Thursday, October 27, 2011

Women's Hockey - ECAC Preview

With the ECAC schedule set to kick off for 10 teams this weekend (Cornell and Colgate having already played a game - a 6-2 Cornell win), let's take a quick look around the league and see what we can expect from the Engineers' opposition. Unlike last year's 3-part preview, this one will be condensed into a single installment with a few points on each team, primarily due to the fact that I simply didn't have time to write more. My apologies!

Without further ado - the 2011-2012 ECAC, in order of appearance vs. RPI:

*****

Quinnipiac
Quinnipiac came remarkably close to upsetting Cornell in the ECAC Semifinals last season, but would end up falling 4-3 and ending a season which saw the Bobcats miss home ice by just two points.

Fortunately for the team from Hamden, they have essentially returned their entire team from last season. With the only two graduates last season being the team's 10th leading scorer and a defenseman who played four games, Quinnipiac can essentially continue right where they left off, with some added input from five new players including goalie Chelsea Laden (runner-up for Minnesota defensive player of the year) and junior transfer Breann Frykas who came to Quinnipiac from Wisconsin.

With nothing but additions to an already solid team, it's no wonder the coaches have Quinnipiac pegged to finish third in the ECAC. If the Bobcats don't manage to secure home ice, it would have to be considered a disappointment. QU is off to a slow start, playing games against solid teams from Mercyhurst, Northeastern, and BC among others, and will likely look forward to digging into the meat of the ECAC schedule.

*****

Princeton
  • Last Season's Record: 16-14-1, 13-8-1 ECAC (4th)
  • Key Players: Rachel Weber (G, Jr), Olivia Mucha (F, So), Charissa Stadynk (D, Sr)
  • Last Season vs. RPI: 2-1 Princeton (11/5 in Troy), 4-2 Princeton (2/12 in Princeton)
  • 2011-2012 games: 10/29 in Troy, 2/17 in Princeton
  • 2011-2012 Preseason Coaches' Poll: 7th
Last season we commented on Princeton's habit of going on runs during the season just to fall flat in the playoffs. Last year was no exception, as the Tigers won 13 of 15 to end the season before getting swept at home by Quinnipiac. They outperformed the coaches' 6th place prediction to finish 4th and take home ice, and quickly squander it in two games.

This year, the coaches again look for Princeton to finish outside of home ice contention, and it would appear from the competition in league that it would be a fairly likely result. Princeton does return their starting goalie Rachel Weber, along with top scorer Olivia Mucha who lit it up in her freshman campaign last season.

Laura Martindale will be missed by the Tigers, as the defenseman played all 31 games last season and was an anchor on defense. A freshman goalie, forward, and two defenseman will supplement the returning skaters, with the goalie, Ashley Holt, going 46-5-4 in her junior hockey career.

Princeton opened up with a win at home against Northeastern before dropping a 3-1 decision to Niagara last weekend, and will open up their ECAC play this weekend at Union and RPI.

*****

St. Lawrence
After a pair of down seasons that saw them finish in 7th twice, the Saints will look to rebound in a year where they return their eight top scorers and several key defensive players. Sophopmore Caitlyn Lahonen will be the Saints' only returning goaltender; she split the job with senior Maxie Weisz last season, posting a .905 save percentage and 2.44 GAA. Lahonen is joined by freshman Carmen MacDonald, who helped Team Canada U-18 to the 2010 World Championship, leaving the Saints in a fairly good situation in net.

SLU opened the 2011-2012 season with a loss to an always-tought McGill, before going five games without a loss (against Clarkson, UConn, Providence, Niagara, and UNH), dropping their most recent game at BU 3-2 despite racking up a significant shot advantage. Both of the Saints games against Cornell come in the final month of the season, although the two teams also play a non-conference game on January 2. Ending the season against the Big Red could be bad news depending on how badly the Saints end up needing points at the end of the season. Look for them to lock up a playoff spot before the final weekend to take the uncertainty out of the equation.

*****

Clarkson
  • Last Season's Record: 14-17-6, 10-8-4 ECAC (6th)
  • Key Players: Jamie Lee Rattray (F, So), Erica Howe (G, So), Danielle Boudreau (D, Sr), Juana Baribeau (F, Sr)
  • Last Season vs. RPI: 2-1 Clarkson (10/30 in Potsdam), 2-1 Clarkson (2/18 in Troy)
  • 2011-2012 games: 11/5 in Troy, 12/2 in Potsdam
  • 2011-2012 Preseason Coaches' Poll: 5th
  • ECAC Hockey Preview: http://www.ecachockey.com/women/members/clarkson/20111909_ClarksonSeasonPreview
Clarkson graduates goalie Lauren Dahm but returns Erica Howe who closed out the season for the Golden Knights, going 10-7-5 in 22 games. All-time leading scorer Melissa Waldie also graduated, and with her goes record-setting point production. Clarkson returns quite a bit of talent, however, including last season's top scorer Jamie Lee Rattray - named Clarkson's Rookie of the Year and an ECAC All-Rookie selection.

So far this year, the Golden Knights are off to a good start, going 4-1-3 in non-conference play, including wins over Providence, Syracuse, UNH, and a tie against BU. Their lone loss so far has come against North Country rival St. Lawrence. Clarkson will look to take some momentum into the ECAC schedule and try to secure home ice with an improvement on least season's 6th place finish.

*****

Brown
  • Last Season's Record: 2-23-4, 1-17-4 ECAC (11th)
  • Key Players: Alena Polenska (F, Jr), Laurie Jolin (F, Jr), Paige Pyett (D, Sr)
  • Last Season vs. RPI: 1-0 Brown (11/13 in Providence), 4-2 RPI (2/4 in Troy)
  • 2011-2012 games: 11/11 in Providence, 1/21 in Troy
  • 2011-2012 Preseason Coaches' Poll: 11th
  • ECAC Hockey Preview: http://www.ecachockey.com/women/members/brown/20111810_Brown_Preview
With the departure of longtime head coach Digit Murphy and the arrival of Amy Bourbeau (previously an assistant at Princeton) to take the reigns, it appears Brown was ready to make the changes necessary to return to prominence after sinking to the basement of the ECAC over the past several seasons.

Don't expect the turnaround to happen overnight, though. After finishing 3rd in 2005-2006, Brown has wound up 9th, 10th, 10th, 11th, and 11th in the five seasons since. The Bears statistics are about what you would expect based on the record; their goalies combined for a .897/3.89 last season, they had just two scorers above 10 points (both with 17), and finished 11th and 12th in team offense and defense. It will take some time to turn such stats around.

Brown's only game of the year so far has been a 10-0 plastering of Sacred Heart (the D1 team that plays a mostly D3 schedule yet still loses many of those games). It will be an accomplishment for the Bears to finish better than 11th, but hopefully with a new coaching staff in place they can lay the groundwork for a climb back up the ECAC ladder.

*****

Yale
  • Last Season's Record: 9-17-3, 8-12-12 ECAC (T-8th)
  • Key Players: Aleca Hughes (F, Sr), Alyssa Zupon (F, Jr), Heather Grant (D, Sr)
  • Last Season vs. RPI: 4-1 RPI (11/12 in New Haven), 2-2 Tie (2/5 in Troy)
  • 2011-2012 games: 11/12 in New Haven, 1/20 in Troy
  • 2011-2012 Preseason Coaches' Poll: 10th
  • Yale Season Preview: http://www.yalebulldogs.com/sports/w-hockey/2011-12/releases/20111020o8n4xw
Yale opens the season looking very similar to last season's team, graduating high scoring Bray Ketchum, defenseman Samantha MacLean, and Lili Rudis who only saw action in two games. The biggest loss for the Bulldogs, however, is goalie Jackee Snikeris, whose .941/1.98 will be missed as Yale looks to find a new go-to netminder.

Whether that job will go to Yale's returning senior and junior goalies who saw limited action last season, or freshman Jaimie Leonoff (who participated in Team Canada's development camp along with playing for Team Quebec U18) remains to be seen. Up front, leading scorer Jackie Raines is in just her sophomore season, as is second leading returning scorer Jenna Ciotti.

Early outings do not bode well for the Bulldogs, who fell 5-1 to Niagara and 7-0 to Northeastern in their first two games last season. Things don't get easier with their first league game on the road at Cornell. Second-year head coach Joakim Flygh will need to get his team rolling in a hurry or it could be a long season en route to an early exit for Yale this year.

*****

Colgate
  • Last Season's Record: 11-19-3, 8-12-2 ECAC (T-8th)
  • Key Players: Brittany Phillips (F, Jr), Amanda Kirwan (D, Sr), Jenny Klynstra (F, Jr), Kimberly Sass (G, Sr)
  • Last Season vs. RPI: 5-4 RPI (1/15 in Troy), 2-0 Colgate (1/28 in Hamilton)
  • 2011-2012 games: 1/6 in Troy, 2/4 in Hamilton
  • 2011-2012 Preseason Coaches' Poll: 9th
  • ECAC Hockey Preview: http://www.ecachockey.com/women/members/colgate/20112309_ColgatePreps201112Season
Colgate has spent most of its years in the ECAC as a middle-of-the-pack team, and things look poised to continue that way for the Raiders this season. Colgate will need to improve from the goal crease (where Kimberly Sass posted a .899/2.88 last season) out to make the playoffs this year after missing them on a tiebreaker last season.

Up front, the Raiders return their top two scorers in Brittany Phillips and Jenna Klystra, and bring in just one freshman defenseman, but five rookie forwards may make for a bit of an adjustment period. Given the team's ranking of 10th in both scoring offense and defense last season, too much adjustment time could spell big trouble for this team.

With the cluster of teams that ends up inevitably deadlocked in the 5-10 range in league, Colgate will probably be right in the mix for a playoff spot once again, but could just as easily find themselves on the outside looking in due to a tiebreaker or a game or two gone wrong during the course of the season.

*****

Cornell
  • Last Season's Record: 31-3-1, 20-1-1 ECAC (1st)
  • Key Players: Amanda Mazzotta (G, Sr), Lauren Slebodnick (G, So), Lauriane Rougeau (D, Jr), Rebecca Johnston (F, Sr), Chelsea Karpenko (F, Sr), Catherine White (F, Sr)
  • Last Season vs. RPI: 6-1 Cornell (1/14 in Troy), 6-0 Cornell (1/29 in Ithaca), 3-2 Cornell (2/25 in Ithaca), 6-1 Cornell (2/26 in Ithaca)
  • 2011-2012 games: 1/7 in Troy, 2/3 in Ithaca
  • 2011-2012 Preseason Coaches' Poll: 1st
  • ECAC Hockey Preview: http://www.ecachockey.com/women/members/cornell/20111510_CornellSeasonPreview
Calling Cornell the favorite to win the ECAC this season would be quite a monumental understatement. Coming off their second consecutive trip to the Frozen Four, the Big Red graduated just three players (including a goalie who played just three games) and return their top five scorers (all over 40 points) and entire defensive corps from last season.

With six seniors on the roster (including arguably some of the best players to ever play for the Big Red), this would appear to be a year that Cornell seriously challenges for the first national title to go to anyone other than UMD, Wisconsin, or Minnesota. They have two goaltenders who split time last season, putting up .945/.942 and 1.11/1.15. They have serious scoring talent and everything they need on defense. In their only outing so far this season, they dismantled Colgate 6-2 with a 64-12 shot advantage (Frosh Jillian Saulnier scored FOUR goals).

Cornell will be the team to beat in the ECAC and one of the best in the country, and that's really all there is to say.

*****

Dartmouth
  • Last Season's Record: 22-12-0, 15-7-0 ECAC (3rd)
  • Key Players: Camille Dumais (F, Jr), Kelly Foley (F, Sr), Sasha Nanji (D, Jr), Lindsay Holdcroft (G, So)
  • Last Season vs. RPI: 5-2 RPI (1/7 in Troy), 3-0 Dartmouth (1/22 in Hanover)
  • 2011-2012 games: 1/13 in Hanover, 2/11 in Troy
  • 2011-2012 Preseason Coaches' Poll: 4th
  • ECAC Hockey Preview: http://www.ecachockey.com/women/members/dartmouth/20112010_Dartmouth_Season_Preview
After a third place league finish last year which led into back-to-back losses to Cornell in the ECAC Championship and NCAA Quarterfinals (can you say "bad draw"?), Dartmouth looks to build on their success and push for home ice once again in 2011-2012. The Big Green return most of their top scorers along with five defensemen, so should not suffer significantly from an overwhelming freshman influx; continued steady play from the returning players coupled with some early results from the freshman will, however, be needed to overcome the graduation of 100-point scorer Amanda Trunzo.

The Big Green start the season picked to finish 4th in league and with a preseason 10th place national ranking have already garnered some attention on the national stage. A win over McGill and a narrow 4-3 loss to #5 Boston College have highlighted the meager two games in Dartmouth's schedule so far; games against Clarkson, SLU, UNH, and Cornell should prove to be trial by fire for the Big Green as they jump into the remainder of their schedule.

*****

Harvard
Harvard does not play its first official game of the season until opening up with a pair of ECAC matchups against Clarkson and SLU, although the Crimson did skate to a 3-1 victory over McGill last weekend in an exhibition. The coaches weren't worried about it when picking the Crimson to take second place in the league, though.

Harvard loses several top players to graduation, including Kate Buesser, Liza Ryabkina, Leanna Coskren, and Katharine Chute. Top scorer Jillian Dempsey returns, along with top-scoring defenseman Josephine Pucci, fresh off a gold medal winning trip to Switzerland with Team USA.

Harvard hasn't finished a season without home ice in the playoffs since 1998. When you build a team with such continuous success and consistency, you build a team that recovers quickly from graduation losses and moves forward with little hesitation. Expect Harvard's two forward, two defense, and single goalie freshmen to gel with the team quickly and help propel Harvard in another fight for the top end of the league's standings.

*****

Union
  • Last Season's Record: 2-29-3, 1-19-2 ECAC (12th)
  • Key Players: Kate Gallagher (G, Sr), Lauren Hoffman (F, Jr), Lauren Cromartie (D, Sr)
  • Last Season vs. RPI: 4-1 RPI (12/3 in Schenectady), 3-3 Tie (12/4 in Troy)
  • 2011-2012 games: 1/27 in Schenectady, 1/28 in Troy
  • 2011-2012 Preseason Coaches' Poll: 12th
Long occupying the bottom of the ECAC ladder, it may not be likely that Union makes much of a jump forward this year, but that's not to say the team isn't making strides in the right direction. Under the leadership of head coach Claudia Asano Barcomb and assistants Julie Chu and Ali Boe, the Dutchwomen are slowly but surely building a team that can challenge for a playoff spot.

The Dutchwomen return much of last season's team, but also some significant additions in this year's incoming class. Goaltender Shanae Lundberg, a former USA U-18 player, continues Union's trend of recruiting solid goaltending that can hold them in games, while Syracuse transfer Talia Menard will look to emulate some of her twin sister's success in leading the Orange in scoring last season.

Like Brown, Union has a long road ahead to climb out of the basement, but the dedication of the coaching staff to building Union into a contender is undeniable. Only time will tell how it will pay off.

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