BY RICKY ST. CLAIR
---- — PLATTSBURGH — The Plattsburgh State women’s hockey team will be tested from the get-go as it opens the 2012-2013 regular season this weekend in Northfield, Vt.
The Cardinals will take part in the East-West Showcase, a predetermined series of games featuring some of the most successful NCAA Division III women’s hockey programs in the Northeast.
The squad kicks off with Manhattanville College this evening at 6 p.m., while facing last year’s national runner-up and host institution Norwich University tomorrow at 4 p.m.
“This is an opportunity to see some quality teams early on, but it’s also a good measuring stick,” Plattsburgh State coach Kevin Houle said. “No one is at an advantage and each team has had the same amount of preparedness. It’s a great way to begin the regular season.”
The Cardinals collected a victory over Manhattanvile at home one year ago, a 4-0 victory in mid-December. Houle, who enters his 10th season behind the Plattsburgh State bench, said finding his team’s identity will take place over the course of the season.
“We have a pretty good idea of who we are, but finding (identity) takes some time,” Houle said. “It’s been a great two weeks on the ice and we have to collectively come together in order to have success this weekend.”
Norwich will host perennial ECAC Women’s West championship contender Elmira, before taking the ice with Plattsburgh State tomorrow. The Lady Cardinals dropped two one-goal overtime games last season to the Cadets, including a high-scoring 8-7 affair at the Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena Feb. 8.
“There’s no doubt (Norwich) enters the season as the No. 1 team in the country,” Houle said. “They lost some quality players, but on the other hand have several returning. They’re a tough team in their own barn and we just want to get out and compete.”
This weekend’s lineup excludes Justine Fisher, Kylie Klassen, Erika Shaubel and Helen Giroux, who all graduated this past spring. The Cardinals, however, return nine of the top 10 point scorers from a year ago.
“We didn’t lose a lot of (goal production), but we lost some real character kids,” Houle said. “It’s easy to sit back and say, ‘We’re not going to miss them,’ but I know we’ll miss them. There’s leadership and character there. We need different people to step up and leadership from the upperclassman.”
Houle has emphasized the importance of his team playing their own style and showing mental toughness in anticipation of the upcoming weekend.
“We open with two tough games on the schedule, but we have to be confident in our abilities,” Houle said. “Traditionally, our program hasn’t opened a weekend of this magnitude this early in the season. We’re heading out to try and win a couple of games.”