BY RICKY ST. CLAIR Press-Republican
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Last season, the Plattsburgh State women’s hockey team had its national championship aspirations dashed in the NCAA Division III semifinals.
The Cardinals were forced to settle with a third-place finish, while watching their archival hoist the national championship trophy in Superior, Wis.
Losing all of one player from last year’s 27-1-2 squad, Plattsburgh has an opportunity to return to the final four and erase last year’s disappointment. But one game and one team stand in its way.
The top-ranked Cardinals (25-1-1) play host to No. 10 Williams College in the first round of the NCAA Division III Women’s Ice Hockey Championships today. The puck is scheduled to drop at the Stafford Ice Arena at 3 p.m.
“We’ve been taking it one game at a time every single game this year,” Plattsburgh junior forward Shannon Stewart said. “But last year is definitely in the back of our minds.”
The Ephs (15-9-3) were awarded an automatic bid into the tournament by virtue of winning the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC). Williams defeated Bowdoin College, 4-1, in the conference final March 9.
The Ephs will be making their second-ever appearance in the NCAA Division III Women’s Ice Hockey Championships, having debuted in 2003.
“They’re going to come in with a lot of confidence,” Cardinals coach Kevin Houle said. “They’re an excellent team, and they deserve to be here. We have to be ready to play.”
Williams’ Cristina Bravi was named the NESCAC Player of the Year and was a First-Team selection. A senior forward, Bravi leads the team in goals (20), assists (20) and points (40).
Hanna Beattie (14-18-32), Michaela Levine (10-10-20), Gabrielle Vukasin (8-9-17) and Andree Heller (8-9-17) are also offensive threats. Beattie was a First-Team defenseman and NESCAC Rookie of the Year.
“There’s no question they have talent at all positions,” Houle said. “They have balanced scoring, but they’re a different team than what we’ve played lately. They’re faster and more physical.”
Chloe Billadeau is the team’s primary goaltender. A junior, Billadeau sports an 8-6-3 record to go along with a 2.55 goals-against average and .904 save percentage. She recorded 42 saves in a 4-1 loss to the Cardinals Jan. 14.
“We definitely want to keep taking shots,” Stewart said. “Just crash the net and get dirty goals. They’re not always going to be pretty. We just want to crash the net a lot.”
Plattsburgh is coming off a 4-3 come-from-behind defeat of No. 3 Elmira College in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) West championship game Sunday. The victory gave the Cardinals their second consecutive ECAC West title and fourth in program history.
Stewart (16-17-33), Bridget Balisy (14-18-32), Chelsea VanGlahn (12-18-30), Giovanna Senese (14-13-27) and Ali Vakos (8-18-26) are Plattsburgh’s top point-getters.
In the midst of a record-breaking season, goaltender Sydney Aveson was named ECAC West Player of the Year with a 19-1-1 record and 13 shutouts. Aveson ranks first in Division III with a 0.52 goals-against average and a .972 save percentage.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals own the nation’s top offense at 5.00 goals per game and scoring defense at 0.59 goals per game. Plattsburgh is 22.4 percent on the power play and maintains the nation’s top penalty kill at 95.3 percent.
“I think we’re playing extremely well as of late,” Houle said. “We’re coming off a successful weekend. At this point in the season, every game can be your last. I think the girls realize that.
“But we can’t overlook anybody. The next game is your biggest game. That’s the way we’re looking at it.”
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