The University of New Hampshire women's ice hockey team is in an unfamiliar role at the outset of the 2011 season. Underdog.
The Wildcats have advanced to the NCAA Women's Ice Hockey Championship tournament each of the last five years, have finished first or second in the Hockey East standings all eight years of the league's existence and were not ranked lower than No. 7 in the nation last season.
UNH returns 17 letterwinners, including everyone on the blue line and both goaltenders, from last year's team. But people outside of Durham aren't expecting the 'Cats to continue that success this season. The league coaches picked New Hampshire fourth. The Wildcats were selected 10th in one national poll and were unranked in the other; it marked the first time since October 2002 that UNH was unranked.
Under the guidance of ninth-year head coach Brian McCloskey, UNH may be reloading its offensive arsenal but the defensive unit will make the Wildcats a formidable foe for any team.
It is an understatement to state UNH has experience on defense. The Wildcats boast senior captains Courtney Birchard, Raylen Dziengelewski and Courtney Sheary in addition to sophomores Katie Brock and Kailey Chappell. Bryanna Farris, another second-year player, saw ice time as both a defenseman and forward last season.
Birchard was a 2010 RBK/AHCA All-America Second Team and Hockey East First Team All-Star selection despite missing the last six games of the season. As a converted forward, she provides an offensive dynamic to the blue line. Birchard ranked fifth in the nation in defenseman scoring (0.81 points per game) as well as 16th in game-winning goals and 17th in power-play goals. Her season totals included 22 points on nine goals and 13 assists.
Sheary and Dziengelewski are more of the traditional defensive-minded skaters, but both are adept at transitioning into offense by carrying the puck out of the defensive zone or executing a tape-to-tape pass into the neutral zone. Sheary skated in all 33 games last season and recorded personal single-season bests in both assists (seven) and points (eight). Dziengelewski also played in all 33 games and tied (with Birchard) for third on the team in assists (13) and sixth in points (13).
Brock and Chappell are seasoned veterans after just one season as a Wildcat. Both logged lots of ice time last season in a multitude of situations – even strength, power play and penalty kill – to return with a wealth of experience.
Farris opened her rookie season of 2010 on the blue line, then skated 10 of the last 12 games of the year as a forward. She recorded all three points (1g, 2a) as a defenseman.
The one newcomer to the defensive unit is freshman Margaret Hunt.
New Hampshire has two proven players between the pipes and can rely on both any given day.
Senior goalie Kayley Herman went 8-4-3 in 16 games (14 starts) last season. She also had a 1.88 GAA and .913 save percentage with three shutouts. In 75 career games, Herman is 51-13-9 (.760 win percentage) with a 1.65 GAA, .918 save percentage and 14 shutouts.
As a freshman in 2008, Herman broke the school single-season records for wins (29) and GAA (1.07); her .938 save percentage ranks third.
On UNH's career leaderboard, Herman ranks third in GAA and fifth in both save percentage and shutouts. She is also fourth in minutes (4447:31) and will ascend into a tie for fourth place (with Cathy Narsiff and Dina Solimini) with her next victory, which will be number 52.
Junior netminder Lindsey Minton had an 11-5-2 record in 19 games (all starts) a year ago. Her other statistics included a 1.91 GAA, .908 save percentage and two shutouts.
Minton has a 21-5-2 record (.786
winning percentage) with a 1.84 GAA, .911 save percentage and three
shutouts in 31 total games (29 starts) the previous two years.
UNH lost its top two point producers – Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award Top 3 Finalist and All-America First Team selection Kelly Paton as well as Micaela Long, who tied Paton for the team lead in points with 51 – from the 2010 season.
The sophomore duo of Kristina Lavoie and Kristine Horn will be expected to climb to the top of this year's scoring list. Lavoie, the 2010 Bauer Hockey East Rookie of the Year, ranked ninth in the nation in rookie scoring a year ago at 0.88 points per game with 29 points (18g, 11a) in 33 games. Lavoie ranked 10th in the nation in power-play goals with a team-high seven. She also ranked second on the team in goals as well as third in points, plus/minus (+10) and shooting percentage (.175). And as a freshman, Lavoie's 11-game goal-scoring streak was the longest by any Wildcat since the 1991 season.
Horn tallied eight goals and 13 assists for 21 points in 33 games a year ago. With those numbers, she tied for third on the team in assists and ranked fifth in points. She also ranked fifth in power-play goals with five. Horn proved to be the consummate team player in the 2010 season by making the conversion to defenseman for the last six games due to the injury to Birchard, and she provided an offensive dynamic from the blue line in those games.
Julie Allen, a senior, emerged as a scoring threat for the UNH in the 2010 season – her second as a Wildcat – and recorded a team-best .192 shooting percentage. She was one of four 'Cats to record double digits in goals and her total of 10 ranked fourth. With three assists, her total of 13 points tied for sixth overall. Allen's emergence was notable in the second half of the season, when she tallied a point in eight of the last 16 regular-season games.
Molly Morrison enters her final collegiate season in 2011. She joined the UNH program last season and tallied three points, all on goals, in 32 games. Morrison was a two-year letterwinner at UVM, where she compiled 13 goals (10 power-play goals) and 14 assists for 27 points in 68 games. She has played in more collegiate games (100) than any other Wildcat.
Sarah Cuthbert was a defenseman prior to her arrival in Durham, but she made the switch at the outset of the '09 season and skated as a forward again in '10. Cuthbert increased her totals from 2-1-3 as a freshman to 3-4-7 last season. She will be looked upon to continue that upward progression as a junior in 2011.
Emma Clark enters her junior year in 2011. Last year – her first as a Wildcat after skating for St. Lawrence in 2009 – Clark skated in 29 of 33 games. She makes an impact on the ice with her speed and tenacity.
A trio of other sophomores is also expected to make a bigger impact in point production this season. Brittany Skudder, who was sidelined in 2009 due to a pre-season injury, skated in 28 of 33 games as a freshman in 2010 and tallied 13 points on five goals and eight assists. Paige Goloubef skated in 32 games a year ago and totaled two points (1g, 1a) while Katie Kleinendorst played in 29 games overall, including both postseason games.
New Hampshire begins the quest for its first NCAA national championship October 2 with a Hockey East league road game against UConn, a team that lost in overtime of the league tournament title game.
The Wildcats then play eight consecutive games, including back-to-back road trips, against teams from the Empire State.
The stretch begins October 8 at Syracuse, a team UNH defeated by a one-goal margin at the Whittemore Center last fall. One day later the 'Cats face off against Colgate, which defeated UNH the last time these teams battled at Starr Rink. New Hampshire returns to New York the following weekend for games against Rensselaer and Union.
After opening the season with five road games, UNH plays five straight at home. That homestand begins October 22 against Clarkson and the 'Cats face off against St. Lawrence on the 23rd.
UNH closes the month of October with a two-game homestand against Niagara, then the Wildcats open November at home vs. Vermont on the 6th.
The 'Cats close out the season series vs. UConn with a home-and-home set against the Huskies on November 13-14. UNH then travels to Lewiston, Maine, on November 23 for a road game against the Maine Black Bears.
The 'Cats then entertain Boston foes Boston College and Northeastern and travel to face 2010 Hockey East regular-season champion Providence College.
UNH plays host to regional rivals Harvard (December 9) and Dartmouth (December 11) to close out the 2010 calendar year.
The 2011 calendar year starts with a home game vs. Northeastern and continues with a home-and-home series vs. Providence.
New Hampshire plays its final non-conference game of the regular season January 18 at Quinnipiac, then closes out the schedule with nine league games.
The 2011 postseason commences with the Hockey East Championship Tournament. The quarterfinal round games, which involve the third through six seeds, will be played the weekend of Feb. 26-27. The tourney continues March 5-6 at the site of the No. 1 seed.
NCAA postseason play begins March 11-12 with four quarterfinal games on campus sites. The winners advance to the Frozen Four, which will take playce March 18 & 20 at Tulio Arena (Erie, Pa.).