BY RICKY ST. CLAIR
---- — MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — Big ice sheet. No problem.
The No. 1 nationally-ranked Plattsburgh State women’s hockey team travels to Chip Kenyon Arena on the campus of Middlebury College today and tomorrow for the annual Cardinal-Panther Classic.
The Cardinals (5-0-1, 3-0) take on No. 8 Amherst College today at 1 p.m. before facing No. 5 Middlebury tomorrow for 4 p.m.
Head coach Kevin Houle, whose team looks to avenge an 0-2 Cardinal-Panther Classic weekend from a year ago, won’t have any concerns when his team hits the 200-feet by 95-feet ice surface.
“Earlier this year, we played (at Kreitzberg Arena) in Norwich, which isn’t as big, but bigger than Stafford,” Houle said. “It usually takes a period to adjust to the rink size. We haven’t brought it up this week and it’s not really a concern.”
The Lord Jeffs (1-1, 1-1) enter today’s contest fresh of a 4-3 overtime loss to Hamilton Nov. 17 at home. Last year’s NCAA Division III quarterfinalists were able to hand the Cardinals their first defeat of the 2011-2012 season with a 3-2 victory in Plattsburgh. The Cardinals are 1-3-1 against Amherst in their last five meetings.
“We’re just focusing on continuing to get better and playing well,” Houle said. “I thought we played well against Amherst last year, but weren’t able to finish. They have our number, but we can’t get too worked up about it. We have to play our game and work hard.”
The Cardinals are led offensively by senior captain Teal Gove. The 5-foot-9-inch forward from Berwick, Ont., has tallied a team-leading six goals to go along with four assists through six games. Fellow forwards Jenny Kistner (4-5-9) and Shannon Stewart (4-3-7) also rank among the elite players in point production.
Despite the second-best goals per game mark in Division III (5.17), the Cardinals also feature one of the country’s best goaltenders in Sydney Aveson. Aveson’s statistics include a .939 save percentage, good for a 1.21 goals against average.
“(Aveson) has been rock solid for us,” Houle said. “She picked up right where she left off. She was an All-American last year and played great down the stretch. She’s as good as anyone in the country and a big part of our team. Aveson gives everyone confidence and is capable of making most saves.”
The Panthers (2-0, 2-0) picked up a pair of New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) wins last weekend, beating Colby 3-2 and 5-1 at home. The two teams last met March 10 in the NCAA quarterfinal round where Plattsburgh State picked up a 4-2 win.
“Middlebury is as good as any team in the country,” Houle said. “Last year’s quarterfinal game could have gone either way. They returned a lot of players and have a great freshman class.”