DURHAM, N.H. -- Great expectations. That certainly embodies the 2006-07 University of New Hampshire women’s ice hockey team, which returns 17 letterwinners – including three All-America selections and a Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award Top 10 Finalist – from a team that finished with a school-record 33 victories last season.
Among those great expectations are a fourth Hockey East regular-season title and a successful defense of the league tournament crown. And, of course, a repeat visit to the NCAA Women’s Ice Hockey Championship and advancement to the Frozen Four.
The Wildcats return an abundance of talented forwards with a myriad of skills. Included in that talent pool are two 2006 All-America selections, a 2006 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award Top 10 Finalist and the 2006 Hockey East Rookie of the Year.
Nicole Hekle was a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award and named Best Defensive Forward by USCHO.com. The second-year captain recorded 12 goals, including three game-winning tallies, and 21 assists for 33 points.
Jennifer Hitchcock, one of three captains this season, garnered All-America Second Team honors as she led the nation in points (1.78 ppg), ranked No. 2 in assists (0.97 apg) and No. 3 in goals (0.81 gpg) in 2006. Hitchcock was the team leader in all three of those offensive statistics as well as power-play goals (14), shorthanded goals (two) and game-winning goals (five).
Sadie Wright-Ward garnered All-America First Team and Hockey East Player of the Year honors as a sophomore in 2006, when she ranked No. 4 in the nation in points (1.65 ppg) as well as No. 6 in assists (0.89) and No. 7 in goals (0.76). She ranked second on the team in those three stats as well as in power-play goals (eight) and game-winning goals (four).
Sam Faber is coming off a highly-decorated first season as a collegian in which she was named Hockey East Rookie of the Year. Faber ranked No. 7 in the nation in points (1.38 ppg) as well as No. 10 in assists (0.78) and No. 17 in goals (0.59), and she led the Wildcats in plus/minus with a +46 rating.
The trio of Hitchcock, Wright-Ward and Faber skated together for the final 16 games of the 2006 season and proved nearly unstoppable. They combined to produce 44 goals and 58 assists for an average of 6.38 points per game.
The senior triumvirate of Lindsey Caleo, Shannon Clement and Jackie Wedster provides great speed and depth.
Caleo ended the 2006 regular season with a scoring surge as she produced seven points in the last 10 games. For the season, she had six goals and 12 assists for 18 points.
Clement, in her first full season as a forward, recorded double digits in both goals (18) and assists (10) for a total of 28 points with three game-winning goals and one game-tying goal. She was the only player in Hockey East to record two hat tricks in ‘06.
Wedster missed the first half of the 2006 season but returned to the lineup with a vengeance with a two-point game, including the game-winning tally, vs. nationally-ranked Harvard. In 22 games, she recorded 12 points.
Leah Craig has been one of the team’s top point producers each of her two years as a Wildcat. Last season she ranked 18th in the nation in both goals (0.59 per game) and power-play goals (seven). She led the ‘Cats with an impressive .241 shooting percentage and was also among the leaders in goals (20; 4th) and points (25; 5th).
Taylor Palazeti looks to regain her rookie form of 2005 in which she recorded 15 goals and 12 assists. Last season she produced 13 points.
Angela Taylor brings a physical presence to the front line. The international product from Scotland recorded 12 points on three goals and nine assists as a rookie in ‘06.
Even with the return of 10 letterwinners to the corps of forwards, the Wildcats welcome four newcomers: Steph Holmes, Micaela Long, Kelly Paton and Shannon Sisk.
UNH’s defensive unit is led by second-year captain and 2006 All-America selection Martine Garland and includes unheralded players such as Nicole Goguen, Diana Saly and Maggie Joyce.
Garland returned from an injury redshirt season in ‘05 to lead all defensemen in scoring in 2006 at 1.09 points per game, a mark that ranked No. 25 overall; she also ranked third overall in assists at 0.94 per game.
Goguen and Saly, both juniors, are defensive defensemen who are invaluable for their hockey savvy. Goguen contributed nine points on offense and that included a goal in the Frozen Four semifinal game. Saly split time between the blue line and as a forward in ‘06, but saw the majority of her playing time on defense.
Kacey Bellamy was overlooked on the league’s 2006 All-Rookie Team ballot but did join Faber on the All-USCHO Rookie Team. She was the team’s highest-rated blue liner in plus/minus (and tied for third overall) at +39 and also led her compatriots in goals with eight.
Joyce is another defensive defenseman and is a towering presence on the ice. She netted one of her three goals in the NCAA first round victory against Harvard.
Courtney Sheary is the lone newcomer to this unit in 06-07.
In goal, UNH boasts two experienced seniors and welcomes one newcomer.
Melissa Bourdon had a record-breaking 2006 season in which she shattered the NCAA record for lowest GAA in a season (1.18). She also broke the UNH benchmarks for consecutive shutouts (five) and consecutive shutout minutes (341:49), and tied the single-season win record with 28.
Bourdon led the nation in wins and winning percentage (.891), ranked No. 2 in GAA, No. 4 in minutes and No. 10 in save percentage (.924).
She captured the Hockey East Goaltending Champion title for the third time in as many years and was equally impressive against nationally-ranked teams with a 9-1-0 record, 1.30 GAA, .926 save percentage and two shutouts.
Brittany Busa once again proved very effective when called upon during the 2006 season. In five games (all starts), she compiled a 5-0-0 record with a 0.80 GAA, .929 save percentage and three shutouts. In Hockey East league action, Busa ranked third in shutouts with three.
Lucy Schoedel is the newcomer and is expected to battle for playing time coming out of Ithaca (N.Y.) High School.
New Hampshire takes its first step towards Lake Placid – site of the 2007 Women’s Frozen Four – in the last weekend of September with a two-game home series against Niagara University.
The Wildcats then return to Minneapolis, Minn., where the ‘Cats competed in the 2006 Women’s Frozen Four, to battle Bemidji State (Oct. 6) and the University of Minnesota (Oct. 7) at Ridder Arena.
One week after UNH makes its farthest trip to the west, the team reaches the eastern-most destination on the 2006-07 schedule: Orono, Maine. The Wildcats open the Hockey East portion of their schedule Oct. 14 with that battle against intrastate rival University of Maine, which the ‘Cats ousted from the 2006 Hockey East Championship.
New Hampshire then faces off against one of just three teams to defeat the Wildcats in 05-06 when the Wildcats play host to Brown University on Oct. 20.
UNH and Hockey East runner-up (both regular season and tourney) Boston College play home-and-home in a seven-day span in late October-early November. The ‘Cats play host to Boston University between those matchups.
St. Lawrence University, another team from the ‘06 Frozen Four, travels to Durham for a two-game set Nov. 11-12.
The UNH women’s ice hockey team will spend Thanksgiving in Durham and hold the UNH Tournament Nov. 24-25. The tourney features two teams from Hockey East and two from the CHA and gets underway on the 24th when Boston College plays Mercyhurst. UNH plays Wayne State on the opening day and ends the tourney vs. Mercyhurst.
Before the student-athletes break for exams, they face off against Vermont and traditional ECAC powers Harvard and Dartmouth in December.
The Wildcats resume the season Jan. 6 at UConn, then Maine comes to town for a two-game series. UNH’s last non-conference matchup of the regular season is Jan. 20 at Dartmouth.
A stretch of 11 consecutive games vs. Hockey East foes starts Jan. 27 against longtime rival Providence College. The teams face off again Jan. 28, this time at the Whittemore Center, and UNH closes out January with a road trip to Boston University.
The regular season ends with a two-game set at Vermont in the last weekend of February.
The postseason begins in March. And for the Wildcats, it would mean being at home for the 2007 Hockey East Championship, which will be played at UNH’s Whittemore Center on March 3-4.
The 2007 NCAA Women’s Ice Hockey Championship begins March 9-11 with four on-campus quarterfinal games. The Women’s Frozen Four will be held March 16-18 at Lake Placid, N.Y.