Contact: Matthew Hart
AMHERST, Mass. – With the NESCAC regular season reaching its climactic weekend, the 10th-ranked Amherst College women's hockey team welcomes No. 7 Bowdoin College to Orr Rink for a Saturday-Sunday doubleheader. Playoff seeding will be in the balance as the two programs sit in a deadlock for second place in the conference standings with matching 10-3-1 league records.
Things kick off between the Jeffs and Polar Bears with Saturday night's 7:30 p.m. contest before the teams battle again on Sunday at 3 p.m. The finale will mark Senior Day for Amherst as the Jeffs honor Class of 2013 members Megan Doyen, Geneva Lloyd and Kaitlyn McInnis.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
While Amherst and Bowdoin remain neck-and-neck in the NESCAC standings, the conference table has largely sorted itself out otherwise, meaning the final weekend will not carry the same chaotic potential that it does on the men's side.
Conveniently heading into its NESCAC bye weekend, No. 6 Middlebury has already wrapped up the league's top seed at 12-2-2 (15-6-2 overall). With fourth-place Trinity well behind at 6-5-3 (11-7-4 overall) thanks to Amherst's recent sweep of the Bantams, the Jeffs and Polar Bears will square off to determine the second and third seeds in the upcoming playoffs.
If the teams split the doubleheader and end the weekend still tied in the standings, their seeding will depend on which team takes the fourth spot, as the tiebreaker will be head-to-head record against the top four teams. Bowdoin's two losses to Trinity could prove costly if the Bantams can retain their hold on fourth, but if Conn. College jumps ahead of Trinity, Bowdoin would take the second seed, having swept the Camels while Amherst split.
Although the Polar Bears enter the weekend as the higher-ranked squad, the teams' recent history favors Amherst heavily, with the Jeffs posting an 11-1-1 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 that contest, the Jeffs stifled their Pine Tree State rivals to the tune of a 1-0 shutout, grabbing the lead when Tori Salmon '15 struck 28 seconds into the second period then holding off numerous Bowdoin comeback bids as Sinead Murphy '12 made 16 saves in net for the Jeffs and the Amherst defense killed six Polar Bear power plays. Kayla Lessard '13 made 22 saves for Bowdoin, turning aside several strong insurance attempts by Amherst.
SCOUTING AMHERST (12-8-1, 10-3-1 NESCAC)
Head coach Jeff Matthews' first season at the helm has been quite the rollercoaster, but Amherst's stock has been rising quickly of late. After a 1-0 setback to Conn. College on Jan. 26 sunk the Jeffs to the .500 mark on the year at 7-7-1, the team has responded, with Salmon scoring an overtime winner against the Camels the next day and sparking a five-game conference win streak and a return to the USCHO national rankings this past Monday.
A tough schedule has done the Jeffs no favors as five of Amherst's eight losses have come against teams that were ranked in the top five nationally at the time of the contest, including non-conference setbacks to national powers Plattsburgh, Elmira and Norwich (twice).
Statistically, Amherst has had no trouble scoring, ranking third in the league at 2.95 goals per game, but the Jeffs have struggled to keep opponents off the board, surrendering an average of 2.43 tallies per contest. The trend is even more extreme on special teams, where Amherst leads the league and ranks fifth nationally with a 25.0 percent (18-of-72) conversion rate on the power play but is next-to-last in the conference on the penalty kill at 84.1 percent (58-of-69).
Lack of roster depth has troubled Amherst as the Jeffs have struggled late in games, with opponents outscoring them 30-22 in third periods and overtimes despite Amherst holding a dominant 40-21 scoring edge in the opening two frames. The Jeffs have been lights-out when taking early leads, posting an 11-0-0 mark when they score first, but comebacks have been in short supply as the team is just 1-8-1 when surrendering the first goal.
Lloyd has led the way for Amherst, tying for the conference lead and ranking 12th nationally (first among defensewomen) with 26 total points on 12 goals and 14 assists. Meanwhile, Salmon has emerged as one of the league's top forwards as a sophomore, tying for the conference lead with 17 assists and ranking fifth overall with 24 points. Enjoying a breakout senior season, Doyen (11-5-16) has also been a strong finisher up front.
SCOUTING BOWDOIN (16-4-2, 10-3-1)
Under third-year head coach and former Amherst assistant Marissa O'Neil, the Polar Bears enter Saturday looking to continue momentum from a much-needed sweep of Hamilton last weekend. After losing its 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 (3.41 goals per game) and defense (1.50 goals allowed per game) while ranking among the top 10 nationally in both categories. The Polar Bears also lead the league in penalty killing at 87.2 percent (68-of-78) but have been less efficient on the offensive end of special teams, ranking fourth with a 19.1 percent (18-of-94) conversion rate.
Lessard has anchored the Bowdoin defense with a strong senior season in net as she leads the conference in goals-against average (1.26) while tying for third in the league and fourth nationally in save percentage (.947). Offensively, Rachel Kennedy '16 looks like a shoo-in for NESCAC Rookie of the Year as she ranks third in the league with 25 points on 12 goals and 13 assists. A deep pool of talented forwards are right behind her, however, as seniors Kayte Hotlz (10-13-23), Kim Tess-Wanat (6-15-21) and Stephanie Ludy (12-7-19) as well as sophomore Chelsea MacNeil (11-9-20) all join Kennedy among the conference's top ten scorers.