Can Norwich pull off a double championship? Can anyone keep the Plattsburgh State women from a fourth consecutive national title? The answers begin trickling in this weekend as the NCAA Division III hockey playoffs reach critical mass.
The Cadet men, top-ranked in the country and riding a 22-game unbeaten streak, host Hamilton in the quarterfinals on Saturday. The NU women have the challenge of taking on No. 1 Plattsburgh in the Division III semifinals on Friday at Adrian College in Adrian, Mich.
Norwich (24-1-3) defeated Salem State, 3-1, in the tournament’s first round after finding itself in the bizarre position of not receiving an opening bye even though it is the top-ranked team in the 12-school field. Geography and the cost of travel factored into the seedings that required the Cadets to play an extra game.
“It’s a complicated [seeding] system, but nothing shocks me anymore,” said NU coach Mike McShane, now in his 22nd season. “They picked the right teams, but the seeding was surprising.”
McShane has won three NCAA titles in Northfield (2000, 2003 and 2010) but the Cadets did not make the NCAA field for the first time in a decade last season after going 17-8-1. That team had only one senior but now upperclassmen dominate the roster.
Forwards William Pelletier (16 goals and 25 assists), Anthony Flaherty (10 and 19), Tyler Piacentini (15 and 13) and Nick Pichette (11 and 9) are all seniors, as is defenseman Cody Smith, who has a jaw-dropping 30 assists this season.
“We have 10 seniors and there is a lot of leadership in our locker room,” McShane said. “We have a sign in our locker room that says 'Leave Nothing Behind,' and they’ve really lived up to that.”
McShane has used a two-headed approach in goal for the last three seasons that has continued to pay dividends this winter. Junior Braden Ostepchuk is 15-0-0 with a 1.71 goals-against mark while senior Ty Reichenbach is 9-1-3 with a 1.65 GA.
“They have taken turns during their careers as being the first choice but they are both playing very well now,” McShane said. “I’ll keep alternating them and going with the guy who has the best week in practice.”
The Norwich women (23-5-1) advanced to the semifinals with a dramatic 5-4 victory in double overtime at Middlebury on a goal from Sophie McGovern. The Cadets have a potent attack that is third nationally in goals scored (4.38) and is led by Sarah Schwenzfeier (19 goals and 20 assists), Kim Tiberi (13 and 25) and Amanda Conway (20 and 8). Laurie King has gone 19-2-1 in net with a 1.19 goals-against record.
NU, riding an eight-game winning streak, won the 2011 national championship and lost in the finals to Rochester Institute of Technology in 2012 and to Plattsburgh in 2014.
PSU (26-1-1) has won the last 12 meetings with Norwich, including a 3-1 victory in January. Plattsburgh is making its sixth consecutive appearance in the Final Four and is ranked No. 1 in goals-allowed (1.11) and is second in goals scored (4.57).
The Cardinals are trying to become the first school to win four consecutive championships (Middlebury won in 2004, ’05 and ’06) and have been paced by junior Melissa Sheehan, the Division 3 leader with 31 goals scored, and classmate Kayla Meneghin (18 goals and 26 assists). Senior goaltender is second nationally in goals-against with a 1.09 average).
Plattsburgh’s lone loss came in November against Oswego State.