This season starts with a familiar refrain.
The Plattsburgh State women’s hockey team is once again starting its season as the reigning Division III national champions.
The Cardinals lost some core pieces in their graduating class of six seniors last spring. Among them were Division III’s winningest goalie in history, Camille Leonard, and their captain, defenseman Erin Brand.
For head coach Kevin Houle, this is just business as usual.
“You need your upperclassmen to continue to improve, and you need to have your incoming freshmen compete,” Houle said. “It’ll take some time for it to come together but that’s the natural process of things, it happens every year.”
PSUC will be looking to break its own NCAA Division III women’s hockey record as it goes for its fifth straight national title.
The Cards’ biggest offensive threat from last season will be returning, and this time with a letter on her jersey.
Senior forward Melissa Sheeran was voted captain by her teammates after a season that saw her put up 45 points (33 goals, 14 assists) in 29 games played, but it was more than that that got her here.
“She supports her teammates all the time,” Houle said. “She was voted captain not just for her own ability, but because she can lead and support her teammates.”
Sheeran was happy to earn the position but was also proud to have the support of her teammates.
“Coming in freshman year I always wanted to have this position,” Sheeran said. “It feels good that the team looks up to me that way.”
Junior forward Courtney Moriarty and junior defenseman Maci Hoskins were named the team’s new assistant captains.
The new class of recruits includes eight freshmen, three defensemen and five forwards, and one senior goalie transfer.
No games have been played, but the team seems to have already gelled.
“Coach always does a good job recruiting girls that he thinks will fit in with the team,” Houle said. “They came in and gelled with the team right away, and I think that it’s going to show on the ice.”
On the heels of losing Leonard, senior goalie Brooke Wolejko is joining the team as a transfer from a Division I school in St. Lawrence University to help junior goalie Kassi Abbott with her workload in the crease.
“She wanted an opportunity to play, so she ended up here for one year,” Houle said. “It should be a good transition for us to have her and Kassi (Abbott) competing for ice time in net.”
The chance to earn her place was big for Wolejko, and she’s enjoyed her time here so far.
“When I talked to coach and he gave me the opportunity to come in and earn my spot, it meant a lot,” Wolejko said. “Everyone’s been really welcoming.”
This year will also mark the first season that PSUC will compete in the newly-formed Northeastern Women’s Hockey League (NEWHL). The league will consist of five former ECAC West teams, Buffalo State, SUNY Cortland, Oswego State, Plattsburgh State and SUNY Potsdam, losing five teams from the old conference.
Houle expects that the season will go well, but was disappointed to lose some challenging opponents.
“It won’t change much, we’ll be playing teams that we played last year,” Houle said. “There won’t be teams like Elmira or Utica, so the league won’t be as strong, but it is what it is.”
The Cards kick off their season this weekend with an exhibition game against Castleton on Saturday and a non-conference game against Utica Sunday. Both games will be at home at 3 p.m., and there will be a banner-raising ceremony for the team’s latest national championship before Sunday’s game.
“We don’t take any games lightly even if they’re non-conference,” Sheeran said. “We’re going to look to get our systems down, get the freshmen involved and start the season off well.”
Email Ben Watson at firstname.lastname@example.org