NORTHFIELD, Vt. – The Norwich University women's ice hockey team enters the 2017-18 season in the same boat that the other 60 NCAA Division III women's ice hockey teams are in, chasing four-time reigning national champion Plattsburgh State Cardinals.
Norwich had a bounce-back year in 2016-17, winning its seventh New England Hockey Conference (NEHC) Tournament title and making it to its sixth NCAA Division III Frozen Four appearance. The Cadets posted a 21-7-3 overall record and a 15-2 mark in league play.
However, for the third time in the last four years, Plattsburgh ended Norwich's season with a 4-0 victory in the national semifinals in Adrian, Mich.
"Last year was a big turnaround year for us as we as a program expect to win our conference," said NU head coach Mark Bolding. "We've learned a few times now that it's not easy and that's the parity of women's hockey today. We ended up having a great double-overtime win at Middlebury to advance to the Frozen Four, but we were still pretty young on experience at getting to that stage. It showed and we didn't play very well, losing to the team that won it all. We had some chances early, but didn't execute."
Bolding returns nearly everyone from last year's squad with 24 returners that will be joined by six newcomers this season as Norwich continues its quest for its second national championship.
"We have a lot of veterans this year with two Frozen Four experiencers under their belt now," he said. "We need to learn from past experiences, push the competition and our internal compete level on a more consistent basis this season."
After having a little trouble scoring goals in 2015-16, the Cadets once again returned to their normal offensive prowess last season, ranking fourth in the country with 4.13 goals per game.
Norwich had five players reach double-digit goal totals, led by AHCA First Team All-American selection Sarah Schwenzfeier (Hingham, Mass.), who totaled 19 goals and 20 assists for 39 points.
NEHC Rookie of the Year Amanda Conway (Methuen, Mass.) tallied 20 goals and eight assists for 28 points as a freshman. Junior Adrieana Rossini (Malden, Mass.) and sophomore Sophie McGovern (Hermantown, Minn.) also return after scoring 16 and 12 goals respectively last season.
The Cadets also return junior captain Bryn Labbe (Calgary, Alberta), who was the 2015-16 NEHC Rookie of the Year and totaled nine goals and 19 assists for 28 points last year. Sophomore Alyssa Hulst (Scarborough, Maine) is also back after missing the second half of last year with an injury. Prior to getting injured, she was averaging nearly a point per game.
"With those ladies we have the ability to structure two really good offensive lines that are dangerous and can put up big numbers," Bolding said on his top-six forwards. "We're looking for more buy in and more time together for that group that should make them even stronger this year."
"Goebel is one of our most underrated players, but her penalty killing and energy is so valuable to the team," Bolding said. "Madden turned out to be a pretty good freshman find last year as well that got better as the year went on. We have enough depth up front, and it's really about them executing and competing."
Along with the firepower returning up front, the Cadets also have senior Kim Tiberi (Raleigh, N.C.) back for one more year to lead the blue line group after a career year last season.
Tiberi earned New England Division II-III Player of the Year honors and was named an AHCA First Team All-American after scoring 13 goals and tallying 26 assists for 39 points. Her 39 points tied Sarianne Lynn '12 for the most points by a NU defenseman in a single season.
Junior Carly Menges (Novelty, Ohio) returns after being named to the NEHC All-Conference Third Team last season. She scored two goals and notched 13 assists for 15 points.
"Tiberi returns after a dynamic offensive year last year and a better defensive effort, which made her a top player in the nation," Bolding said, "We've paired her with another veteran in Menges so far this season and they have looked good together."
Desirae Kulhmann (Swift Current, Saskatchewan), Robyn Foley (Goulds, Newfoundland and Labrador), Maggie Conroy (Batavia, Ill.) and Maddie Tasha (North Falmouth, Mass.) also return after playing significant minutes last season.
Bolding also pointed to freshman Samantha Benoit (Bow, N.H.) as a potential newcomer to keep an eye on at the blue line that could make an immediate impact.
In goal, senior captain Laurie King (Waddington, N.Y.) returns after a breakout junior season. She posted a 19-3-1 record, .935 save percentage and a 1.33 goals against average in 25 games played. NU also brought in two freshmen goalies in Victoria Bourassa (Regina, Saskatchewan) and Emily Lambert (Riverview, Mich.), who will push for time.
"Laurie found herself last year," Bolding said. "She stole the show as the No. 1 goalie and earned it. She keeps getting better every year and she is one of those goalies that needs to play a lot to play well and focus. We're very happy with the two new goaltenders. They are both good kids from good programs with different skill sets. Both will help down the road and help push Laurie."
Norwich was picked to finish first in the new-look NEHC Preseason Coaches' Poll late last week. This year the conference features only Division III teams after Saint Anselm, Saint Michael's, Holy Cross and Franklin Pierce left along with Manhattanville. The Cadets were also ranked No. 3 in the first USCHO.com Preseason Poll.
NU opens the season on Friday, Oct. 27 in the same place where it ended last season in Adrian, Mich. The Cadets will take on UW-River Falls at 3 p.m. in the first game of the Bulldog Bowl. Norwich will then face Stevenson or Adrian College on Saturday in the consolation or championship game.
"We are hoping to rebound from the end of last year on Friday when we head to Adrian for our season-opening tournament," Bolding said. "We realize we're fortunate to go out early and reenact two games scenarios in Adrian. We'll face a great River Falls team that is always a top contender. It's going to be a long road trip but it'll be a good chance for the team to come together around hockey and play two good quality teams."