Windjammer Classic Preview

Four teams, one each from the four conferences, will converge in Burlington for the third annual tournament.

Thanksgiving break has come to the University of Vermont, and with it the third annual installation of the Windjammer Classic at Gutterson Fieldhouse.

Each conference will be represented at the tournament, as will one of the nation’s elite teams. The semifinal games will be on Friday, November 24, while the consolation and championship games will come the next day.

The tournament kicks off on Friday with the Colgate-Minnesota Duluth semifinal at 4 pm, followed by the host Catamounts battling RIT at 7 pm.

The winners of those games will play in the championship game on Saturday at 7 pm, while the losers will play in the 4 pm consolation game.

All games will be streamed free of charge on UVM’s website, you can find the link here.

Let’s take a look at the four teams participating:

Vermont Catamounts (host)

Record: 5-9-1 (3-6-1 Hockey East)

Players to Watch:  G Sydney Scobee, D Taylor Willard, F Alyssa Gorecki

The host team of the tournament has not won it in the first two years, losing the final to Clarkson last year and finishing fourth in 2015. It’s been an up-and-down season for UVM, with some high highs (a 3-2 home win over Clarkson), low lows (a 7-1 home loss to BU and a 6-2 loss at UNH), and injury woes. They enter this tournament on a three-game losing streak after being swept by BU last weekend.

Sydney Scobee has done a solid job of filling the void left by Hockey East All-Star Madison Litchfield in the net, posting a .921 save percentage.

In front of her, the UVM blueline is led by its two Taylors. Willard, a two-time Hockey East All-Star, has remained her usual reliable self after an early-season injury, with six points in 14 games about matching the point-per-game pace she had last year. The other is Taylor Flaherty, a junior who joined UVM after North Dakota shut down their program. She has been huge for UVM, with her seven points being tops among team defenders, and provides solid physicality as well.

Up front, the top three scorers from this season remain the same as the top three scorers from last year: juniors Alyssa Gorecki (13 points) and Saana Valkama (8 points) along with sophomore Ève-Audrey Picard (11 points). UVM has also seen solid contribution from freshman Kristina Shanahan, who has 7 points in her first season in Burlington.

The highs are high for this team, but the lows are low. Now, let’s talk about their semifinal opponent....

RIT Tigers

Record: 4-9-1 (1-5-0 CHA)

Players to Watch: G Terra Lanteigne, F Kendall Cornine, F Kandice Sheriff

Much like UVM, RIT is limping a bit into the tournament, having lost four straight and six out of seven. The Tigers have had a number of issues, including an anemic power play (operating at a 4.1% rate), being heavily outshot (37-22 on average), and struggling to start and close games (being outscored 20-6 in the first period and 18-3 in the third). It is a young team, with only three seniors.

Terra Lanteigne posted a .917 save percentage in goal last year, and looks to be around similar numbers this year; her primary backup, freshman Jessi O’Leary, has been a bit shaky, operating at an .899. Lanteigne is prone to great games though, such as the 50-save performance in RIT’s last win, an OT victory over BU.

Their defense has been a bit leaky, and it hasn’t produced much offense; no defender has multiple points and only three (Brinna Dochniak, Christa Vuglar,  and Ellie Larson) have pointed at all.

Up front, RIT is the only team in the tournament where their top scorer has not cracked double digits, as Kandice Sheriff leads the way with 9. That being said, this is a team that struggles to score; excluding independents, RIT has only scored more goals than four other teams (Dartmouth, Merrimack, Penn State, and St. Cloud State).

Now, let’s take a look at the other semifinal, including the No. 2 team in the nation...

Colgate Raiders

Record: 13-1-0 (5-1-0 ECAC)

Players to Watch: G Julia Vandyk, D Lauren Wildfang, F Jessie Eldridge

Colgate rolls into the tournament as the No. 2 team in the country, with their lone loss coming against a ranked foe (St. Lawrence). What’s made them so formidable this season has been their balance; they’ve scored 3.86 goals per game (fourth-most in the nation excluding independents) and allowed 1.36 (the third-fewest). They dominate possession and have only been outshot once. They no doubt enter this tournament as favorites.

Goaltending has been split between Julia Vandyk and Liz Auby. Auby started many of the earlier games this season, but the incumbent Vandyk has been starting much more lately and has posted a stupendous .951 save percentage. Even if she sits, Auby has been good in her own right with a .924.

The defense in front of them has been a huge help with and without the puck, too. With it, they have three defenders with at least five points (Olivia Zafuto, Lauren Wildfang, and Kaila Pinkney), and one (Wildfang) has 13. Without it, they’ve limited foes to just an average of 22 shots against.

Up front, the team’s experience has led the way. Seven of their eight top scoring forwards are upperclassmen, with the only exception being freshman Malia Schneider. Jesse Eldridge (16 points) and Shae Labbe (15) lead the way. The offense has especially been torrid of late; the Raiders have scored 22 goals in their last five games, including a 7-1 stomping of a solid UNH team.

And now for their semifinal opponent....

Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs

Record: 7-8-0 (5-5-0 WCHA)

Players to Watch: G Jessica Convery, D Jalyn Elmes, F Naomi Rogge

The Bulldogs lost a ton of talent this offseason, with the likes of Lara Stalder and Ashleigh Brykaliuk graduating from last season’s 25-win team. As such, it took them a while to get going this year; after starting the  season with a sweep of Penn State, they went on a six-game losing streak, but they’ve rebounded of late. They have been very uneven depending on venue; 6-2 at home, but 1-6 in road and neutral site games.

The goaltending has been largely covered by a freshman, Jessica Convery, with last year’s starter, Maddie Rooney, away with the US national team. She’s done okay, with a .921 save percentage, but filling Rooney’s skates (she posted a .942 SV%) was always going to be an uphill climb.

The team’s blueline has a good blend of youth and experience. Sophomore Jalyn Elmes leads the defenders with nine points, while seniors Jessica Healey and Catherine Daoust add seven each. Linnea Hedin adds more experience, while McKenzie Revering and Lindsay Czech are both looking to learn from the veterans.

Up front is where UMD has struggled, with just 2.07 goals per game. It’s a young forward group, so growing pains are expected. Freshmen Naomi Rogge (13 points) and Ashton Bell (9 points) have shown promise in their first year, with sophomore Sydney Brodt not far behind with eight. The wild card is Ryleigh Houston, who was a WCHA All-Rookie Team member with North Dakota last year, but has struggled a bit this year with zero goals in her first 15 games. If she starts to show what she did with the Fighting Hawks last year, UMD’s offense could become a lot more formidable.

Fun connection: Jessica Koizumi, who is an associate head coach for the host Catamounts, was once captain of the Bulldogs.