BY RICKY ST. CLAIR
---- — PLATTSBURGH — For the Plattsburgh State women’s hockey team, the motto remains the same.
Your next game is the most important game.
The No.1-ranked Cardinals (19-0-1, 11-0 ECAC West) play host to Utica College for a pair of weekend games. The series opens tonight at 7 p.m. before the final home contest of the regular season gets underway tomorrow for 3 p.m.
Sophomore forward Emma Rutherford, who accounted for an empty-net goal in Wednesday’s 3-1 win over fifth-ranked Middlebury College, hopes her team can keep its 20-game unbeaten streak in tact.
“Each week, we keep the same routine and look to improve,” Rutherford said. “We’ve been talking all week about how we can’t look past anybody on the schedule. Following a light practice Thursday, we’ve put a lot of emphasize on special teams and D-zone coverage. We’re just looking to come out strong.”
In his tenth season behind the Plattsburgh bench, Kevin Houle has established a brand of “consistent, 60-minute Cardinal hockey.” Houle’s squad has outshot its opponents 775-324, including a 164-shot margin in the first period of play.
“Our 60-minute effort against Middlebury might have been the best it has been all year,” Houle said. “Utica always plays us tough, and they’re fighting for points. Our work ethic has been excellent and our goal is to outwork them.”
Shannon Stewart, a sophomore forward from Pickering, Ont., has registered 12 goals and 15 points during an eight-game span. Her line, which is centered by Teal Gove and features Morgan MacInnis on the left wing, has totaled 79 points on the year.
“Our line played together all of last year and that chemistry is finally starting to pay off,” Stewart said. “We’ve been working on coming out of the corner and getting traffic in front. Honestly, I’m just as nervous (about playing Utica) as if we were playing against Elmira. We played well against them last year, but the puck went in for us the first game.”
The Pioneers (10-6-1, 8-3-1 ECAC West) enter the weekend on a seven-game unbeaten streak, outscoring their opponents 22-4 during that span.
Utica’s leading scorers include Megan Myers (11-8-19), Courtney May (0-13-13) and Nicole Schwartz (3-8-11). Coach David Clausen has alternated goaltenders Jennifer Hamel and Marissa Hotaling between the pipes this season.
Hamel sports a 7-4 record through 11 starts, including a .923 save percentage and 1.63 goals against average. Hotaling, a senior, is 3-2-1 with a .909 save percentage and 1.83 goals against average. The two combined for five shutouts.
“They have some quality players,” Houle said. “Both goalies have the potential to play excellent. Just because we beat Elmira, the ECAC West isn’t wrapped up. Your next game is the most important game.”