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Playoff Preview: Rookies to factor in first round
For the second straight year, the Quinnipiac women’s ice hockey team is headed to the playoffs. After finishing their best regular season in program history, collecting 20 wins for the first time, the Bobcats secured the fifth seed in the ECAC Playoffs and will travel to Princeton this weekend.
But the Bobcats could have been hosting a playoff series. Last weekend they held a one point lead over Princeton in a battle for fourth place, but a loss to Yale and a tie against Brown cost them the home ice advantage. But they’re putting it behind them, senior forward Kelley Davies said.
“Last weekend was last weekend,” Davies said. “We know where we are now, we’re in fifth. We just have to think about the upcoming games.”
But that wasn’t the first time many of these players had experienced disappointment. Last year Quinnipiac hosted RPI in the first round of the playoffs. The two teams played the second-longest game in NCAA Division I history in the deciding game. RPI won 2-1.
“All of us feel that we never lost,” Quinnipiac head coach Rick Seeley said.
That loss still stings for the players, and they still contest that the winning goal never went in.
“I will probably never ever forget that moment,” said junior captain Jordan Elkins, who was on the ice for RPI’s last goal. “It was one of the worst feelings of my life.”
But it’s a new year and a new opponent. The Princeton Tigers (16-12-1, 13-8-1 ECAC) finished in fourth, two points ahead of the Bobcats. Both sides won games at home against each other: The Bobcats won 5-2 in Hamden, while the Tigers earned a 3-0 shutout in Princeton, N.J.
Both teams this year have received great contributions from freshmen. Princeton is led by Olivia Mucha, who posted 21 points this year, while Quinnipiac has Kelly Babstock, who leads the conference in points (54), goals (29), and assists (25).
Aside from Babstock and Mucha, the Tigers and Bobcats boast multiple talented freshmen. For the Tigers, Sally Butler and Denna Laing are third and fourth on the team in scoring, respectively.
Quinnipiac’s Erica Uden-Johansson has made a nice counterpart to Babstock, recording 23 points. But both groups of freshmen have a lot to learn about the playoffs, Davies said.
“We try to do our best to talk to [the freshmen] and let them know how important these games are and how important every shift is during these games,” Davies said. “But freshmen can’t understand it until they actually get there and experience it for themselves.”
Last year the Bobcats scored a combined three goals in the series against RPI. Now the Bobcats have four players with 20 or more points and are getting production from everywhere. Of Quinnipiac’s top 10 scorers, four are defenders.
While Princeton and Quinnipiac may be very different when it comes to scoring goals, both sides have defenders and goalies who can keep them in the game. Princeton has a 2.00 goals against average, good for third in the ECAC, while the Bobcats sport a 1.68 GAA, good for second.
This is thanks to the two starting goaltenders: Quinnipiac’s Victoria Vigilanti and Princeton’s Rachel Weber. Both are in the top 10 in the ECAC in every statistical category. There could be very limited scoring in the series with these two goaltenders in net.
This series is going to come down to who can score and which group of underclassmen can handle the pressure the best. Both teams can defend and have great goaltending; it’s a matter of getting the puck past Vigilanti and Weber. In the end, the Bobcats get their first-ever victory at Hobey Baker Rink and take the series in three games.
Photo credit: Matt Eisenberg