Sunday, September 18, 2011

Women's Hockey - 2011-12 Season Preview

With the new season ready to kick off with an exhibition in just five days, it's high time to take a look at what the 2011-2012 season has in store for the Engineers. We will again take a look at the ECAC and the coaches' preseason picks in more detail before the league schedule kicks off, but before that, let's review the newcomers to RPI this season, along with an overview of the season schedule.

With the graduation of Sonja van der Bliek last season, one of the big question marks for the season is in goal. Junior Shannon Ramelot returns for another season and will likely get the nod early in the season. Ramelot is joined by two incoming freshmen in Kelly O'Brien and Brianna Piper. O'Brien put together a 1.89GAA and .936% playing for the Madison (WI) Capitols, while Piper, who played for the familiar-to-RPI Toronto Aeros, tallied a 1.80GAA and .912% en route to a PWHL championship. Piper will likely challenge for playing time early and keep some healthy competition going between the pipes. The Engineers also appear to have added a walk-on goalie in Alicia Miksic, listed as a graduate student in architecture at RPI.

At forward, the Engineers welcome four new players to fill the space left by graduates Sydney O'Keefe and Kendra Dunlop, and Audrey Stapleton who departed the team after her sophomore season. Eleeza Cox played for Ridley College, a private high school in Ontario, along with a season for the Aeros. She racked up significant points for Ridley, where she was a four-year starter and was the team's youngest ever assistant captain.

Taylor Mahoney joins the Engineers from the Chicago Mission, where she helped the team to three state championships and a USA Hockey national runner-up finish in 2009. She was in the top 20 for league scoring for three years straight. Ali Svoboda also comes to Troy from the Chicago Mission, having also spent four seasons playing for Team Illinois. She was an assistant captain in her senior year.

Marianna Walsh arrives from the Massachusetts prep school scene, where she achieved notoriety at Phillips Academy both for goal scoring as well as racking up penalty minutes, leading the team in both categories three years straight. In her senior campaign she set the school's single season scoring record and was named Female Athlete of the Year.

On the blue line, the Engineers bring in just one recruit as there were no losses to graduation last season. Kathryn Schilter is another Toronto Aero-turned-Engineer, who previously helped her high school team in Aurora, Ontario to two undefeated championship seasons in a row.

With only the three graduates noted above, the Engineers add significant depth to the roster this season, a point which should prove important as the season wears on. Many games last season saw the Engineers rolling three lines or two defensive pairs due to injury and a short bench. While it may prove tough to depend so heavily on freshmen, there comes a point where just having fresh legs on the bench makes a big difference.

After the exhibition on 9/23 against the same Toronto Aeros team which has almost become a training ground for future Engineers, RPI spends four weeks on non-conference opposition, with the first three weekends on the road at UConn, Vermont, and Niagara, before returning home for a series against Robert Morris. While none of these teams made significant tracks in the 2010-11 season, all four had some high points and should serve as a good tune-up for the Engineers before digging into the league schedule.

The ECAC schedule gets underway the weekend of 10/28 when RPI hosts Quinnipiac and Princeton, before welcoming St. Lawrence and Clarkson the following weekend. A pair at Yale and Brown marks the end of the early ECAC schedule as the Engineers face a few more non-conference opponents before again taking on Clarkson and SLU before winter break.

One of the definite highlights of the 2011-12 schedule comes on the weekend of 11/25 when the Engineers welcome national champion Wisconsin to Houston Field House. The Badgers come to troy on a return trip for one made to Madison last year, where the Engineers were defeated 7-0 and 6-0 in their first games of the season. RPI will hope for better results on home ice but no matter how you cut it, it will be a challenging weekend.

The Engineers go on to welcome Syracuse for a weekend series in what has become an annual affair since the Orange moved to Division I. Syracuse took away a win and a tie last season at the Tennity Ice Pavilion, so again RPI will hope for better luck within the friendly confines of Houston Field House.

After winter break, the meat of the ECAC schedule remains, starting with games against Colgate and Cornell the weekend of 1/6. RPI then hits the road to visit Dartmouth and Harvard before returning home for a pair against Yale and Brown. The home-and-home with Union comes on 1/27 in Schenectady and 1/28 in Troy.

RPI is back on the road against Cornell and Colgate, returns home to face Harvard and Dartmouth, then closes out the regular season at Princeton and Quinnipiac the weekend of 2/17.

The struggles of last season still fresh in everyone's mind, this season may well be another difficult one for the Engineers. Aside from Wisconsin who will almost certainly be a powerhouse once again, the non-conference schedule appears to be a balanced and competitive one. We'll take a look at the ECAC in the coming weeks in order to better evaluate the Engineers' league prospects for the coming season.

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