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RPI vs. Quinnipiac women’s ice hockey preview
Head coach Rick Seeley has come to Quinnipiac and done what some may have thought impossible, and many had thought improbable. He’s taken the Bobcats’ women’s ice hockey team and turned them from perennial cellar dwellers into team with a legitimate shot to win an ECAC Championship in just his second season on the job. This weekend, Quinnipiac heads into its first ECAC postseason series in history when they play host to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in a best-of-three series at the TD Bank Sports Center. Without further ado, here’s the series breakdown.
Down the Stretch
Quinnipiac roars into the postseason as one of the hottest teams not only in ECAC Hockey, but the entire country. The Bobcats are 11-2-2 in their last 15 games, and both of their losses were by scores of 1-0. Over that span, they’ve beaten nationally ranked Harvard at home, swept then-nationally ranked Syracuse on the road, and tied both Cornell and Clarkson.
RPI was playing very well up until the final weekend of the regular season when they dropped games to Cornell and Colgate. But the Engineers also took down Clarkson on the road, as well as Harvard at home.
The Bobcats and Engineers split the season series, with both teams winning on home ice. Quinnipiac won the first matchup, 6-1, due in large part to a Heather Hughes hat trick, as well as the fact that RPI arrived late to the rink following its game at Princeton the night before. RPI won the second game between these two teams 1-0 up in Troy – one of only two losses Quinnipiac has suffered in 2010.
Quinnipiac has seen an uptick in scoring this season, averaging nearly a goal more per game (2.25) this season than it did last year (1.3). The top line of Kallie Flor, Janine Duffy and Heather Hughes has combined to score exactly half of the team’s goals this year, and they’ve gotten solid contributions from Kelley Davies, Kate Wheeler and Bethany Dymarczyk as well. Whitney Naslund and Allison Wright have had strong senior seasons for RPI, and the team as a whole has a very balanced scoring attack, with seven players tallying 15 points or more this season. Advantage: Push
We’ve seen that both teams’ defenses are able to shut teams down, as they both have done it to each other this season. Quinnipiac has a very young defensive core, and of the five defenders that Seeley usually dresses, all are underclassmen. The top D pairing of Jordan Elkins and Regan Boulton has been instrumental in helping Victoria Vigilanti in net, and Dymarczyk has been one of the Bobcats’ most improved players. Senior captain Laura Gersten is the leader on the blue line for RPI and has also scored six goals. The last time these two teams played one another, RPI held Quinnipiac to just 17 shots on goal. Advantage: Push
RPI goaltender Sonja Van der bliek is no stranger to postseason hockey. Just last season she carried the Engineers to the ECAC Championship game before falling to Dartmouth. Down the stretch, she allowed eight goals in eight games prior to the loss to the Big Green. This year her numbers have been respectable, with a .922 save percentage and a goals against average just under two. But the real story here is the player between the pipes for Quinnipiac.
Victoria Vigilanti is the biggest reason why this team is where it is today, and has been the best goalie in ECAC Hockey this season. Vigilanti is second in the nation in goals against average (1.31), fourth in save percentage (.948), and leads ECAC Hockey in both categories. She’s also held opponents to one goal or less in each of the Bobcats’ last 11 games; all of this as a freshman. Advantage: Quinnipiac
RPI has a lot of valuable postseason experience under its belt; just last year they made a run to the league championship game as the six-seed. But something that plays into the Bobcats’ hands is that most of their games have gone down to the wire. Quinnipiac is 11-6 in one-goal games this season, as well as eight ties, so 25 of its 34 games have been decided by a goal or less.
Perhaps more importantly, this series is being played at the TD Bank Sports Center, where the Bobcats haven’t lost in conference play this season (7-0-4) and haven’t lost period since Oct. 24 of last year against Niagara, the only team to beat them at home this season. Advantage: Quinnipiac
It’s been a season of firsts for the Bobcats, and now they are confronted with their biggest first yet. Overall, these teams are fairly evenly matched. One constant characteristic of playoff hockey is how far a hot goalie can carry a team, as Bud Fisher demonstrated for the Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey team back in the 2007 ECAC Tournament. Vigilanti has been fantastic in net over the last two months, and the best in the league this season. Couple that with the strong play at home this season for Quinnipiac, and it’s hard to see the Bobcats losing at The Bank this weekend. Bobcats Win Series 2-0
Photo credit: Amanda Shulman