Jeffs Head North for Semfinal Battle with Bowdoin

WIH_CHAMP Contact: Matthew Hart

AMHERST, Mass. – The Amherst College women's hockey continues its quest for a fourth NESCAC title on Saturday when the third-seeded Jeffs battle second-seeded Bowdoin College in the conference semifinals. With top-seeded Middlebury hosting the remainder of the NESCAC Championship at Kenyon Arena, Amherst and Bowdoin will face off at 4 p.m. following the 1 p.m. semifinal between the host Panthers and fifth-seeded Connecticut College.

Matchup: No. 3 Amherst (13-10-1, 10-5-1 NESCAC) vs. No. 2 Bowdoin (19-4-2, 12-3-1 NESCAC)
Tickets: $5 Adults, $3 Students/Senior Citizens
Live Coverage: Webcast

Semifinals – Saturday, March 2
#1 Middlebury vs. #5 Connecticut College, 1 p.m.
#2 Bowdoin vs. #3 Amherst, 4 p.m.

Championship – Sunday, March 3
Semifinal Winners, 2 p.m.

The Amherst-Bowdoin rivalry turned in favor of the Polar Bears two weeks ago, with Bowdoin picking up a pair of wins at Orr Rink to wrap up an impressive regular season. Beyond that, the teams' recent history still favors Amherst heavily, with the Jeffs posting an 11-3-1 mark against Bowdoin over the past five seasons. The run has included a pair of tense one-goal Amherst wins in the NESCAC semifinals, one of which came in last year's conference tournament at Middlebury.

In the final regular season series at Amherst, Bowdoin goalie Kayla Lessard '13 was the biggest star, making 53 total saves to lead the Polar Bears to a 4-0 shutout on Saturday before a 3-1 win on Sunday. While Bowdoin dominated the opener, holding a 24-17 shot advantage, Amherst was much stronger in the second contest, outshooting the visitors 37-22 but falling victim to a trio of first-period Polar Bear goals as the Jeffs went 0-for-7 on the power play and were unable to solve Lessard aside from an Emily Flom '15 goal late in the second.

Meanwhile, Amherst has had its share of trouble with Middlebury recently, holding a 3-5-1 record against the Panthers over the last four years, including one-goal losses in each of the last two NESCAC title games. The Jeffs managed a 1-1 tie on a last-minute Erin Martin '16 goal in the rivals' first meeting this season on Jan. 11, but the Panthers cruised to a 5-2 triumph in the finale.

Amherst entered the year with a 15-game win streak over Connecticut College, but the Camels snapped the run when the teams met on Jan. 26 as Kelsie Fralick '15 made 37 saves in net for a 1-0 shutout. The Jeffs won in dramatic fashion the next day, however, with Tori Salmon '15 beating Fralick on a breakaway in overtime to lift Amherst to a 3-2 triumph, the first of a key five-game conference win streak for the Jeffs.

Doyen4 SCOUTING AMHERST (13-10-1, 10-5-1 NESCAC)

This year's Amherst squad carries a formidable postseason legacy as the Jeffs have played in the last six NESCAC championship games, winning titles in 2007, 2008 and 2010 before one-goal losses to Middlebury in each of the last two finals. After last Saturday's 5-1 quarterfinal win over Hamilton, Amherst holds a 16-8 record in conference postseason play, falling in the quarterfinals each year from 2002-06 but going a dominant 16-3 since. 

The Jeffs' only previous trip to the NESCAC playoffs as the No. 3 seed came in 2007, when Amherst knocked off Williams and Bowdoin in 3-2 overtime thrillers before a stunning 2-1 triple-overtime win over Middlebury for the program's first conference crown.

The Jeffs kicked off the 2013 postseason in fine fashion last Saturday as Megan Doyen '13 and Courtney Baranek '14 scored a pair of goals each to lead Amherst to a 5-1 win over sixth-seeded Hamilton. Amherst controlled from the start, going up 3-0 midway through the second on an unassisted strike from Geneva Lloyd '13. The Continentals drew within two with a goal seven minutes into the third period, but Doyen and Baranek iced the win for Amherst with their second tallies of the day in the final three-plus minutes. Kaitlyn McInnis '13 dished out a pair of assists for the Jeffs while Kerri Stuart '14 made 18 saves during a strong effort in net.

Head coach Jeff Matthews' first season at the helm has been quite the rollercoaster, but the last month has seen Amherst play its best hockey of the winter as it has risen to No. 9 in the latest USCHO national rankings. A tough schedule has done the Jeffs no favors as seven of Amherst's 10 losses have come against teams that were ranked in the top 10 nationally at the time of the contest, including non-conference setbacks to top-five powers Plattsburgh, Elmira and Norwich (twice).

Statistically, Amherst ranks third in the league at 2.83 goals per game, but the Jeffs have struggled to keep opponents off the board, surrendering an average of 2.46 scores. The trend continues on special teams, where the Amherst attack is third in the league with a 21.4 percent (18-of-84) conversion rate on the power play but is seventh on the penalty kill at 83.8 percent (67-of-80).

LloydWIL3 Lack of roster depth has troubled Amherst as the Jeffs have struggled late in games, with opponents outscoring them 33-24 in third periods and overtimes despite Amherst holding a 44-26 scoring edge in the opening two frames. The Jeffs have been lights-out when taking early leads, posting a 12-0-0 mark when they score first, but comebacks have been in short supply as the team is just 1-10-1 when surrendering the first goal.

The recently-named NESCAC Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, Lloyd has led the way for Amherst as a senior co-captain, ranking third in the conference (first among defenders) with 27 total points on 13 goals and 14 assists. Meanwhile, fellow first-team pick Salmon has emerged as one of the league's top forwards as a sophomore, tying for the conference lead with 18 assists and ranking seventh overall with 25 points. Enjoying a breakout season as a senior co-captain, Doyen (13-5-18) has also been a strong finisher, especially on the power play, where she leads all of Division III with nine strikes. Flom (7-4-11) and second-team All-NESCAC defender Ashley Salerno '14(3-7-10) have also reached double-figure scoring.

Stuart has shouldered the bulk of the goaltending duty for Amherst, posting a 2.47 goals-against average and a .895 save percentage, while Kasia Henley '16 (2.12/.911) has proven herself a capable backup in six appearances.

bowdoin_bw SCOUTING BOWDOIN (19-4-2, 12-3-1 NESCAC)

Under third-year head coach and former Amherst assistant Marissa O'Neil, the Polar Bears enter Saturday's semifinal ranked seventh nationally and riding a five-game win streak after a 5-3 win over Williams in the NESCAC quarterfinals. Kim Tess-Wanat '13 scored twice for Bowdoin, which overcame an early upset bid from the Ephs. Williams took 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the first, but Rachel Kennedy '16 tied it for the Polar Bears late in the opening frame and Stephanie Ludy '13 scored the eventual winner in the second as Bowdoin built a 5-2 advantage before a late extra-skater goal for Williams. 

The Polar Bears will be seeking their first trip to the NESCAC Championship game since 2006 on Saturday, having previously won titles in 2002 and 2004 and played in the final every year from 2002-06. After last weekend's win, Bowdoin owns a 14-9 all-time mark in conference championship play, trailing only Amherst and Middlebury.

After losing its 2012-13 season opener to Plattsburgh, Bowdoin dominated its competition for nearly two months, running off a 14-game unbeaten streak that was blemished only by a 1-1 tie with No. 3 Norwich. But after taking the opener of a doubleheader with Middlebury on Jan. 18, the Polar Bears stumbled through a 1-3-1 stretch, dropping the finale to the Panthers before a win and tie at Williams and two losses at Trinity.

Statistically, Bowdoin reads as the class of the NESCAC, leading the conference in both team offense (3.48 goals per game) and defense (1.48 goals allowed per game) while ranking among the top 10 nationally in both categories. The Polar Bears are second in the league in penalty killing at 86.8 percent (79-of-91) but have been less efficient on the offensive end of special teams, ranking fourth with a 20.8 percent (22-of-106) conversion rate.

A second-team All-NESCAC pick, Lessard has anchored the Bowdoin defense with a strong senior season in net as she leads the conference and ranks fifth nationally in goals-against average (1.27) while ranking third in the league and fourth nationally in save percentage (.947). Offensively, Kennedy was an easy choice for NESCAC Rookie of the Year, also earning first-team distinction as she ranks second in the league with 29 points on 15 goals and 14 assists. A deep pool of talented forwards are right behind her, however, as fellow first-team pick Kayte Hotlz '13 (13-13-26) along with Tess-Wanat (8-16-24) Chelsea MacNeil '15 (12-12-24) and Ludy (13-9-22) all join Kennedy among the conference's top ten scorers.

No NESCAC program has dominated the conference playoffs like Middlebury, with last weekend's 6-0 shutout of Colby giving the top-seeded and fifth-ranked Panthers a 22-5 all-time mark in league postseason play. With six tournament crowns and eight total appearances in the title game, Middlebury will look to add its third straight championship this weekend after wins over Amherst in 2011 and 2012.

The Panthers only conference losses on the year have come to semifinalists Bowdoin and Connecticut College, with Amherst and Trinity managing ties. First-team All-NESCAC defender Madison Stybicki '13leads a blue line that has held opponents to an average of 1.72 goals per contest, while second-teamerHannah Bielawski '15 (15-12-27) and Emily Fluke '15 (9-18-27) lead the attack. In net, Annabelle Jones '15 and Laura Pinsent '14 have shared duties, with Jones boasting a 1.39 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage and Pinsent at 2.35 and .897.

Fifth-seeded Connecticut College has shown flashes of brilliance this season, beating both Amherst and Middlebury, but history is against them in postseason play with the Camels just 2-7 in the conference playoffs after last Saturday's dramatic 1-0 quarterfinal win over fourth-seeded Trinity. The program's only other semifinal appearance came in 2009 when Amherst beat the Camels, 6-1.

This year's Conn. College squad has relied on a strong defense, as the Camels have limited opponents to 1.76 goals per contest thanks in large part to the work of Fralick between the pipes. The sophomore netminder has posted an impressive .951 save percentage to go with a 1.46 GAA, while a balanced Camel attack has been led by seniors Ariel DiPasquale (9-6-15) and Sam Schoeneberger (7-7-14) and juniorCourtney Dumont (9-3-12).

2013 NESCAC Women's Ice Hockey Championship
Quarterfinals - Saturday, February 23
#1 Middlebury def. #8 Colby, 6-0
#2 Bowdoin def. #Williams, 5-3
#3 Amherst def. #6 Hamilton, 5-1
#5 Conn. College def. #4 Trinity, 1-0

Semifinals - Saturday, March 2 - hosted by Middlebury
#5 Conn. College at #1 Middlebury - 1:00 pm
#3 Amherst vs. #2 Bowdoin - 4:00 pm

Championship - Sunday, March 3 - hosted by Middlebury
Semifinal Winners - 2:00 p.m.