Thursday, May 30, 2024

High hopes for women’s hockey

By Liam Sample

Despite finishing third in the country, it still felt like a disappointing end to last season for the No. 3 Plattsburgh women’s ice hockey team. 

The Cardinals begin its 2022-2023 regular season today, playing the Morrisville Mustangs on the road at 4 p.m. It will play the Mustangs again tomorrow at 1 p.m., with both games counting toward the conference season. 

“The message certainly is unfinished business,” Assistant Coach Julia Duquette said. “The goal is to always be contending for a national championship every year.”

Duquette enters her fourth season as Assistant Coach. The team’s head coach, Kevin Houle, begins his 20th season at the helm.

After the  pandemic caused the cancellation of the 2020 national playoffs and the 2020-2021 season, last year was the Cardinals true chance to repeat as national champions. The team won the championship in 2019, being the fifth title in six years dating back to 2014.

 Plattsburgh put together a spectacular regular season last year, finishing 22-2-1. The Cardinals faced its biggest setback in the Cardinal/Panther Classic, the team’s tournament at home. It lost to the Endicott College Gulls in overtime to start the tournament and fell again in extra time to the Elmira College Soaring Eagles. 

The team rallied, going on to beat Elmira 4-3 two weeks later and went 16-0-1 to finish the regular season. 

“We ran into a lot of adversity last year in a lot of places and we did the best we could with it,” graduate student goaltender Ashley Davis said. “This year we’re more prepared. We learned a lot from those experiences and we have a new perspective on things.”

In the North Eastern Women’s Hockey League Playoffs, Plattsburgh began with a 8-0 win over the Potsdam Bears to advance to the championship round. The Cardinals took on the Cortland Red Dragons at home with these teams tying previously in the regular season. 

After regulation, the game was tied 3-3. Less than a minute into overtime, Nicole Unsworth scored a dramatic breakaway goal for the team’s ninth straight season winning its conference. The win advanced Plattsburgh to the National Playoffs.

In the NCAA Quarterfinals, the Cardinals took down the Colby College Mules 3-2 in overtime, with graduate student Annie Katonka scoring the golden goal to send the team to the Final Four. 

Plattsburgh went on to lose to the Gustavus Adolphus Gusties 1-5 in the national semifinals before beating Elmira to finish in third place nationally. 

“Everybody’s always gunning for us,” captain and graduate student Sara Krauseneck said. “Knowing that and that we did get taken out in the final four, it definitely leaves us a bit bitter.”

Plattsburgh had a busy offseason, as the team graduated Katonka and Erin McArdle, who both were CCM/AHCA First Team All-Americans. Katonka led all of Division III in goals last year with 34 and is second in program history in career goals. 

“Annie [Katonka] put up a lot of points, no getting around that, but I think it’s going to be a very team oriented game,” Junior forward Mae Olshansky said. “Everybody is going to have to do their part to get there.”

Krauseneck and Duquette said that it will fall on a combination of the returners, alongside the underclassman and transfers to help fill Katonka’s impact on the scoresheet. 

McArdle is the all time program leader in points among defenders, tallying 26 last year. Graduate student and assistant captain Sierra Benjamin played alongside McArdle for three seasons. 

“It’s going to be different finding someone and creating rhythm with them,” Benjamin said. “I believe in our defense and I’ll be able to play with anyone, they’ll be able to play with me and I think it will all be good. Definitely missing Erin [McArdle] a little bit on the ice.”

Plattsburgh is welcoming seven first-years and two transfers to the team. 

“We’ve got underclassmen that are here and willing to work and to buy into everything that Cardinal Hockey is,” Duquette said.

Krauseneck says this influx of new players will help out with the team’s depth and Olshansky said that they bring a lot of energy. 

On offense, the team has 16 forwards, with 12 returning players from last season. These include Krauseneck, Olshansky, junior Rivers Morris, graduate student and assistant captain Holly Schmelzer, sophomore Riley Calhoun, senior Tatem Cheney, senior Ivy Boric, Unsworth, sophomore Bridget Orr, junior Jordan Kowalski and sophomore Lily Stumm. 

Krauseneck had 21 goals and 34 assists last season, the most assists in a single season in program history. Unsworth was third on the team in goals with 20, while Boric put up 47 points last year. Olshansky had the most goals among players in their first year with 14 in 29 games. 

Senior Julia Masotta and junior Ciara Wall transferred to the team from Norwich University and the University of New Hampshire respectively. Wall had seven points in 36 games played, while Masotta had 26 points in 23 games last season. 

Alongside the experienced players, the offense has two first years, Emma McLean and Grace Yarkosky. Krauseneck said that the forward core is “deep this year.”

“I think that it’s going to be a tough offense to face really. I think we got it all, I’d say it’s well rounded,” Krauseneck said. “We got a lot of depth that we might not have had last year and I think we’ll have a lot of contributions from all lines.”

On the other side of the ice, the defensive core saw some change, with only four players from last year’s squad on the roster. Benjamin, senior and assistant captain Kendall Wasik, sophomore Mattie Norton and senior Mack Emery are the tenured pieces of the defensive core. 

Benjamin made the 2021-2022 CCM/ACHA All-American Second Team, having 22 points in 29 games. Wasik led the team in blocks with 56 and had the highest plus/minus last year among returning defenders. Norton tallied 28 points last season, the highest point total between the Cardinal defenders. 

The team added four new pieces to the defense, Aizah Thompson, Francesca Caterina, Taya Balfour and Su-An Cho. Duquette, a former defender for the Cardinals, mentioned that the team “lost a lot defensively” over the offseason. However, Duquette said the new defenders bring a lot to the table for the team.

“We’re definitely younger, but I think that’ll work in our benefit. We have a lot of teaching to do,” Benjamin said. “[The newcomers] are very skilled, they’re really fast. We have more of an offensive-defenseman mindset this year.” 

All three goalies on the team last year returned this season. Davis, senior Chloe Beaubien and senior Lilla Nease will hold it down in between the posts this season. 

“It’s not too often where you see three upperclassmen goalies,” Davis said. “We’ve all had a fair amount of playing time in the past. I think you’ll see us compete hard for that [starting] spot.”

Both Beaubien and Davis played in 14 games last season, with Beaubien starting one more game. Davis had a 1.54 goals allowed average and a 9-1-1 record, while Beaubien had a 1.67 goals allowed average for a 12-1-0 record. Beaubien began the playoffs as the starter until the loss to Gustavus Adolphus, where Davis came in and played the final 37 minutes of the game. 

Nease appeared in seven games last season and started the third place game against Elmira, making 18 saves for the final Plattsburgh win of the season. She finished her junior season with a 5-1-0 record. 

Davis spoke of the team’s addition of Kassi Abbott as the goaltending coach for this season. Abbott played for the team from 2015-2019 and was a first-team All American. According to Davis, Abbott has conducted “off-ice mental toughness training” this season for the goalies, along with on-ice work. 

“It’s really exciting to have her back on the team and helping out,” Davis said. “That’ll be a new feature for our team and super helpful for the goaltending department specifically.”

The team began its 2022-2023 season with two exhibition games, against the Division I Saint Micheals’ Purple Knights, winning 2-1 on the road and 6-0 in front of a home crowd, where the team scored two goals in the first minute of the game. These games were in back to back days. 

The schedule is sprinkled with tough competition, including a game against the Norwich University Cadets at home Nov. 15.

One of the biggest tournaments of the season, the Busters Cardinal/Panther Classic, will take place at home Nov. 26 to Nov. 27. The Cardinals will begin by taking on the No. 7 University of Wisconsin-River Falls Falcons. Following this game, the team will either play a consolation or championship match against No. 4 Elmira or No. 1 Middlebury Panthers, the reigning National Champions.

The team will play in another tournament, the Norwich East-West Hockey Classic Dec. 10 and 11. It will first be matched up with No. 4 Elmira, before playing in a consolation or championship game against the No. 10 Norwich or No. 11 Adrian Bulldogs. Plattsburgh won this tournament last season and will be the last games before winter break. 

The Cardinals will return Jan. 10 against the No. 1 Middlebury Panthers on the road, a huge matchup. It will return home Jan. 13 for a weekend series against the Oswego Lakers. Plattsburgh plays Cortland at home Feb. 3 and Feb. 4 and finishes its season at Buffalo State on Feb. 18, taking on the Bengals. The team’s last home regular season game comes Feb. 10 against the Canton Kangaroos. Duquette says Plattsburgh will bring “team speed” and play “more disciplined” than last year. It begins the season ranked as the third highest team in the country.

Duquette said the ranking is where the Cardinals should be and it isn’t something the team “harps on.” She added that the team doesn’t talk or call attention to the national rankings and “doesn’t know if our girls are aware that the preseason polls came out.”

“We’re here to play the next game and to win the next battle,” Duquette said.

Going into the season, Plattsburgh has qualified for nine straight national semifinals and looks to extend the streak on top of going after the eighth national championship in the program’s history. The team’s home opener takes place Nov. 11 at 3 p.m against the Potsdam Bears. 

“Everyone really wants to take what we believe is ours with the national championship,” Olshansky said. “We all [are] determined to make that happen this year.”

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