GAME NOTES: Women's Hockey Opens Season at SLU (Sept. 27-28)


The Matchup

    The University of New Hampshire women's ice hockey team begins the 2013-14 season with a two-game series at St. Lawrence University on Sept. 27 (7 p.m.) & 28 (3 p.m.). Both games are at SLU's Appleton Arena.
    UNH has a 28-12-5 lifetime record, including 10-6-4 at Appleton Arena, against St. Lawrence. The Saints swept last November's two-game series at UNH's Whittemore Center by scores of 3-1 and 2-1, and they have a 2-1-2 edge the past five meetings.
    The last time these teams faced off in Appleton Arena, they skated to a 2-2 tie in October 2011. It marked the second consecutive meeting in Canton that ended in a tie – the 'Cats and Saints previously played to a 3-3 tie in October 2009.
    New Hampshire's most recent win in this series occurred October 23, 2010, when the Wildcats prevailed 5-3 in Durham.
    On Nov. 2, 2012, UNH took a 1-0 lead midway through the second stanza, but St. Lawrence tied the score late in the stanza and then scored goals 86 seconds apart early in the final frame to record a 3-1 win at the Whitt. SLU recorded a 32-25 shot advantage that included 12-6 in the third period.
    One day later, the Wildcats once again struck first –again in the second period – but once again the visitors tied the score, 1-1, prior to the second intermission. SLU broke that deadlock with just more than five minutes remaining in regulation for the 2-1 victory and series sweep. The Saints once again tallied a decisive edge in shots (37-21).

The State of New Hampshire
    New Hampshire returns 18 letterwinners from last year's team that went 14-16-4 overall and finished fourth in the Hockey East standings with a 10-8-3 league record. UNH also has three newcomers (all freshmen) for a 21-player roster consisting of 12 forwards, five defensemen and four goaltenders.
    Brian McCloskey enters his 12th season as UNH women's ice hockey head coach. He has compiled a 246-104-38 overall record, which calculates to a .683 win percentage.
    The top two point-producing forwards were lost to graduation, but five double-digit performers are back in 2013-14. They are junior assistant captain Hannah Armstrong (11-8-19), senior Jessica Hitchcock (9-9-18), senior Arielle O'Neill (8-7-15), sophomore Sara Carlson (7-7-14) and senior captain Nicole Gifford (3-10-13).
    Two juniors – Caroline Broderick, Jess Ryan – and two sophomores – Megan Armstrong, assistant captain Alexis Crossley – return to patrol the blue line. Crossley led all 'Cats in assists (17) and ranked second overall in points (24) en route to being named a Hockey East Second Team All-Star and All-Rookie Team honoree. Armstrong was second among UNH defensemen in goals (four) and points (13).
    In goal, junior Jenn Gilligan started 20 of the last 24 games of the 2012-13 season and was a Hockey East Honorable Mention selection. Sophomores Vilma Vaattovaara (12 gp) and Marie-Eve Jean (4 gp) also return between the pipes.

For Openers
    New Hampshire has a 31-3-2 all-time record in season openers, and that includes 14-1-1 on the road. The Wildcats are unbeaten in 11 consecutive season openers (10-0-1) dating back to the 2002-03 season. UNH has won four consecutive season openers, including last October's 4-3 win at Syracuse University. The only tie during the current unbeaten streak was Oct. 8, 2008 (2-2 vs. Boston College at home).
    The last time UNH lost a season opener was Oct. 19, 2001 (4-3 to Ohio State University at home).
    The 'Cats have faced off against St. Lawrence in one previous season opener and that was a 4-2 win at Appleton Arena on Oct. 5, 2007 SLU rebounded with a 3-0 victory the next day.

Fast Starts
    UNH has started the season 2-0-0 three of the past four years, and that includes both 2011-12 and 2012-13. Last year, the Wildcats were road victors against Syracuse (4-3) and Colgate (4-1).

Captain of the 'Cats
    Senior forward Nicole Gifford is captain of the 2013-14 Wildcats. Gifford ranked fifth on the team in assists (10) and also scored three goals – all on the power play – for a total of 13 points last year. She has 47 points (18g, 29a) in 100 career games.
    Junior forward Hannah Armstrong and sophomore defenseman Alexis Crossley are the assistant captains.
    Armstrong rebounded from an injury-plagued 2011-12 season to skate in all 34 games a year ago. She ranked fourth overall – and is the leader among returning forwards – with 19 points on 11 goals and eight assists; she was second in goals.
    Crossley was a highly decorated freshman in 2012-13 with Hockey East Second Team All-Star, All-Rookie Team, Rookie of the Month and All-Academic Team included among her accolades. Crossley led all 'Cats in both assists (17) and power-play goals (five), and she ranked second in points (24). In the league, she was second in defenseman scoring, third in blocked shots (64) and fifth in both freshman scoring and power-play points (13).

Senior Snipers
    Senior forwards Jessica Hitchcock and Arielle O'Neill are two of the top returning point producers.
    Hitchcock is a second-year Wildcat who was also a two-year letterwinner at Niagara University. She scored a goal in her UNH debut and ended the 2012-13 season ranked third in goals (nine) and fifth in points (18). Hitchcock also ranked third in shots.
    O'Neill, a three-time Hockey East All-Academic Team honoree, has skated in 100 of 101 games the past three seasons. She netted eight goals last year as a junior to rank fourth on the team, and she also tallied seven assists for a total of 15 points.

Equal Opportunity Wildcat
    Sara Carlson was one of three freshman – the only forward – to skate in all 34 games last year; she was equal finisher, equal playmaker with seven goals and seven assists for 14 points.

Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine
    Sophomore forward Brittney Redlick scored six goals to account for all six of her points in 26 games played last season.

Healthy Returns
    Heather Kashman (sophomore) and Jonna Curtis (freshman) return from redshirt seasons in 2012-13. Injury sidelined Kashman last year after recording 10 points (7g, 3a) as a freshman. Curtis had a strong start to her UNH career with three multiple-point efforts in the first five games, but then she was sidelined by injury the rest of the season and was awarded a redshirt season; Curtis tallied six points (2g, 4a) in five games.

The Puck Stops Here
    The Wildcats once again have four goaltenders on the 2013-14 roster with three returning netminders (one junior, two sophomores) and one incoming freshman.
    After missing the first 10 games of the 2012-13 season, Jenn Gilligan started 20 of the last 24 games and finished with a 10-5-3 record, 2.29 GAA, 909 save percentage and two shutouts. Her stats improved in league games with a 2.06 GAA and .915 save percentage. With those numbers, Gilligan was a Hockey East Honorable Mention selection.
    Gilligan went unbeaten (3-0-0) in November and was honored as Hockey East Goaltender of the Month in January by virtue of a 1.81 GAA and .924 save percentage.
    Vilma Vaattovaara played in 12 games, including 10 starts, a year ago and compiled a 3-9-0 record with a 4.04 GAA and .868 save percentage.
    Marie-Eve Jean went 1-1-1 with a 2.71 GAA and .906 save percentage in four games (two starts) last year as a freshman. In Hockey East league action, Jean was unbeaten (1-0-1) with a 1.45 GAA and .935 save percentage.

Incoming 'Cats
    UNH has three incoming student-athletes – all freshmen – with one new forward, defenseman and goaltender.
    The lone newcomer to the forward corps is Cassandra Vilgrain. She led the Edge School for Athletes to a gold medal at the World Sport School Challenge, where she was named the tournament's top forward, and to the JWHL championship game.
    Kate Haslett comes to UNH from Brooks School, where she captained the team as a senior defenseman and was named ISL All-League and All-New England Second Team.
    Ashley Wilkes played between the pipes at North American Hockey Academy in 2012-13, when she had a 19-0-1 record with a 1.09 GAA and .942 save percentage to garner JWHL First Team All-Star recognition and backbone NAHA to the league title.

Facing Off
    Arielle O'Neill led UNH and was second in Hockey East in faceoff win percentage (64.5%). She won 343 of 532 faceoffs.
    It was Nicole Gifford, however, who took the highest total of faceoffs with 661. She won 347 draws for a .525 win percentage.

Current 'Cats With Hat Tricks
    Three current UNH skaters have scored three goals in a game.
  Hannah Armstrong - Feb. 11, 2013 vs. Connecticut
  Nicole Gifford - Nov. 26, 2011 vs. Princeton
  Jenna Lascelle - Dec. 12, 2011 vs. Dartmouth

Spanning the Globe
    The Wildcats are a team made up of student-athletes from around the world. In the geographic breakdown, 12 'Cats hail from Canada while eight are from the United States and one calls Finland home.

Hockey East Preseason Poll
    New Hampshire, which finished fourth in last year's Hockey East standings, was picked fifth in the 2013-14 Women's Hockey East Preseason Coaches' Poll that was released mid-September. Here is a complete look at the complete poll:
Preseason Poll (1st-place votes)
1.    Boston College (7)    56
2.    Boston U. (1)    48
3.     Northeastern    41
4.    Providence    38
5.     New Hampshire    34
6.    Vermont    29
7.    Maine    19
8.    Connecticut    15

Scouting the Saints
    Saint Lawrence University (Canton, N.Y.) is led by sixth-year head coach Chris Wells. The Saints return 20 letterwinners from last year's team that went 19-14-5 overall, including 12-6-4 in the ECAC to finish fifth in the conference standings; SLU went on to upset Quinnipiac University in the best-of-three quarterfinals before falling to Cornell University in the semifinals.
    Senior forward Rylee Smith (15g, 19a) is the top returning player in goals, assists and points (34) – Smith is the only one among last year's top four point producers on this season's roster. The next top returning scorer is sophomore Abbey McRae (12g, 8a).
    Junior goaltender Carmen MacDonald is back between the pipes; she started 36 of 38 games in 2012-13 and went 17-14-5 with a 2.19 GAA and .925 save percentage.
    In the national stats, SLU ranked No. 18 in offense (2.58 gpg) and 15th in defense (2.42 gpg) as well as 27th in power play (.129) and No. 20 in penalty kill (.827).

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