Franklin Pierce, Saint Anselm learning what it takes at the highest level.
WHILE THE University of New Hampshire, Dartmouth, Maine, Princeton and Brown are not familiar opponents to the Franklin Pierce University and Saint Anselm College women’s hockey teams now, that will soon change.
With the New England Women’s Hockey Alliance receiving active NCAA Division I membership over the summer, this season is the first step into college hockey’s top tier for the Ravens, Hawks and the conference’s four other teams: Sacred Heart, Long Island University, St. Michael’s and Post.
Franklin Pierce (12-6, 8-3 NEWHA) opened its season with a 6-0 loss at UNH on Sept. 29, fell 2-1 at Dartmouth on Dec. 13 and completed its slate of games against non-conference Division I opponents with a 5-1 loss to Maine Dec. 14. Saint Anselm (10-7, 8-4 NEWHA) fell to No. 7 Princeton, 5-0 and 10-0, last weekend and will play two games at Brown Jan. 24-25.
Both the Hawks and Ravens, who finished last year as the NEWHA champion and runner-up, respectively, plan to continue adding more games against non-conference Division I teams moving forward.
“That’s the goal,” eighth-year Franklin Pierce coach David Stockdale said. “We’re hoping to build on that a little bit each year...It’s going to be a process but we’re going to take as many of those games as we can get each year and try to get ourselves up to that full D-I schedule as fast as we can.”
Twelfth-year Saint Anselm coach Kerstin Matthews said as of now, her team will play six games against non-conference Division I teams, including Brown again and Hockey East and ECAC members, next year. Matthews said when scheduling those games, she wants to make sure the Hawks can both be competitive and grow from each of them.
“It’s building the right schedule for this group,” Matthews said. “I think where every team in our conference is coming from a different perspective, this group doesn’t really know how to lose and they don’t know how to handle it well. And that’s my job to figure out how to help them take things away from it to make them stronger and make them better.”
The Princeton series was also eye-opening for the Hawks from an operations standpoint, Matthews said.
“From pre-game skates to the fact that we don’t have our own equipment manager that goes with us, there was a lot of things that we need to really look at and say, ‘OK, what can we do to be able to compete at this level?’” Matthews said. “The experience on the whole is a positive one. We just need to look at it and say, ‘What can we do here to make sure that we can elevate ourselves to that level of play?’”
One way both Franklin Pierce and Saint Anselm have worked to compete at the Division I level is adding athletic scholarships. All NEWHA programs began adhering to the Division I recruiting rules and offering athletic scholarships this offseason.
“I think the biggest adjustment or challenge, I guess, has been on the recruiting side because we’re juggling three classes at a time,” Stockdale said. “Whereas at the Division III level, we would pretty much recruit one year and when we finished that year, we’d start on the next year. Now we’re recruiting a couple years in advance.
“The game itself, it’s faster but the game is the same. Nothing really changes too much on that side. It’s more on the administrative side. The scheduling, the recruiting piece, a lot of that stuff is just taking a lot more time.”
Matthews said Saint Anselm has always attracted possible Division I to high-end Division III talent before the transition into D-I play but is now garnering interest from players who might not have considered the program without that move.
“If anything, it’s accelerated our cycle quite quickly,” Matthews said. “Last year, we pretty much recruited 2019s and 2020s. This year we did our entire class of 2021 by Thanksgiving.”
Matthews is interested to see what the recruiting trail is like a few years from now when every Division I program is going after the same class. Right now, longtime programs might have their recruiting classes through 2023 already planned out.
The Ravens have seen immediate contributions from their freshmen this year. Freshman forwards Katelyn Brightbill and Becca Kniss have both logged 16 points on seven goals and nine assists each. Freshman defender Stefanie Caban has registered four goals and 10 assists and classmate Ava Kison, a forward, has tallied nine points (six goals, three assists).
Both Stockdale and Ravens junior Haley Parker, a forward from Londonderry, said the team’s seven freshmen have provided depth it has not had in previous years.
“We had a few freshmen come in, which helped the team depth,” Parker said. “In the past it’s hurt us because we only had like two or three lines. We were getting tired more. But against these D-I teams, we were able to roll more people and have fresh legs go out.”
Current NEWHA schools will have recruited three classes at the Division I level when the conference welcomes Stonehill College in the 2021-22 season. That will also be the first campaign in which the conference champion will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA National Collegiate Championship.
Matthews said she hopes the conference will announce another incoming member soon and that, eventually, it will have eight to nine member schools. With nine teams, conference members could play each other twice a season and still have plenty of dates to schedule non-conference opponents, Matthews said.
“You look at Hockey East, they only have seven non-conference games so that’s something we could look at in the future,” Matthews said. “But I feel like for us right now, getting those non-conference opponents will hopefully strengthen our league because I think we need that outside exposure and that outside experience to give this young league some of those battles.”
As both Saint Anselm and Franklin Pierce move toward that 2021-22 season, each has goals of where it wants to be by then. Matthews said she would like the Hawks to be deeper in talent by that point. As they are this season, the Ravens will continue to be process-oriented and want to soon be viewed as just another Division I team.
“For us, we just want to get to a point where we’re not the team that moved up to D-I, we’re just a D-I team like everybody else and no one really thinks of us any differently than those traditional D-I teams,” Stockdale said. “If we can get to that place as a group then I think we’ve done a really good job.”
UNH men looking to end struggles against Northeastern
UNH men’s coach Mike Souza admitted after the team’s victory over 5-1 win over Brown last Saturday that its next opponent, No. 11 Northeastern, has had its number lately.
The Huskies (13-5-2, 7-4-1 Hockey East) have won each of their past four games against UNH (10-8-1, 4-5-0 Hockey East) as they prepare to face the Wildcats at the Whittemore Center Saturday night (7). Three of those victories came via shutout.
Northeastern, which is tied with UMass Lowell for first place in the league standings, defeated the Wildcats, 4-0, in the Friendship Four series in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Nov. 29. UNH enters the game ninth in the 11-team league standings.
“I think one of the things why they’re successful defensively is because they have the puck a lot, because they’ve got good players,” Souza told reporters during the team’s media availability Wednesday. “I think the best way to play defense is to have the puck and I’m familiar with their coaches and they do a nice job and they’re detailed in what they do offensively in particular.”
The Wildcats have not been shut out since that loss to Northeastern and have outscored their opponents 18-9 over their last four games, three of which they won.
“Anytime you can play the No. 1 team in the conference, it allows you to kind of measure yourself against them,” UNH junior forward and assistant captain Patrick Grasso told reporters Wednesday. “And honestly, we’ve got nothing to lose playing against them.”
Dartmouth’s Gaudet, NEC’s Carroll earn milestones
Dartmouth men’s coach Bob Gaudet became the second active coach and seventh all-time to coach more than 1,000 games in one conference in the team’s 5-1 loss at Quinnipiac last Saturday. The Big Green’s 23rd-year and all-time winningest coach is the first ECAC bench boss to reach the milestone.
Gaudet coached his 1,000th career ECAC game last Friday, when the Big Green won, 4-3 in overtime, at Princeton.
Seventeenth-year New England College men’s coach Tom Carroll earned his 250th career win on Tuesday, when the Pilgrims defeated Plymouth State University, 7-4, in Henniker.
Dartmouth (7-5-2) will visit Vermont (3-13-2) on Friday and host Boston University Saturday night (8) in Hanover.
NEC (9-4-1, 6-2-0), which received votes in this week’s U.S. College Hockey Online poll, will play at New England Hockey Conference foe University of Southern Maine (4-6-2, 3-4-1) Friday at 7 p.m.
UNH women, 10-8-2, set to host Connecticut this weekend
The UNH women’s team defeated Penn State, 2-1, last Saturday to secure its 10th triumph in its 20th game of the season, marking the earliest the team has reached 10 wins in a season under sixth-year coach Hilary Witt.
Wildcats freshman goaltender Nikki Harnett made a career-high 25 saves and junior defender Julia Scammell recorded her second career multi-point game with two assists in last Saturday’s win at Penn State.
UNH (10-8-2, 7-6-1 Hockey East) will host Connecticut (11-8-1, 8-4-1) Friday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m.
Saturday’s game will be the Wildcats’ annual Skating Strides Against Breast Cancer game, in which they will wear special pink jerseys, some of which will be raffled off, and sell special pink merchandise. Proceeds from both the merchandise and raffle tickets will benefit the Ellie Fund.
Plymouth State’s Fagan ties program career points record
Plymouth State University senior forward Alexis Fagan recorded her eighth goal of the season and program-record 30th of her career to tie the program’s all-time points record (45) in the Panthers’ 11-3 loss at Colby College Sunday.
Fagan, a Proctor Academy of Andover graduate and Burrillville, R.I., resident, did not register a point in Plymouth State’s 3-0 loss to Trinity College Monday. She will try to record her 46th career point on Friday, when the Panthers (3-9) host Nazareth (9-1-1) at 3:30 p.m.
The NH College Hockey column runs Thursdays during the season. Alex Hall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.