West Region women's teams look to contend

Nate Woelfel

 

MIAC

For the majority of the last decade, MIAC women’s hockey has been owned by Gustavus Adolphus.

The Gusties have captured the last seven league crowns and in that time frame have racked up a 113-6-6 conference record that includes three seasons without a loss.

Smart money would pick Gustavus to continue in its winning ways. The Gusties return their
top four scorers as well as four All-MIAC selections.

Lindsey Hjelm, who recorded 12 goals and 18 assists will lead the offensive charge while netminder Danielle Justice also returns.  Justice, who posted a 17-5-3 record and a

Record setting senior Danielle Justice returns in goal for Gustavus Adolphus.

conference-best 1.34 goals against average  a year ago should once again provide solid goaltending.

Despite the copious amount of recent success within the conference, there should be no shortage of motivation this time around for the Gusties. After reaching the Frozen Four, Gustavus was bounced from the tournament in the national semifinals where they fell 5-4 to eventual champion Norwich.

Who stands the best chance of going toe-to-toe with this perennial powerhouse? History suggests that St. Thomas has the potential to be more than just a bump in the road of the Gusties quest for an eighth consecutive regular season title. After all, they were the last team other than Gustavus to finish atop the MIAC. In fact, the Tommies took the title two consecutive seasons in 2002-03 and 2003-04.  One thing is for certain, after defeating the Gusties a season ago, St. Thomas will not be intimidated.

Armed with a good deal of returning talent, the Tommies will hope to separate themselves from the pack of three teams that finished tied for second place last year.

St. Thomas boasts just five seniors on this season’s roster and of those five, three received conference accolades.

Meghan Parker led the Tommies in scoring a season ago as she tallied seven goals and a team-high ten assists en route to being named to the All-MIAC first team. Joining her on the first team was forward Kaylee Keyes. Keyes notched 13 points on seven goals and six assists during last year’s campaign.

Forward Taylor Schluter looks to build upon a season in which she earned honorable mention honors. She was second on the team with eight assists.

Though she flew under the radar, leading goal scorer Jamie Tiede is also back and ready to help provide some fireworks on the offensive end.

It will take more than offensive pop to unseat the seven-time conference champions. As per usual, solid goaltending will be a key for St. Thomas and anyone else who feels they can throw their hat in the ring of the conference title race.

Sophomore goalie Alise Riedel is coming off a successful season between the pipes. As a freshman, Riedel posted a 1.20 goals against average and a .940 save percentage, and both were good enough for second-best in the MIAC. Her continued development will be a key factor in the Tommies’ success movie forward.

Bethel broke out of a holding pattern of being a middle of the road team by thrusting themselves into the three-way tie for second place. The question remains: will the Royals be able to maintain pace with the upper echelon of the conference?

On one hand, a new level of familiarity between second year head coach Brian Carlson and his players will go a long way. The Royals also bring back four All-MIAC selections, including goalie Jessica Newstorm who started all 27 games a season ago and recorded a 1.80 goals against average.

On the other hand, replacing the production of Allison Papko, one of two players on the team
to record at least 30 points last season, may be a tall order.

Fortunately, the other half of the Royals’ dynamic duo, Biz Huss is returning. Huss’ 15 goals and 15 assists last season were a key component of Bethel’s offensive attack. In order for the Royals to compete, someone must help Huss shoulder the load.

With only three seniors, this is far from a make or break year for Bethel. However, another successful season will help this program establish its presence amongst the MIAC’s elite.

It is possible that the fight for the fourth and final playoff spot could prove to be more intense than the race for the regular season championship. Last season, only five points separated fourth seed St. Olaf from three would be contenders.

This season, in the preseason poll, the coaches selected Concordia-Moorhead to secure the fourth spot. In a poll where coaches could not vote for their own teams, the Cobbers received the only first place vote that did not go to Gustavus.

When all is said and done, it appears as though six teams will be competing for the three remaining playoff spot. This could be an interesting ride considering six teams were separated by just five points in the regular season standings last year.



NCHA

The UW-River Falls women's team is determined to make the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association a three horse race.

The majority of the last 11 seasons have been owned by UW-Superior and UW-Stevens Point, who have combined to take the regular season title seven times. The two schools have also claimed six of the playoff crowns since 2000.

The Falcons have thrown their hat in the ring several times in recent memory, by winning the regular season title last season as well as the playoff championship in the 2009-10 season.

As predictable as the league has proven to be, the NCHA has been trending away from repeat champions in recent seasons. Since UW-Superior claimed back-to-back regular season titles in 2006-07 and 2007-08 the league has seen three different regular season champions, including Lake Forest who became the first team other than River Falls, Superior, or Stevens Point to win the regular season title since the year 2000.

River Falls appears to be in prime position to finish atop the NCHA for the second consecutive year. The Falcons return 14 letterwinners from a season ago, including sophomore forward first team All-American Kait Mason.

Though they have already suffered two losses at the hands of River Falls this season, Adrian made an impressive run late in the year that included knocking off then-undefeated River Falls in the NCHA championship game. New head coach Chad Davis will certainly benefit from returning All-American goaltender Emily Michelin. Last year, Michelin recorded eight shutouts, including five in conference play which tied an NCHA single season record.

UW-Superior was selected to finish second in the coaches' poll and was the only team other than UW-River Falls to receive a first place vote. The Yellowjackets return two of their top three scorers in Chelsey Wierschem and Alison Shrift. The duo combined for 21 goals and 15 assists a season ago.

Superior skated to a league high seven draws last season. Stealing a close game or two could put the Yellowjackets over the top this season as they finished a mere two points behind runner up Adrian last year.

St. Norbert turned their fair share of heads in its first ever NCHA campaign and posted a 12-11-4 overall record. The team returns almost every member of last year’s squad including goaltender Kaley Gibson, who posted an impressive 1.93 goals against average last year.

It will be a multi-season process for those seeking to gain admittance into what is turning out to be an exclusive club as just six points separated the middle six squads in the final regular season standings last year, and though it won't come easy, it is certainly possible a team or two may rise from that pack to challenge for the league crown.

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No contests today.
No contests today.
No contests today.