BY RICKY ST. CLAIR
---- — PLATTSBURGH — The thumb twiddling is about to come to an end.
Since its schedule was released last summer, the Plattsburgh State women’s hockey team had a pair of games circled on the calendar in anticipation of a battle for ECAC West superiority.
The No. 1-ranked Cardinals (14-0-1, 7-0), who hold a 17-16-3 all-time record versus No. 3 Elmira College, duke it out with their conference foe for a weekend slate of games beginning tonight at 7 p.m.
“I think they’re one of the biggest, if not the biggest rival we have,” coach Kevin Houle said. “When these two teams play, there’s always something on the line. This year, it’s playoff implications with home-ice advantage at stake. Both programs started at the same time, so it’s been a rivalry right from the get-go.”
Plattsburgh boasts the nation’s best offensive unit, scoring 4.87 goals per game. However, the Soaring Eagles (15-1-1, 10-0) create chances with a defense-first approach, ranking first in scoring defense with 0.71 goals against per contest.
“We have great goaltending, but we can’t leave (Sydney Aveson) out to dry,” Houle said. “If we commit turnovers in our own end, Elmira’s going to have a better chance of finishing.”
Last winter, in Elmira, the Cardinals skated to a 4-1 win, but missed an opportunity at a weekend sweep when the Soaring Eagles bounced back to win 2-1. The last time Plattsburgh swept Elmira was November 2009, but fell to its rival in the conference championship game four months later.
“It would be extremely tough to sweep,” Houle said. “The goal is to win each and every time you hit the ice, while taking one game at a time. A lot can happen in 60 minutes and we have to give 100 percent. We need a complete game and get a couple bounces of the puck to go our way.”
The Soaring Eagles have one loss and one tie on their overall record for the year. Despite a 2-0 lead following the second period, the squad surrendered two third-period goals for a 2-all tie with Norwich University in October before dropping a non-conference setback to Middlebury College 4-3 Nov. 24.
The Cardinals will see a familiar face this weekend. Ashton Hogan, who registered six goals and eight assists in her freshman year with Plattsburgh, transferred to Elmira over the off-season and now leads the Soaring Eagles in scoring with 13 goals.
Ashley Ryan (10-6-16), Tanis Lamoureux (7-11-18) and Caitlin Metcalf (7-7-14) are all capable of generating offense. Lauren Sullivan is the team’s primary net minder, sporting a .953 save percentage and a 0.79 goals against average.
“Their roster is excellent from top-to-bottom,” Houle said. “Defensively, they’re as good as any team in the country and have the players that can hurt you. They’re solid from the net out. They have three lines that can score, and their goaltending has pitched a combined nine shutouts.”