Top-Seeded Jeffs Eye Unprecedented Third-Straight Title

Top-Seeded Jeffs Eye Unprecedented Third-Straight Title

Connecticut College Reaches Semifinals for First Time

HADLEY, Mass. - Amherst College will look to become the first team to win three consecutive NESCAC titles this weekend when the Jeffs host the final rounds of the 2009 NESCAC Women’s Ice Hockey Championship. Top-seeded Amherst will take on sixth-seeded Connecticut College in the first semifinal on Saturday, March 7 at 12:00 p.m. and will be followed immediately after by second-seeded Middlebury facing off against fourth-seeded Colby. The 2009 NESCAC Women’s Ice Hockey Championship wraps up on Sunday afternoon with the puck dropping at 2:00 p.m. Tickets for this weekend’s championship are $5 for adults and $2 for students.

Amherst (20-4-0, 16-0-0 NESCAC) locked up the number-one seed with a week remaining in the regular season, as a 5-0 win over Middlebury on Saturday, Feb. 14 guaranteed the Jeffs the top spot for the first time in tournament history. Amherst also achieved a feat that only one team, Middlebury, had been able to accomplish before - finishing the conference slate a perfect 16-0-0. The Jeffs did this with a pair of home-and-home wins against their semifinal opponent, Connecticut College, 6-0 in New London, Conn. on Feb. 21 and 1-0 at home on Feb. 22. Amherst heads into the weekend with an impressive 12-1-0 record since a 3-1 home loss to Plattsburgh St. on Jan. 16 and is in the midst of a 49-game unbeaten streak against conference foes dating back to December of 2006 (42-0-7). While Amherst has secured a third consecutive 20-win season already, one more victory will set the program mark for wins. The Jeffs rank at or near the top of every statistical category in the league this season. The offense is second among NESCAC teams, producing 3.71 goals per game, while the defense, a big component of its past two title runs, leads the league with an average 1.33 goals allowed. Special teams have also fared well with the power-play producing at a 19.4-percent rate (2nd NESCAC) and the penalty kill tops among teams at 89.7-percent. It all starts in net for Amherst with junior goaltender Krystyn Elek (Summerville, S.C.). The 2007 NESCAC Rookie of the Year and a two-time All-Conference selection owns a 12-4-0 record with four shutouts and has the best goals against average (1.30) and save percentage (.945) in the conference currently. On offense, sophomore forward Courtney Hanlon (Fullerton, Calif.), an All-NESCAC honoree as a rookie last season, paces the Jeffs in scoring while ranking fifth in the NESCAC with 14 goals and 13 assists for 27 points. Teammate Lindsey Harrington (Westford, Mass.) is second to Hanlon on the Amherst stat sheet with nine goals and 10 helpers for 19 points, needing just six more to reach 100 for her career.

Hoping to derail the Amherst freight train will be the sixth-seeded Camels of Connecticut College (9-13-3, 6-8-2 NESCAC). The Camels were in the hunt for a home playoff game in the quarterfinals during the final week of the regular season but the aforementioned losses to the Jeffs put the goal out of reach. Entering the 2009 tournament with a 2-5-0 mark over its last seven outings didn’t seem to faze Connecticut College as it went on the road and upended third-seeded Trinity 2-1 to reach the conference semifinals for the first time ever. Statistically this year, the Camels are sixth in the league in scoring offense and defense, scoring 2.52 goals per game while giving up an average 2.92. The penalty kill has been impressive for Connecticut College this season and is currently second behind Amherst with an 87.8-percent kill rate. Arguably a team’s best penalty killer is its goaltender, and in net for the Camels has been the tandem of junior Sara Christopher (Andover, Mass.) and senior Lauren Mellen (Joliet, Ill.). After studying abroad in the fall, Christopher has a 2.58 goals against average and a .926 save percentage while Mellen holds a 3.14 goals against average and a .908 save percentage. Mellen made 53 saves on 54 shots against Trinity to propel her club into the semifinals. Up front, junior forward Erin Davey (Nashua, N.H.) has provided the bulk of the Camel’s offense with 14 goals, double what any other Connecticut College skater has been able to produce. Five of Davey’s 14 tallies have served as game-winners for her team, and one more on Saturday would not only tie her for the conference lead but also give the Camels their first win over Amherst since December of 2005.

Second-seeded Middlebury (17-3-4, 12-2-2 NESCAC) enters the weekend with wins in five of its last six games, the lone loss coming at Amherst on Feb. 14. The Panthers, the only squad to appear in the semifinals every year the tournament has been held, claimed a 3-1 victory over Williams during last Saturday’s quarterfinals. Since tournament play was adopted in 2002 Middlebury has earned three NESCAC championships, the first in 2003 before taking back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006. The Panthers once again boast the most productive offense in the league as they head into this weekend’s action with an average 4.04 goals scored per game. Part of their offensive success has come on the power-play, as the special teams unit is clicking along at a league-leading 21.0-percent conversion rate. Captaining Middlebury’s prolific attack this season are seniors Molly Vitt (Kenilworth, Ill.) and Annmarie Cellino (West Seneca, N.Y.) along with rookie Maggie Melberg (Woody Creek, Colo.). Vitt, one of four Panthers to tally 10 or more goals in 2008-09, has a team-high 28 points on 10 goals and 18 assists, good enough for fourth in the NESCAC. Cellino, the 2008 NESCAC Player of the Year, trails her classmate with nine goals and 17 assist for 26 points. Cellino is tied with Vitt for the most power-play points in the league, with Vitt recording 4-10-14 and Cellino contributing 14 assists. Melberg’s 11 goals are tied with senior Erika Nakamura (Boston, Mass.) for the team lead in tallies, while her 23 points (11-12-23) pace the league's first year skaters this season. On defense, Middlebury ranks second behind only Amherst with a goals allowed average of 1.88. While the penalty kill is in the middle of the conference pack with an 83.7-percent success rate, the Panthers are one of the lowest penalized teams in the NESCAC, being whistled for just 8.5 penalty minutes per contest.

Middlebury will be in search of some reciprocity on Saturday when it faces fourth-seeded Colby (12-10-3, 7-7-2 NESCAC) in the semifinals for the second-straight year. The Mules bounced the top-seeded Panthers from the 2008 championship, scoring two quick goals early in the contest and then prevailing in overtime 3-2 to reach the title game for the first time in tournament history. Colby earned a trip to the semifinals for the third time in the last four years by downing Maine rival Bowdoin 2-1 this past Saturday. The Mules dropped both of their meetings with the Panthers this season, falling by a 2-1 score on Jan. 9 in Waterville, Maine and 6-3 at Middlebury, Vt. on Feb. 1. While Colby joins Middlebury and Amherst among the top three offensive teams in the conference, the Mules are nearly a full goal behind the second-place Jeffs with an average 2.88 goals per game. Colby’s defense on the other hand ranks fifth, allowing on average 2.84 goals. Providing the bulk of the Mules’ firepower this winter has been forwards Stephanie Scarpato (Osterville, Mass.) and Becky Julian (South Windsor, Conn.). After a rookie season where she accumulated 20 points, the sophomore Scarpato is second in the NESCAC in points with a team-leading 32 points on 13 goals and a conference-high 19 assists. Julian, who received All-NESCAC recognition as a junior last year, is just behind Scarpato in third with 29 points, scoring 20 goals (2nd NESCAC) and nine assists. On the blue line, senior Heather Nickerson (Falmouth, Mass.) ranks fourth both for the Mules and among all defenders with a goal and 14 assists for 15 points. Saturday’s outing will be the third postseason contest between the Panthers and the Mules, all of which have occurred in the semifinals. Middlebury won the initial meeting in the 2006 semis 3-1 before Colby took the previously-noted 2008 semifinal contest in overtime.

Quarterfinals - Saturday, Feb. 28 at Higher Seeds

at No. 1 Amherst 7, No. 8 Hamilton 1
at No. 2 Middlebury 3, No. 7 Williams 1
No. 6 Connecticut College 2, at No. 3 Trinity 1
at No. 4 Colby 2, No. 5 Bowdoin 1

Semifinals - Saturday, March 7 at Highest Remaining Seed
No. 6 Connecticut College at No. 1 Amherst - 12:00 p.m.
No. 4 Colby vs. No. 2 Middlebury - 3:30 p.m.

Championship - Sunday, March 8
Semifinal Winners - 2:00 p.m.