As we prepare for the upcoming trip to Madison Wisconsin to play the Badgers, the team continues to make small but steady strides. Our coaching staff have seen a number of very positive signs this first month, even on nights when we haven’t secured the desired results. There remains a lot to look forward to as we head into the teeth of a highly competitive non league and Hockey East schedule. The challenge remains to continue improving between now and our early December break for exams and the holiday.
It’s still far too early to draw too many conclusions from our first five contests, but there are signs that this will be one of our most balanced teams in recent memory. Collectively we’re generating a far greater number of quality scoring chances than last season. Undoubtedly our most difficult test to date was last weekend’s series with Boston College. Earning a split with the Eagles was a significant step in the right direction. Both games were highly contested and even in the 5-2 loss on Sunday down at the Heights, it was clear that we put ourselves in a position to earn a win that day. Offense is coming from up front and the blueline this year and across all classes. This years squad isn’t likely to be prolific offensively but we’re more than capable of generating enough offense to win most nights.
Defensively all our coaches agree that we’re seeing some significant progress and development even over the past two weeks. Our blueline defenders this year are likewise a balanced group. Deeper in both number and talent this season, they’re gaining confidence with each contest and learning from the typical early season mistakes. I should add that we have a committed forward group lending great backpressure and defensive support versus the rush and in the defensive zone. We still have a long way to go, but the journey is underway.
Goaltending has made some great progress this first month as well. Coach Stuart Frye joined our staff as a new volunteer coaching member and he’s doing a fantastic job with our netminders. Stuart has professional playing experience in the net as well as an accomplished son who is playing the position for US National Development program in Ann Arbor. To date, freshman Vilma Vaattovaara has seen the lion share of the action in net and she’s given us an opportunity to win with steady and consistent play.
Special teams have been evolving over this first month and I’m confident that we can once again be highly effective on both power play and short hand. Stephanie has done a terrific job preparing and working with our penalty killers. The ability to win the special teams battle is critical, especially given how tight each contest is and I expect more of the same given the parity we’re seeing all across the country.
This weekend will be another challenging test as we head into Madison to face the Badgers. I love playing Mark’s teams because of their up tempo style. Coming off of our weekend series with Boston College, I’m expecting we’ll see another up and down series with plenty of pressure being generated by both sides. I’m excited to see the Badgers new facility which I’m sure will be a tremendous venue for our sport.
I can’t say enough about our leadership to date. Our two senior defensemen, Kailey Chappell and Katie Brock have been pro actively leading the way and working hard to keep this young squad on an even keel. With almost half our squad consisting of newcomers this year that is no small feat.
Two freshman forwards have been red hot for us this first month. Sara Carlson and Jonna Curtis have lead our offense early on and both are dynamic talents from Minnesota. Unfortunately Jonna suffered a fracture this past weekend and will be out of action for the coming month.
Seniors Kristina Lavoie and Kristine Horn have also been a consistent offensive threat for us. Kristine began the season on the blue line where she made a huge contribution last year. Her versatility and high skill set have enabled her to move seamlessly back up front when asked and she continues to play a big role on special teams.
Nicole Gifford has been fighting a nagging groin injury but continues to be as reliable a two way player as I’ve ever coached. Her combination of high hockey IQ and work ethic make her the perfect foil for the oppositions top scorers, a role she’s played reliably now for two years.
Hannah Armstrong has rebounded from her injury and redshirt season last year and is playing some of her best hockey in a Wildcat jersey. It’s great to see her back in action and making such a big contribution early on.
Two freshman blueliners have also made a big impact this first month. Alexis Crossley and Megan Armstrong have logged some huge minutes for freshmen and they’ve handled it admirably. Both project to be standouts within Hockey East as they continue to develop. Congrats to Alexis for being named Hockey East Rookie of the Week on Monday.
It’s always rewarding to see players make a significant step forward year to year and that is clearly the case with Jesse Ryan, a sophomore blueliner from Cloquet Minnesota. Defensemen face a much different challenge at the division one collegiate level and their development often takes more time and patience than any other position. Jesse has come a long way over the past 12 months and we’re thrilled to see her making such a big jump year to year.
Two junior forwards that are logging a lot of ice and playing a big part in our early season success are Jess Hitchcock and Arielle O’Neill. Jess is new to the squad this year after spending the last two seasons with Niagara. Both Jess and Arielle are strong two way players that make big contributions at both ends of the ice.
Other teammates have played some very strong hockey thus far including sophomores Jenna Lascelle, Kayla Mork and Caroline Broderick. Freshmen Britteny Redlick, Haley Breedlove and Lauren Kirwan are adjusting quickly and have the potential to really help boster our squad.
The upcoming series with Wisconsin and St Lawrence will prove to be big tests for how far we’ve come since late September.
I want to thank my players, our parents, boosters, supporters and friends for their kind words of support during this tough period for Karen and I. Rarely at a loss for words, I can’t tell you how much it means. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.