Contact: Justin Long
AMHERST, Mass. – Back in January of 2007, the Amherst College women's hockey team was a middle-of-the-pack NESCAC program. Norwich University didn't have a varsity team. But when the seventh-ranked Lord Jeffs (12-3-0) host the top-ranked Cadets (14-1-1) this Tuesday, fans will get to see what have emerged as two of the best programs in Division III.
Norwich has improved its record each year since its inaugural 2007-08 season, having made three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and back-to-back trips to the national title game. The Lord Jeffs were crowned NCAA champions in 2009 and 2010, earning a convincing 7-2 win over the Cadets in the 2010 title bout.
The Cadets regrouped and won the 2011 national title, finishing with a 25-4-2 record and knocking off powerhouse RIT in the finals, 5-2. Norwich suffered a 4-1 loss to RIT early this season, but the Cadets have climbed their way back to the No. 1 ranking thanks to a 14-game unbeaten streak (13-0-1).
It's hard to find a flaw in the Cadets, who lead Division III in scoring offense (5.94), scoring defense (0.75), power play (38.6) and penalty kill percentage (94.8), and combined special teams (61.7). They have posted nine shutouts on the year and are outscoring opponents 30-1 in their past four games.
Several Cadets are among the national leaders in major statistical categories. Julie Fortier '12 (18-12-30) leads Division III in goals per game (1.12), with Sarianne Lynn '12 (2-20-22) leading all defensemen in points (1.38) and all players in assists (1.25). Kaycie Anderson '15 paces this year's rookies with 1.44 points per outing, while Kelly Fisk '14 boasts the nation's highest save percentage (.960) and lowest goals-against average (0.69).
In short, the Jeffs have their hands full. The key for Amherst will be to prevent the game from becoming a slugfest. The Jeffs proved they can win close games against good teams with their recent 2-1 victories at Wis.-River Falls and Saint Thomas, while the Cadets are 1-13-6 in their past 20 games in which they are held to only one or two goals.
Norwich has scored at least three goals in each of its past 44 wins and has not been shut out since Dec. 6, 2009, a span of 68 games. Amherst showed it can shut down offensive juggernauts by holding RIT to only one goal and 20 shots on net earlier this season, but the Jeffs will need to replicate the power-play success they saw at home against Middlebury (3-for-8) and Oswego (4-for-9).
Amherst was able to keep Norwich at bay in the first two periods of last year's meeting, but the Cadets scored four unanswered goals at even strength en route to a 5-2 win. Fortier and Melissa Rundlett '12 had three points apiece in that game, with Rundlett scoring twice in the third frame. Emily Vitale '12 has been successful against Norwich, combining for three goals and two assists in her past two meetings.
Norwich begins this week with the top ranking in Division III, but the elite teams have shown this year's national title will be up for grabs. The Cadets lost handily to RIT, which lost to Plattsburgh, which lost to Amherst, which lost to Middlebury, and so on, and so on. With another chance to knock off a No. 1 team, the Lord Jeffs can make another push in the rankings with a solid showing this Tuesday.
Opening faceoff is set for 7 p.m. in Orr Rink. For those who can't attend the game, be sure to tune in to JeffCast Tuesday at 6:50 p.m. to hear pre-game analysis from play-by-play commentator Hugh Campbell.
TUESDAY, JAN. 24, 7 P.M. * ORR RINK
#7 Amherst (12-3-0) vs. #1 Norwich (14-1-1)