses: Dominique Thibault (F, 21-19-40), Britney Selina (F, 10-26-36), Carlee Eusepi (D, 6-13-19), Genevieve Lavoie (F, 3-9-12)
  • Last Season vs. RPI: 1-1 tie (1/9/10 in Troy), 3-1 RPI (2/5/10 in Potsdam)
  • 2010-2011 games: 10/30/10 in Potsdam, 2/18/11 in Troy.
  • 2010-2011 Preseason Coaches’ Poll: 2nd
Clarkson has been an up-and down team for the past several seasons – last season marked a new high for the Golden Knights as they rolled to a second place finish with a 14-5-3 record, also finishing second in the ECAC tournament to Cornell, who would go on to play in the national championship game. While recent history might predict a down year for Clarkson in 2010-2011, chances are good that they will remain one of the top teams in the league for at least another year.

The Golden Knights graduate four out of seven top scorers including overall leader Dominique Thibault who finished the season with 21 goals and 40 points, including 12 goals in conference play. However they return starting goalie Lauren Dahm and most of their defensive corps, a good start for last season’s second best defense in the ECAC. Add a talented recruiting class to the mix and Clarkson isn’t likely to suffer very significant growing pains in the coming year.

Last season the Engineers matched up well against the Golden Knights, skating to a 1-1 tie in Troy followed by an impressive 3-1 win in Potsdam late in the season that saw RPI hold a 27-19 shot advantage despite having to kill four consecutive penalties (three of them in nearly six straight minutes) late in the game to pick up the win. A tight Clarkson defense could spell trouble for RPI in 2010-2011, who may find themselves at a loss for goals and struggling to compete in a couple of low-scoring, hard-fought games.

*****

Princeton
  • Last Season's Record: 13-14-4, 11-7-4 ECAC (T-5th)
  • Key Players: Paula Romanchuck (F, Jr), Danielle DiCesare (F, Jr), Laura Martindale (D, Sr), Sasha Sherry (D, Sr)
  • Key Losses: Melanie Wallace (F, 7-13-20), Stephanie Denino (D, 1-7-8)
  • Last Season vs. RPI: 2-2 tie (10/31/09 in Princeton), 1-1 tie (1/30/10 in Troy).
  • 2010-2011 games: 11/5/10 in Troy, 2/12/11 in Princeton.
  • 2010-2011 Preseason Coaches’ Poll: 6th
Princeton is a tough team to figure out. They seem to bring in solid talent each year, going on a run at some point or another during the season - but have an increasingly disturbing habit of forgetting how to play once the playoffs arrive, having made an exit in the ECAC quarterfinals seven of the past nine seasons. There have been rumblings about the coaching staff failing to prepare the team for the postseason, but the fact remains that from season to season Princeton reliably puts a viable team on the ice, only to see it fizzle out when the games count most.

The Tigers are relatively unscathed by graduation this season, returning all but one of their top 10 scorers from 09-10. Goaltenders Rachel Weber and Cassie Seguin, who split playing time last season, both return for another, along with the top two scorers from last season, Danielle DiCesare and Paula Romanchuk. Some serious talent exists in the freshman class, including defenseman Rose Alleva who averaged 60 points in her junior and senior high school seasons in Minnesota, and forward Sally Butler, who notched 73 points, won 64% of faceoffs taken, and finished the season with a +61 rating and a PWHL championship with the Toronto Junior Aeros last year.

RPI and Princeton were evenly matched last season, skating to a pair of ties in their two conference games, and the two teams had nearly identical offense and defense stats by the end of the season. Princeton’s recruiting class coupled with RPI’s significant graduation losses may tilt the scales in the Tigers’ favor this season, but the games shouldn’t be a blowout in either direction.

*****

Quinnipiac
  • Last Season's Record: 19-10-8, 11-4-7 ECAC (T-3rd)
  • Key Players: Victoria Vigilante (G, So), Heather Hughes (F, So), Bethany Dymarcyak (D, Jr), Jordan Elkins (D, Jr)
  • Key Losses: Janine Duffy (F, 11-14-25), Kallie Flor (F, 14-8-22)
  • Last Season vs. RPI: 6-1 Quinnipiac (10/31/09 in Hamden), 1-0 RPI (1/29/10 in Troy), 2-1 Quinnipiac (2OT, 2/26/10 in Hamden – ECAC Quarterfinals), 1-0 RPI (2/27/10 in Hamden – ECAC Quarterfinals), 2-1 RPI (5OT, 2/28/10 in Hamden – ECAC Quarterfinals).
  • 2010-2011 games: 11/6/10 in Troy, 2/11/11 in Hamden.
  • 2010-2011 Preseason Coaches’ Poll: 4th
Quinnipiac will hit the ice next season with a special kind of axe to grind with RPI – the type that comes from a quarterfinal playoff series that spans 16 periods of hockey in a single weekend, two multiple-overtime games, and a heartbreaking loss in five overtimes to eliminate the Bobcats from the playoffs and send RPI on to the championship weekend. After a 6-1 Quinnipiac trouncing of RPI early in the season (after which the Engineers bounced back to put Colgate through the ringer in a 10-4 bloodbath), the teams were perhaps the most evenly matched of any two in the league, with their remaining four matchups all decided by one goal.

Sophomore goaltender Victoria Vigilante, last season’s goalie and rookie of the year (and the coaches' preseason pick as the All-League goalie) had a phenomenal freshman season and is poised to carry the Bobcats through the next several years. Coupled with just a single defenseman graduate, Quinnipiac stands to be one of the top defensive teams in the conference this season. Offense was a problem last year, when the Bobcats only managed to outscore Colgate, Brown, and Union in league play. While high scoring forwards Janine Duffy and Kallie Flor both graduated, Quinnipiac boasts an enormous recruiting class of 11 players, including 8 forwards.

Freshman Kelly Babstock, a teammate of Princeton’s Sally Butler on last year’s championship Toronto Junior Aeros team, led that team in points and assists. Several other freshman saw accolade-filled seasons precede their jump to the college ranks, so while Quinnipiac may stumble a bit out of the gate, expect a strong finish as the young players adapt to the college game and hit their stride as the season wears on. The coaches pick Quinnipiac to finish 4th, and a higher finish is not out of the question if Vigilanti continues to play her game while the recruits step up and play smart hockey. In a lot of ways this Bobcat team parallels the Engineers, with a top notch goalie and a lot riding on the freshmen – however, Quinnipiac’s recruiting class could very well give the Bobcats an edge this season.

*****

Check back on Sunday for Part II of the ECAC preview as we take a look at Yale, Brown, and Union, last season’s 10th, 11th, and 12th place teams.

No comments:

Post a Comment