So instead of doing a preview of the preseason games, we’re just going to replace it with a season preview for the two teams! Since the women open preseason tomorrow, here’s a preview for them, position by position.
Melissa Black (Transfer Jr.), Sydney Scobee (Soph.), Sierra Natzke (Fr.)
This is going to probably be the money question for UVM this year. Last season Madi Litchfield took her game to a whole new level, posting a .928 SV% and earning a spot on the Hockey East All-Star Team. She’s now graduated and turned pro, so it now becomes open season for that starting spot. Black (.913) played most of the matches Litchfield didn’t, and is only two years removed from a .931 on a winless Union team, so I’d expect her to see the bulk of the work to start. But Scobee showed some nice flashes as a freshman, and her size (183cm/6’0″ makes her the tallest goalie in the nation, per EliteProspects) makes her a valuable asset that gives the team a different look in net. And let’s not forget the newbie Natzke, either, although I don’t think she’ll see a lot of time right away.
Sammy Kolowrat (Jr.), Katherine Pate (Sr.), Amanda Drobot (Sr.), Greta Close (Fr.), Taylor Willard (Sr.), Taylor Flaherty (Transfer Jr.), Daria O’Neill (Jr.)
Not a whole lot of serious change here as this group only graduated Rachael Ade and lost Rachel Khalouf who has left the university. There’s a lot of experience here. Willard has been the team’s top scorer from the blueline in back-to-back years, and I’d expect her to be towards the top of the team’s scoring charts once again; ditto with O’Neill who took a nice step forward last year with 16 points. Flaherty comes in with two years of NCAA experience at North Dakota, and Coach Plumer sees her as a physical defender with a good shot from the point. Pate and Kolowrat bring solid defensive ability and plenty of experience, while Drobot brings good two-way ability. Close, the lone freshman from this group, may not play a TON right away, but does seem to have some good potential after being a prep school all-star and captain at Kimball Union. (Also, she’s the lone Vermonter on either UVM hockey team this year.)
Kourtney Menches (Sr.), Kristina Shanahan (Fr.), Olivia Kilberg (Fr.), Mackenzie MacNeil (Sr.), Ali O’Leary (Soph.), Val Caldwell (Fr.), Allie Granato (Soph.), Alyssa Gorecki (Jr.), Saana Valkama (Jr.), Alyssa Holmes (Fr.), Ève-Audrey Picard (Soph.), Anna Erickson (Fr. – can also play D)
There’s a very nice blend of youth and experience in this group, and the top three scorers from last season all return (Picard, Valkama, and Gorecki); if they take another step forward, scoring goals won’t be an issue for the Cats. I think Picard’s one of the most purely-talented players this program’s had and couples that with a terrific engine, and Valkama and Gorecki both took nice steps as sophomores last season (Valkama going from 11 points to 24 and Gorecki from 13 to 25). Quick note on Valkama, by the way – she withdrew her name from Finland’s player pool for the Olympics, so that won’t be a factor. (That said, Picard will likely be called up to Team Canada’s development team when they play the US in January, seeing as she was on their Summer Showcase roster.)
There’s a slew of new players up front, and according to Coach Plumer they’re all fairly interchangeable at this point but have adapted quite quickly to the team’s culture in practice. That’s credit to the coaching staff, but also a huge credit to the returnees for stepping up and taking on the responsibility of helping first-time college players adjust. They have different skill sets from the group that graduated last year, and he believes there’s going to be many more options when it comes to lines, adapting to certain situations. Also returning are O’Leary and Granato who will look to build on their first seasons. And then of course come the two seniors in MacNeil and Menches, who while they may not light up the scoresheet can still contribute in other ways, defensively and in the locker room.
Season Thoughts from me: The schedule’s tough. I’m not going to sugarcoat things. But you know what? That’s a good thing. This is a program that’s on the rise, that came within a double-overtime goal of the Hockey East championship game (and I think they could’ve taken Northeastern) last season, and returns a decent chunk of talent, and I think playing the elite programs of the nation is going to help elevate the team’s game and provide a good gauge of where this team is. Realistically, I think we’ll be looking at a midtable finish in Hockey East, fighting for home ice with Providence (who could be sneaky good this year) and UNH. That opening night game against PC, while it is just October, should be huge come March.