It’s Thanksgiving week in the Green Mountain State, which brings plenty of food to your table and an exciting women’s hockey tournament to your mind!
For the fourth season, the University of Vermont hosts the Windjammer Classic tournament at Gutterson Fieldhouse. Last season brought us plenty of drama, including Minnesota Duluth’s surprising blowout win over then-#2 Colgate; a sister-versus-sister battle in the shootout between UVM and RIT; and Emma Yanko’s tournament-winning goal for UMD with just 98 seconds remaining in the final against the Catamounts.
This year’s field features two of women’s hockey’s best teams in Minnesota and St. Lawrence, along with the host Catamounts and the Syracuse Orange.
The first round will take place Friday, with the Gophers and Saints squaring off at 4 pm eastern and the Catamounts and Orange at 7. The winners will play in the championship game Saturday, while the losers will play in the consolation game.
All games will be streamed on UVM’s website. The stream is completely free, although there will not be audio commentary for the games that don’t involve UVM.
Let’s take a look at each team...
Top Scorer: Ève-Audrey Picard (7 pts)
It’s been a trying season for the tournament hosts, and the issue is simple: the team cannot buy a goal. UVM has been shut out three times this season, and has been held to one goal on five occasions, averaging 1.31 goals per game. That isn’t going to cut it, and the number was even more anemic before a 3-goal performance against BU on Saturday. The only team the Catamounts have defeated is New Hampshire.
This team, however, is also extremely young, with eight first-year players and six sophomores. This is particularly seen on defense, as UVM needed to replace three key defenders from last season. The new defenders have been fairly solid without the puck, and Maude Poulin-Labelle (5 points) has shown some offensive flashes as well. UVM has also had fairly steady goaltending all season, with senior Melissa Black and first-year Blanka Škodová putting together a respectable .914 save percentage. But UVM needs to get them some help offensively, and fast. A good showing at their home tournament could prove the kick-start to the season that they need.
Top Scorer: Emma Polanski & Allie Munroe (11 pts)
Syracuse is like...the anti-Vermont. Whereas UVM is an average defensive team with an offense that isn’t producing, the Orange are a fairly solid offensive team that struggles to keep the puck out of their own net. Whereas the Catamounts have a large presence of youth, Cuse boasts an experienced group with just four first-years and four sophomores. This dynamic will provide for an interesting semifinal.
What they lack in experience, the young Orange players make up for in skill - co-leading scorer Polanski is a sophomore, while first-years Lauren Bellefontaine and Abby Moloughney also see themselves in the team’s top five scorers. On the season, they’ve also outshot their opponents, so perhaps they’re due for some puck luck and a tournament run that could provide a shot in the arm for their season.
This is a team that can ride with anyone. Syracuse took Clarkson to OT last month, and earned a hard-fought draw on November 10 against a solid Princeton side. Underestimate them at your own peril.
Interesting key to the semifinal: UVM’s power play has largely been hapless this year, at a 4-for-54 rate with two shorthanded goals against. Syracuse is the nation’s leader in PIMs, so it’s something to keep an eye on.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Top Scorer: Nicole Schammel (16 pts)
After a bit of a down year by their sky-high standards, the Gophers are right back amongst the national title contenders this season, paced by a torrid offense averaging 3.71 goals a game (third in the nation behind Clarkson and St. Anselm) and 40 shots a game. The only losses for the Gophers this year came against fellow WCHA contenders in Ohio State and Wisconsin, and they will likely enter this tournament as the favorites.
The Gophers have a great offense, led by Schammel, Grace Zumwinkle, the Potomak sisters, and US Olympian Kelly Pannek. Their blueline has done a fantastic job keeping opposing shots to a minimum, allowing just 21 shots a game. Their roster is quite balanced between upper-class savvy and youthful energy, and in nine of their fourteen games have posted more than two goals.
Though they are the favorites on paper, hockey games ain’t played on paper, and this tournament could very well sneak up on them, especially with the travel from the Land of 10,000 Lakes to the shores of Lake Champlain. But the Gophers have the talent and the coaching to keep the Windjammer Classic trophy in the state of Minnesota.
One interesting side note for the Gophers: Backup goalie Sydney Scobee spent her first two collegiate seasons at Vermont.
St. Lawrence Saints
Top Scorer: Justine Reyes (12 pts)
From a team making a long journey from a time zone away to a team located less than a hundred miles away from Burlington as the crow flies, the Gophers will do battle with the Saints of St. Lawrence in the early Friday game.
While the Gophers are primarily a team that can outscore you to death, St. Lawrence thrives on their defense and the excellent goaltending of Grace Harrison (.948 SV%) and Sonjia Shelley (.922 SV%), with four shutouts this season and another three games where they’ve held opponents to one goal. The team’s stingy defense is also evident on the penalty kill, with the nation’s best rate at 96.4%.
And the Saints aren’t a team that shies away from upsetting the apple cart a bit, having taken down archrival and then-No. 1 Clarkson 4-3 earlier this season, and giving Boston College all they could handle in a two-game set at Conte that they were very unlucky to lose.
Much like the UVM/Syracuse game, both teams are somewhat opposites - whereas the Gophers are strong offensively, SLU keeps things tidy on defense. Minnesota has a good balance of youth and experience, while the Saints are a rather veteran group, with four each of first-years and sophomores.
It’s going to be a fun weekend of hockey in the Green Mountains, with two of women’s college hockey’s better programs facing off against two scrappy underdogs. Drop the puck!