PLATTSBURGH -- After playing a first-year team and a junior team, Plattsburgh State plays its first ECAC West weekend series against one of the top teams in the conference.

The Cardinals host Utica tonight and Saturday afternoon.

"I think everybody knows that Utica is an excellent team and capable of beating anybody," Plattsburgh State coach Kevin Houle said. "So this is definitely our first big test."

The Pioneers last visited Stafford Ice Arena for the 2008 ECAC West tournament, when they fell to the Cardinals, 3-2, in the semifinals. Utica, which had a large freshman class last year, returns most of its roster but lost third-leading scorer Kelly Bills.

Forwards Andrea Maxon and Samantha Rowan led the team in scoring last year. Rowan, a senior, has a team high four points in two games this season, and Maxon, a junior, has two goals.

"They're going to be good," Houle said. "They're going to be a year better. Their defense, I think, is very mobile, and they have excellent goaltending."

The Pioneers opened the season last week with wins over Norwich and New England College. Junior Jill Doherty and sophomore Kelley Peers each started one game in net.

The Pioneers were picked fourth in the ECAC West preseason coaches' poll. They're the first team in the "others receiving votes" category of this week's Division III Women's Poll.

The top-ranked Cardinals are focused on the early minutes of tonight's game. After both their season-opening win over Potsdam and last week's exhibition win, Houle said he thought they started slowly and didn't really move the puck well until the second period.

"I think against Potsdam and against Nepean we really didn't come out of the locker room and take the game to them," Houle said. "So we want to make sure we do that, especially against a good team like Utica. I think that's key for us -- the start of the game."

Kate Fairfield, a sophomore forward, had two goals and an assist against Potsdam and is in a four-way tie at the top of the team's points list. Fairfield also had a goal and an assist against Nepean last week.

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