PC Women's Hockey Preview

On October 1 the women's hockey team played their opening exhibition game days after beginning practice. After seeing the team it is possible to make some early observations on the women's ice hockey team. These observations will include a little summary of the game mixed with a team and league preview.

The 2005-06 season is the 4th season of women's play in Hockey East. In the previous three seasons the only champion the league has known has come from Providence. In fact Providence captured the ECAC East title in the transition season leading up to the start of Hockey East. However, the drive for five will be more difficult then any of the previous championship runs.

The exhibition opener ended in a 4-4 tie with one of the Ontario area's best intermediate teams, the Toronto Jr. Aeros. Even as an early exhibition game this contest provided insight into the strengths and weaknesses of this team. At this point PC had a great dependence on the team's top players. Providence opened the scoring when sophomore defenseman Kathleen Smith got off a blast from the left point which was redirected by a defender into her own net. Late in the period Toronto tied it only to have the mainstay of the Friar offense Karen Thatcher answer at the 19 minute mark of the period. The second period saw both teams double their score. First Toronto tied it with a goal resulting from some quick passing down low. Then junior defensemen Kristen Gigliotti broke down the middle and fired a shot which the Toronto goalie misplayed due to the fact the shot looked more like a knuckleball. PC closed out their scoring when once again Thatcher used a nice first pass from freshman Erin Normore to get a jump on the defense then make a nifty move on net to score a shorthanded tally.

The quick synopsis of the team is that Jana Bugden, returning from injury, looked in top form in net and with a solid freshman backup the position is solid. One of the freshman defenders looks to make an easy transition to the college game; a second should adjust by mid season. Finally the offense will rely a great deal on Karen Thatcher to carry the load. There appears to be a lot of players who can chip in, but none who can complement Thatcher like Zimmerman did last year.

UNH has been anointed by the coaches and by most people who follow the league as the odds on favorite. Providence despite losing a large and talented senior class still has a solid core with which to challenge UNH. However, there is now much more parity in the league and Providence must also fend off serious challenges from Connecticut and Boston College.

This season the schedule is top heavy with home games to let this young team have time to develop. In all Providence will play 21 of their 34 games at Schneider Arena. Beside their league games PC has home games against national powers Harvard, Dartmouth, Brown, and Mercyhurst. They also face off at home against strong squads from Minnesota State University, Yale and their opening home opponent Colgate.

Even before last year began Providence was short handed, losing three players for the year with injuries and having a fourth academically ineligible. Two of those injured players return this season giving Providence a little extra experience to an otherwise very young team. Still Providence appears to lack much depth. At this point only Connecticut has a smaller roster of any Hockey East team. They also lack the full complement of scholarships that UNH and UConn have.

Providence is led by senior forward Karen Thatcher. Last season she was the league's runner up in the scoring race and was league co-player of the year. With several of the other top players in the nation taking a year off to play on the Olympic team Thatcher may be the top player in the nation. Among her skills she is very quick first step, a great knack for being able to accelerate through a hole into the open, great vision to see plays developing, an ability to anticipate, the great habit of always keeping her feet moving, and she has become an excellent finisher. The only thing Friar fans should be wary of is the chance that U. S. Olympic coach Ben Smith might recall her to the Olympic team. He has stated if he needs replacement players he will dip into the college rank to get them. Thatcher missed the Olympic trials due to rehabbing from elbow surgery.

This season she will no longer have line mate Rush Zimmerman, so there are some questions as to the set up of the lines in general and the first line in particular. It is again likely that Coach Bob Deraney will shift players around to help develop his young 3rd and 4th lines and thus get more playing time out of his top players as they are double shifted. If Deraney follows what he did last year he'll put most of his scoring eggs in one basket. He will replace Zimmerman with Ashley Payton. Payton has been a hard luck forward the past 2 years. Last year she missed what would have been her senior year when her shoulder did not respond to her rehab program. The previous year she missed a couple of months with a broken bone in her wrist. Due to the lack of depth big things are expected from Payton. As a sophomore she was second team All Hockey East, this year the team needs her to build upon that performance as Zimmerman left large skates to be replaced. It is apparent, however, she will need ice time in game situations to shake the rust from her game. At times on Saturday even some of the on ice decisions that need to be natural were missing. For Payton getting past this point will be critical as she has a tendency to play a far more timid game then Zimmerman did.

The third veteran forward being counted on to make a large contribution is Sonny Watrous. In her freshman year she was the league's Rookie of the Year. Last year she increased her production. Still her season was also hampered by a shoulder separation suffered in practice in late January which caused her to miss 4 games and another month getting back up to full strength. She did however have a solid playoff performance, making the all tourney team. While not blessed with natural speed she did seem to be a bit quicker. That would be a major advantage for Providence as she was put on the penalty kill team for the first time. Having a veteran forward like Watrous able to kill penalties would be a big plus for this team as three of the top penalty killing forwards graduated..

Offensively Providence is replacing 2 players who put up solid numbers, Zimmerman and Hilary Greaves. If Payton is being counted on to return to form to make up for some of the lost production the other senior forward is being expected to step up her output also. Senior Katelynn Laffin has scored 20 goals in her career which have been spaced fairly evenly over her career, this year as a leader on this team bigger thing are expected of her. Laffin is PC's most experienced member of the penalty killing unit. Her biggest asset is her speed, but when she doesn't keep moving bad things happen. For instance Saturday she was on the ice for all 4 of Toronto's goals.

The rest of the forwards will either be freshmen or sophomores. By the end of their freshman year all the sophomore seemed to have made the adjustment to college play and were beginning to contribute in some manner to the team's late run. The sophomore who made the biggest impression is Rachel Crissy. In high school she played multiple sports during the hockey season, last year her ability to concentrate on hockey began to pay dividends down the stretch. Crissy score 8 goals as a freshman. However, due to injury she missed the exhibition game. The most consistent member of the class of '08 was Kelli Doolin , a little buzz saw, who is excellent on the penalty kill and managed 6 goals last year. By year end Crissy was also proving to be an accomplished penalty killer. Cherie Hendrickson is best known for her goal which tied the championship game up but she also had two big goals against UNH. As her playing time increased during the course of the season she gained confidence and filled the holes created by the injuries PC suffered. Hendrickson is typical of the type of player PC has to bring in to fill out their roster. She came in last with a lot of upside due to coming from a Division 2 prep school but with a large learning curve. As she demonstrated on several occasions on Saturday though she does seem to be able to find the right place to be at the right moment The hard luck member of the class of '08 was Jenna Keilch. She was hurt in preseason and then missed games on 3 other occasions due to a variety of injuries. If she can stay healthy big things are expected of her. Hopefully with a year under her belt she will be able to step in and fill some of the holes created by graduation. With all the injuries she often times seemed tentative last year, against Toronto she played a very aggressive game which earned her 3 penalties. When she finds the right tempo to play at she might turn out to be the biggest surprise on the team.

There are 4 freshmen who should also see regular playing time. While none appear to ready to assume first or second line duties all have had success on every level they have played. Katy Beach is from Ohio and played at Gilmour Academy and for the Ohio Flames, Maura Grainger played boys hockey at Ithaca High School and for the Syracuse Star program, Brittney Lomond comes from Lawrence Academy and Stephanie Morris played for the North American Hockey Academy. Morris looked the most comfortable of the group as she had the size to fit right in. Lomond is the smallest of the group but is an excellent skater. Grainger while taller, is even slighter in build and was moved off the play at times. Likewise Beach, who of the group has the most notice coming in, showed signs of talent, but needs to make the adjustments that playing at the college level requires.

Most likely Deraney will play all 12 forwards regularly. He'll feature four lines but often rotate one of the first line players down to the third or fourth line to double shift while alternating the younger skaters as they adjust to the college game.

On the other hand it is more likely the freshmen defensemen will be thrown to the wolves early. PC graduated three four year regulars on defense. This leaves a large hole that can only be filled by immediate contributions from the newcomers. The top returnees are Junior Kristin Gigliotti, who stepped up in the playoffs last year and sophomore Kathleen Smith who as a freshman made the league's 2nd team All Star team. The team's strong end of season run coincided with Smith's asserting herself as a force on the ice. The last week of the regular season she scored a game winner in overtime and set up the winning goal the next day with time running down. In the playoffs she set up the game winner in the championship game. The third veteran is Caitlin Malboeuf. If she was able to take the lessons she learned as a freshman and improve her skills she will give Providence a little more leeway to let all three freshman defensemen adjust to college play.

This year two of the freshmen are highly touted Canadian players. Erin Normore is from the same team, the Cambridge Fury that produced Kathleen Smith. She played mostly forward last year and is reputed to have a strong sense for the game, particularly on the offensive end. Playing her first game in a Providence uniform she exhibited a keen sense of what to do and when to do it on the ice. It is likely Providence will get much more offense, or at least transition, from its defensemen this season. Also coming to PC with big expectations is Brittany Simpson. Simpson carries a reputation for both being hard nosed and for a booming shot. If both these players prove to be impact players from the start Providence will have a solid season. Simpson showed flashes of brilliance especially in getting involved on the offensive end. The third freshman defender is Cushing Academy product Meredith George. While she will face much stiffer challenges then she faced Saturday she displayed the ability to play a steady defensive game. If teamed with a more experienced partner she should give Providence solid minutes on defense.

Last year Providence got by with inconsistent play in net. This year goal should be one of the team's strengths if Jana Bugden returns to form. In her first two years Bugden was a workhorse who was on pace to play more games in goal then any previous Friar netminder. Last year she was sidelined with a shoulder injury. As a freshman she was on the All Rookie team and was runner up as Rookie of the Year. She also has allowed but 1 goal in 4 playoff games. In the past the team has exhibited total confidence in her ability to stop other team's big chances, thus allowing Providence to take gambles on. This was an element that was missing for the entire season last year. Bugden seemed to have picked up where she left off. In fact she appeared to be a little quicker in net. She stopped 17 of 18 shots and looked ready to resume her role as the top netminder on the team. This year PC also has a solid backup in Stacey Scott, a six footer who played last year at North American Hockey Academy. It is reported that not only in stature is she like Bugden but that her style resembles it also.

Where does PC fit in the overall league picture? Most likely they will end the year as runner up to UNH in the regular season. They also will find that several schools, in particular BC and UConn are closing the gap between them. However Northeastern is positioned to make a large jump in the standings.

UNH is very solid because the young squad they had last year has matured and has been reinforced. UNH graduated only 1 player, co player of the year Stephanie Jones. They return a medical red shirt in Martine Garland on defense and she is joined by ECAC all star Amy McLaughlin who is using her fourth year of eligibility at UNH after graduating from Brown. The Wildcats also recruited Kacy Bellamy who some consider the best American freshman defenseman. There are also several other experienced defensemen on the team, senior Becky Peters and junior Shannon Clement, which gives this team tremendous depth at this position. In goal they return their all league goalie Melissa Bourdon and back her up with another junior in Brittany Busa who played boys hockey at Concord Carlisle, but has never been given a chance to prove herself at UNH. Offensively the Wildcats were the league's top scoring team. Losing Jones hurts but they will count on their sophomores to step it up and replace the missing offense. They also regain Sadie Wright-Ward who was academically ineligible last year. Their top returning players are Lindsay Hansen and Nicole Heckle. The players to watch to make a major jump in production are Leah Craig, Jennifer Hitchcock, and Taylor Palazeti. The freshman forward to watch is Samantha Faber.

BC is the up and comer in the league. They have lined up another national level quality forward in Becky Zavisa and one of the best goaltenders in this class, Johanna Ellison. The also return the bulk of the team which finished 4th last year. This includes the prizes from last year's freshman class, Deb Spillane, who went to Olympic tryout camp, and Sarah Feldman

Connecticut will once again be solid due to the fact that they have the full complement of 18 scholarships. They are rebuilding as they have now lost their first four year class which numbered 9 players. However they lined up 8 solid freshman players to improve the team. They also return rookie of the year Jaclyn Hawkins, as well as junior Natalie Vibert and Senior Kaitlyn Shain who both made the post season award teams.

Northeastern may be ready to move back up. They lost only a couple of players and have recruited a solid class to replace them. They are lead by their goalie Marisa Hourihan and Amy Goodney, a 2nd team all league player.

Maine plays a strong defensive game and are most successful when they keep the score down. Their top player is Kelly Law. Most of the players on this team are Canadians, so their recruits are often unknown quantities when they arrive. If either of the goalie recruit they brought in proves to be a solid player, this will be a vastly improved team as goaltending was a problem last year, allowing many soft goals.

Vermont is the transfer team from the ECACHL. They too will be looking for an unproven goalie to carry them. Their best player was goalie Kami Cote who has graduated. Her strong play kept many games close despite the lopsided amount of shots she faced

Boston University is the new kid on the block. They have a couple of transfers from Division 3, a couple of transplants from Division 1 teams, and a couple of players from their club team. However the bulk of their team will be freshman. Most likely this will be a very long year for them.

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