The University of New Hampshire women's ice hockey team, ranked 8th in one national poll and 9th in the other, goes back on the road this weekend to face off against Syracuse University (Oct. 8, 7 p.m.) and Colgate University (Oct 9, 4 p.m.).
UNH defeated Syracuse, 2-1, at the Whittemore Center last October in the first meeting between these programs. Following a scoreless and penalty-free first period, the Orange took a 1-0 lead early in the second stanza on a goal by former UNH Wildcat Stefanie Marty. SU carried that one-goal advantage into the third period, but the Wildcats scored a power-play goal at 11:56 of the final frame and another with eight seconds remaining in regulation to get the win. Courtney Birchard recorded two assists and Kayley Herman made 20 saves. UNH finished with a 35-21 shot advantage, 2-for-6 on the power play and 3-for-3 on the penalty kill.
New Hampshire has a 5-1-0 lifetime record, including last year's 4-0 win at home, against Colgate. The Raiders' only win occurred in UNH's most recent visit to Starr Rink in November 2008, when they prevailed 5-4 despite being outshot 47-25 (including 34-2 in the third period). In the other five games against the Wildcats, Colgate has scored a total of two goals.
In last year's game at the Whittemore Center, Birchard scored a power-play goal midway through the first period and that proved to be all the offense the 'Cats would need as Lindsey Minton recorded 10 saves in a 4-0 victory. UNH generated a 34-10 shot advantage and went 2-for-4 on the power play; the Wildcats were 7 of 7 – and yielded a total of just two shots – on the penalty kill.
HOCKEY EAST TEAM OF THE WEEK
Traditionally, Hockey East's weekly honors have included Player of the Week, Defensive Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week. This year, the league has introduced a Team of the Week honor, and UNH was the recipient of that award Oct. 4 in recognition of its 2-1 season-opening victory at UConn.
THE STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
New Hampshire opened the 2011 season Oct. 2 with a 2-1 win at Hockey East foe UConn. It marked the third consecutive year UNH's opener was against a league opponent and second straight year the 'Cats beat the Huskies.
October 2 marked the second earliest season opener in program history. The Wildcats played host to Niagara University on Sept. 29 & 30, 2006.
UNH returns 17 letterwinners from last year's team that finished second in the Hockey East standings and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the fifth consecutive year en route to an overall record of 19-9-5.
The Wildcats also lost four letterwinners from that team, including 2010 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Top 3 Finalist and All-America First Team selection Kelly Paton. She and Micaela Long were the team's top point producers with 51 points apiece.
Six of the nine skaters who recorded double digits in points last season return. Sophomore forward Kristina Lavoie (18-11-29), senior defenseman Courtney Birchard (9-13-22) and sophomore forward Kristine Horn (8-13-21) are the top returners.
The defensive corps returns everyone from last year's squad, and that includes senior captains Courtney Birchard and Raylen Dziengelewski as well as assistant captain Courtney Birchard. Both goaltenders – senior Kayley Herman and junior Lindsey Minton – also return.
ON THE ROAD
UNH opens the 2011 season with five consecutive road games. It is the longest stretch of consecutive road games at the outset of a season in the 34-year history of UNH women's ice hockey. The previous mark was three games (2000-01 season). In the 1997-98 season, however, the 'Cats opened with a pair of neutral-site games followed by three road games for a total of five consecutive games before playing on home ice.
Overall, this will be the Wildcats' longest stretch of consecutive road games since the team played six straight on the road in February 2001.
Following last Saturday's 2-1 win at UConn, UNH has a 29-3-2 lifetime record in season openers and that includes 12-1-1 on the road. The Wildcats are 8-0-1 in season openers in the nine-year tenure of head coach Brian McCloskey.
Freshman forward Arielle O'Neill recorded her first career point with an assist in her collegiate debut, the Oct. 2 season opener at UConn.
Senior goaltender Kayley Herman stopped 15 of 16 shots in that game vs. the Huskies for a .938 save percentage. It marked her 52nd career victory, and that total is tied for fourth on UNH's career leaderboard.
Senior forward Julie Allen recorded a team-high five shots at UConn. Defensemen Courtney Birchard (a senior) and Maggie Hunt (freshman) had four shots apiece. Those three Wildcats accounted for 13 of the team's 23 shots.
BLUE LINE BACKBONE
One of the Wildcats' strengths in the 2011 season will be the defensive unit, which is led by senior captains Courtney Birchard and Raylen Dziengelewski, assistant captain (and senior) Courtney Sheary and sophomores Katie Brock and Kailey Chappell. Bryanna Farris, another second-year player, saw ice time as both a defenseman and forward last season.
Birchard, a converted forward who missed the last six games of the 2010 season due to injury, brings an offensive dynamic to the unit. She garnered All-America Second Team and Hockey East First Team All-Star status last year as a junior.
Sheary and Dziengelewski are defensive-minded blue liners, although Dziengelewski did finish tied for third on last year's team in assists with 13.
Brock and Chappell logged lots of ice time last season in various situations (even strength, power play and penalty kill) to return with a wealth of experience after just one season donning the Blue and White.
In the eight-year tenure of head coach Brian McCloskey, UNH has exhibited a propensity for starting seasons with an extended unbeaten streak.
The Wildcats opened each of the previous two seasons with six-game unbeaten streaks with a 5-0-1 mark in 2010 and a 4-0-2 record in '09. In the 2007 season, UNH opened with nine consecutive wins. In 2005 and 2003, the 'Cats began with seven straight victories.
Last year marked the third time in McCloskey's tenure that the 'Cats had just one loss through 12 games – 8-1-3 last year and 10-1-1 in both the '03 and '07 seasons.
THE PUCK STOPS HERE
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 (4507:31) and tied for fourth in wins (with Cathy Narsiff and Dina Solimini).
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.
GAME NOTES: #8 WOMEN'S HOCKEY TRAVELS TO PLAY SYRACUSE, COLGATE THIS WEEKEND