The Plattsburgh State women’s hockey team honored its seniors and regained the top spot in the Division III PairWise rankings as it earned two more conference shutouts last weekend in a home-and-home series with SUNY Potsdam.
The Cardinals (20-2-0, 14-0-0) will look to wrap up a potentially perfect record in Northeast Women’s Hockey League play with a pair of afternoon games at last-placed Buffalo State (6-14-2, 3-9-1) today and tomorrow.
PSUC will then finish up the regular season at home against Middlebury College (20-5-3), ranked No. 7 in the PairWise rankings, Tuesday at 7 p.m., after that game was rescheduled from Feb. 12 due to weather conditions.
While the Cards have already locked up the top seed in the NEWHL playoffs, Buffalo State has everything to play for. The Bengals are currently in fifth place, three points behind the fourth and final spot in the conference playoffs.
PSUC aims to finish with a perfect 16-0-0 conference record, after setting a 15-0-1 mark in the league’s inaugural season a year ago.
After the trip to Buffalo, the Cards then play at home Tuesday against the NESCAC-leading Panthers. Compared to Buffalo State and Potsdam, Middlebury represents a steep rise in quality of opposition.
PSUC head coach Kevin Houle said his team will need to adjust quickly to the level of play, but said the payoff would be great if they can do that.
“You like to play those games toward the end of the season,” Houle said. “It gets you in that playoff mode.”
The short turnaround before the Middlebury game is not a concern for senior forward Mackenzie Millen.
“It’s always fun to have a game during the week,” Millen said. “It switches the momentum up.”
PSUC currently holds the top position in the PairWise over St. Thomas, but that lead is narrow given the Tommies’ 21-0-2 record. Sophomore forward Annie Katonka said the margin for error in the race for that No.1 seed is slim.
“Looking ahead, we know it will hurt us overall if we lose,” Katonka said.
The Cards enter these final three games of the regular season coming off a pair of shutouts against Potsdam (8-11-3, 5-6-2) last weekend. PSUC began with a 7-0 win on the road Friday before a home-ice 4-0 victory Saturday afternoon.
Katonka scored three goals and provided two assists on her way NEWHL player of the week honors. The Cards swept the conference awards, as freshman forward Taylor Whitney was named rookie of the week and senior goaltender Kassi Abbott earned her seventh goaltender of the week award this season.
Despite the scorelines and accolades, the games featured a number of lapses by the PSUC defense that allowed the Bears to get quality breakaway chances, although senior goaltender Kassi Abbott was up to the challenge each time.
“We were still pretty good offensively,” Houle said. “We were just making some bad decisions with the puck.”
Houle said these defensive breakdowns are a concern heading toward the postseason, where tougher opposition could make the Cards pay for their mistakes, particularly with the speed of a team like Middlebury.
“You saw it in the Amherst game [Feb. 2],” Houle said. “We gave up a couple of breakaways and the puck was in the back of the net. We’ll have to clean some things up, take better care of the puck and make better decisions.
Houle praised Potsdam for playing well despite having a short bench. The Bears have an incomplete roster even when healthy, and several injuries meant they played the weekend’s games with only 11 skaters against PSUC’s allotment of 19.
Katonka acknowledged that staying focused can be a challenge against tired opposition like that.
“It can be difficult,” Katonka said. “But, at the same time, you need to realize what’s on the line. You can easily be not focused for a couple games and lose a couple points on a weekend.”
The home game on Saturday was Senior Day, where the Cards’ five seniors — Millen, Abbott, Courtney Moriarty, Maci Hoskins, and Ashley Songin — were honored before the game.
After this season, Katonka said, these players will be missed as much for their play on the ice as for their presence in the locker room.
“They’re amazing,” Katonka said. “They’re such good people on and off the ice. They’re such great examples for everyone in the locker room.”
Houle was happy to honor the senior class, but stressed that the work was not yet done for the five of them.
“They’re another senior class that’s had a lot of success, with two national championships,” Houle said. “They’re obviously looking for a third.”