For the Plattsburgh State women’s hockey team, the 2018-19 season will begin like no season has in five years: returning players won’t be getting new rings.
After losing the NCAA Division III Championship consolation game to Hamline University last March, the Cardinals finished fourth in the nation, ending a four-year streak of national titles.
For most teams, that would be an admirable finish.
But PSUC isn’t most teams.
“We’ll still have the same goal, and that is to get back to the national championship and win it all,” head coach Kevin Houle said. “From a coaching standpoint, we want to get back there, and the players are all on board. It’s our goal every year.”
The returning Cards will have some pretty big skates to fill after losing four seniors at the end of last season.
Forwards Melissa Sheeran and Kayla Meneghin, who had 374 points between them in their four years at PSUC, were lost up front while stay-at-home defenseman Lizzy Viola and goalie Brooke Wolejko were lost on the back end.
Houle knows that the losses of Sheeran and Meneghin will be tough to make up for offensively, but he has faith in his players.
“Obviously those are two very big losses,” Houle said. “They’re not going to be replaced in terms of numbers individually, but we hope to do that by committee, so to speak. Certainly the upperclassmen will have to step up.”
Among those upperclassmen is senior forward Courtney Moriarty, who will be looked to as the primary driver of the offense, this time with a “C” on her chest.
“She’s been a very very good player here for three years now,” Houle said. “She had a little dip as a sophomore, but really came back with a vengeance last year. She certainly deserved everything she got.”
Moriarty, who notched 30 goals and 16 assists for PSUC in 30 games last season, was happy to get the honor, but thinks things will be business as usual, for the most part.
“More of the team is going to look up to me,” Moriarty said. “I’ll just have to be that leader. Nothing is really going to change. I have two other captains right beside me, and we’ll just have to be those leaders that the team needs.”
Houle also expects some steps up from the returning juniors and sophomores and said that, despite the championship loss, the younger players still took a lot of valuable experience from last March.
“Our sophomores are a very strong group,” Houle said. “They’re all hard workers, and they all played a fair amount last year. There’s a bunch of good leaders in there as well.”
Houle named sophomore center Annie Katonka, who scored two goals in last season’s final game and 12 in the season as a whole, as one of the returning sophomores who will be looked upon to continue producing in the forward group.
The Cards will also see a crop of nine freshmen coming in this year: six new forwards, two new defensemen and a new goalie.
When it comes to the loss of Viola on the blueline, Houle is confident that the new recruits will help give a boost, while he’ll be looking to sophomore defenseman Erin McArdle to anchor the defense.
“I’m kind of excited about our D this year,” Houle said. “I think we have two freshmen coming in this year who are going to vie for serious playing time.”
From Moriarty’s viewpoint, all of the new faces have settled in just fine.
“They’ve been really good,” Moriarty said. “It’s a big class, so they kind of all piggyback of each other, and they fit right in with us. Our teams a lot bigger now, and that’s a good thing to have.”
Freshman goalie Ashley Davis will be fitting in behind senior goalie Kassi Abbott.
With Abbott coming off of a 14-2-1 season with a .950 save percentage and 1.17 goals against average, Houle was pretty straightforward about the goalie situation.
“She’s gonna have to lose her job,” Houle said. “Kassi had a great year last year, platooning with Brooke. They both played outstanding, so certainly it’s Kassi’s job.”
The Cards head into their first exhibition action this Saturday against SUNY Canton at home at 3 p.m.
Heading into the start of the season, there’s one clear motive that the upperclassmen have gotten through to the freshmen: a National Championship.
“One of the first things we talked about on the ice for the first practice was that the only thing missing is another banner,” Moriarty said.
The team is looking to use its first game to get a feeling for each other and establish some new chemistry that will bring them to a new banner.
“We’re hoping to have fun,” Moriarty said. “We’re definitely expecting to come out on top, but we’ll be looking to have fun and see how everyone works together. This will just be the start.”
Email Ben Watson at firstname.lastname@example.org