NORTHFIELD, Vt. – The Norwich University women's ice hockey team enters the 2016-17 season looking to atone for missing the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in program history.
Entering its 10th year of varsity hockey, the Cadet women only missed the NCAAs in their very first season in 2007-08, as well as last year after falling 2-0 to UMass Boston in the New England Hockey Conference (NEHC) Tournament final.
Norwich still went 21-7-0 last season and 16-1 in NEHC play en route to winning its sixth straight regular season title. However, the loss on home ice to UMass Boston in the NEHC final left a sour taste in the 19 returners' mouths heading into this year.
"The goals we have set is to get back to basics and play good, clean hockey," said NU Head Coach Mark Bolding. We need to be prepared for what is always a tough conference for us and every opponent in our league is becoming more and more difficult. The Castleton loss in the regular season and the UMass Boston loss in the championship game remind us of that."
"The returning players know the cold, hard reality is you have to get through your league if you want an automatic bid and then you have to win some non-conference games if you want a high seed for the NCAA Tournament with the potential to host some games."
The Cadets return senior Adelle Murphy (Roseau, Minn.), junior Sarah Schwenzfeier (Hingham, Mass.) and sophomore Bryn Labbe (Calgary, Alberta), who all scored 20 or more points last season. Murphy had a breakout offensive year, scoring 11 goals and 10 assists for 21 points. Labbe and Schwenzfeier have accounted for the last two NEHC Rookie of the Year awards. Labbe led Norwich with 14 goals and seven assists for 21 points. Schwenzfeier had 11 goals and nine assists for 20 points.
Bolding has guided the Cadets to a 195-54-16 (.766 winning percentage) record in his nine years at the helm of his alma mater.
Bolding and assistant coach Mollie Fitzpatrick have brought in 11 freshmen and one sophomore transfer in this year's talented recruiting class.
"We didn't get to the NCAAs for the first time in eight years," Bolding said. "We want to do that every year. We feel like the young players that we have brought in can help us do that and they want to work their tails off. There is some high skill in the class and we think we have brought in a good number of players who can contribute offensively."
Two freshmen forwards were active on the scoresheet in Norwich's 4-1 exhibition victory over the Ontario Hockey Academy last Friday afternoon at Kreitzberg Arena. Kirsten Watts (Chugiak, Alaska) scored twice, while Sophie McGovern (Hermantown, Minn.) added two assists.
Bolding is also looking for fellow rookies Amanda Conway (Methuen, Mass.), Linnea Odbratt (Gothenburg, Sweden), as well as sophomore Adrieana Rossini (Malden, Mass.), who played last year at Division I Northeastern University to have significant impacts on offense this season.
On defense, the Cadets graduated last year's captain and three-time NEHC All-Conference selection Taylor Cross. Juniors Kim Tiberi (Raleigh, N.C.) and Desirae Kuhlmann (Swift Current, Saskatchewan), as well as sophomores Carly Menges (Novelty, Ohio), Maddie Tasha (North Falmouth, Mass.) and Maggie Conroy (Batavia, Ill.) will be counted on to lead the defensive unit.
Tiberi and Menges have each been named to the NEHC All-Rookie Team in their respective freshmen seasons the last two years. Menges registered a goal and six assists for seven points in 14 games last season after joining the team at the holiday break. Tiberi had a goal and five assists for six points.
"Carly came in and did well last season and Kim has matured over the last three years," Bolding said. "The defense needs to transition quickly and move the puck out of the zone."
In goal, senior Celeste Robert (Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec) and junior Laurie King (Waddington, N.Y.) return. Robert compiled a 15-5-0 record with a 1.15 goals against average and a .947 save percentage in 21 games. King played in 10 games, recording a 6-2-0 mark with a 1.36 goals against average and a .933 save percentage.
"Celeste and Laurie don't have to do much more, but we just need consistency and go from being very good to excellent," Bolding said. "If they can go to 80 to 90 percent of the games we play to excellent mode, we should be set up to have a good season. They are quality goalies but we need them to elevate for the big games."
The 2016-17 marks the end of an era for the NEHC as at the conclusion of this season, the league will be moving to an all Division III conference, which will exclude the Division II schools Franklin Pierce, Saint Michael's and Saint Anselm, as well as Division I Holy Cross. Manhattanville and Nichols will also be joining new conferences leaving the NEHC with eight teams going forward.
"It's going to be the last time to play all those teams and a lot of them have been there for us as some of the tougher competition over the years," Bolding said. "Nobody is going to give us anything in our league, we've had the target on our back for a while and that won't change this year."
Norwich was picked as the preseason favorite in the NEHC Coaches Poll released last week. The Cadets are looking for their seventh NEHC Tournament title and regular season title, as well as their eighth NCAA Tournament appearance.
For the first time in five years, Norwich won't open the season by hosting the East-West Hockey Classic. That tournament has moved to Jan. 6 and 7 this season. Instead the Cadets will open right with league play, traveling to Salve Regina and Manhattanville.
"This is our 10th year of varsity hockey and we want to cap off the decade with a strong season," Bolding said. "We will have to reinvent who we are this year a little bit. We need to be a little more creative offensively and consistent defensively if we want to get back to the NCAA Tournament."
Norwich will host Saint Anselm on Friday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. in its home opener for #KramKreitzberg Night as the Cadets look to break their attendance record of 851 fans.