DURHAM, N.H. – The University of New Hampshire women's ice hockey team gathered Sunday at its annual banquet to reflect on the 2013-14 season, honor its student-athletes with 10 awards and pay tribute to the three-member Class of 2014.
Senior forward and captain Nicole Gifford (Ennismore, Ontario) was the recipient of the Karyn Bye Award, which recognizes the team MVP, and the Tricia Dunn Award as the top defensive forward. Gifford became the first three-time recipient of the Tricia Dunn Award last year and can now boast four of the awards.
Gifford led the Wildcats in goals (11), power-play goals (four) and points (24). She was also the top 'Cat in the faceoff circle, where she took a total of 778 draws – the next highest total was 414 – and had a .533 win percentage. Gifford tallied a point in 19 of 34 games with four multiple-point efforts that included a career-high three assists against Syracuse University.
The Colleen Coyne Award, presented to the top defenseman, went to junior Jess Ryan (Cloquet, Minn.). Ryan, known more for her defensive presence her first two years as a Wildcat, continued to excel in that aspect this season and expanded her role to the offensive end of the ice. She was UNH's top-scoring defenseman this season with four goals and eight assists for 12 points.
Sophomore forward Sara Carlson (Hutchinson, Minn.) was called to the podium twice to receive the Sue Merz Award (seventh player award) as well as the Dr. Allison Edgar Academic Excellence Award for recording the Wildcats' highest grade-point average. Carlson ranked third on the team in assists with 12 and also scored two goals for a total of 14 points. Her season highlights included a two-assist game in UNH's 3-1 win at second-ranked Boston College (Oct. 16) and another two-assist effort at Boston University (Feb. 8).
The Rookie of the Year was won by Cassandra Vilgrain (Calgary, Alberta). The freshman forward, who missed the last two games of the season due to injury, tied for second on the squad in goals (nine) and ranked third in points (17). She tallied her first career pointing the season-opening weekend at St. Lawrence University and followed that with a goal in three consecutive games. Vilgrain's other highlights included three points (1g, 2a) at Vermont (Nov. 10) and scoring a pair of third-period goals at BC (Jan. 25).
Sophomore goaltender Marie-Eve Jean (Gatineau, Quebec) received the Unsung Hero Award for her immeasurable off-ice contributions. On the ice, she went 0-3-0 in five games (three starts) with a 3.88 GAA and .835 save percentage.
The Norma O'Dowd Hartnett Award for sportsmanship was presented to senior Arielle O'Neill (St. Catharines, Ontario), who split her time between forward and defenseman in her final season as a Wildcat. O'Neill had never skated as a defenseman until taking the blue line Oct. 26 at Penn State, and in her debut at the position she still contributed offensively with a pair of power-play goals in UNH's 8-5 win. In 34 games – 15 as a forward, 19 at defense – she netted six goals to rank fourth on the team.
Senior forward Jessica Hitchcock (LaSalle, Ontario) was also a two-time honoree. She was named the recipient of the A. Barr "Whoop" Snively Citizenship & Service Award as well as the Fan Favorite Award. Hitchcock recorded a team-high 14 assists, tied for second in goals (nine), and ranked second in points with 23. She was a consistent point producer the second half of the season with a point in 11 of the last 16 games, and that included a six-game point streak. Hitchcock's season highlights included matching her personal bests in both goals (two) and points (three) in UNH's 4-1 victory against Providence College (Jan. 10).
Hitchcock tallied 18 goals and 23 assists for 41 points in two years as a Wildcat. In her four years as a collegian – she was also a two-year letterwinner at Niagara University – Hitchcock recorded 36 goals and 40 assists for 76 points in 133 games. She recorded single-season highs in both assists and points as a senior.
O'Neill completed her Wildcat career with 28 goals and 28 assists for 56 points in 134 games. She tallied single-season highs in both goals (11) and points (19) as a freshman in 2011, and recorded a best of eight assists in both '11 and '12.
Gifford concluded her UNH career with 29 goals and 42 assists for 71 points in 134 games. She scored a single-season high of 11 goals as a senior, while her best mark of 17 goals and 27 points were recorded as a sophomore in 2012.
2014 UNH Women's Hockey Awards
Karyn Bye Award (MVP)- Nicole Gifford
Colleen Coyne Award (best defenseman)- Jess Ryan
Tricia Dunn Award (best defensive forward)- Nicole Gifford
Rookie of the Year- Cassandra Vilgrain
Sue Merz Award (7th Player)- Sara Carlson
Unsung Hero Award- Marie-Eve Jean
Dr. Allison Edgar Academic Award for Excellence- Sara Carlson
A. Barr "Whoop" Snively Citizenship & Service Award- Jessica Hitchcock
Norma O'Dowd Hartnett Award (sportsmanship)- Arielle O'Neill
Fan Favorite Award- Jessica Hitchcock