AMHERST, MA – The top two Division III women's hockey teams will collide Wednesday, Jan. 20 at 7 p.m. when No. 1 Amherst College (9-1-3, 6-0-2 NESCAC) takes on No. 2 Elmira College (11-3-1, 6-2-1 ECAC West) in Elmira, New York. A pay-per-view webcast and live statistics will be provided for the anticipated matchup.
Wednesday will be a rematch of the Jan. 4 meeting that saw Elmira earn a 2-1 win over Amherst in the championship game of the Panther/Cardinal Classic at Middlebury College. The Soaring Eagles took a 1-0 lead nine minutes and 42 seconds into that game, and the Lord Jeffs did not find the equalizer until early in the third period despite holding a 10-3 edge in shots in the second frame. Elmira regained its lead with less than 10 minutes remaining in regulation and held on for the victory.
Elmira leads the all-time series, 4-3. These teams first met in 2005 when unranked and upset-minded Amherst began the third period with a 2-1 lead over top-ranked Elmira, but the Soaring Eagles scored four unanswered goals for the win. Both teams have been ranked nationally in the past five meetings, with the lower-ranked team pulling off the upset each time. While the Jeffs are looking to hang on to their No. 1 ranking for a fourth consecutive week, the Eagles have a chance to return to the top spot for the first time since November of 2008.
Wednesday's game will mark Amherst's ninth encounter with a team currently ranked in the USCHO.com top six, and Elmira's sixth consecutive matchup against a team ranked in the top 10. The Eagles, who are kicking off an eight-game home stand, are 3-0 against the NESCAC this year and are riding a seven-game unbeaten streak (6-0-1), but they have not played a game since Jan. 10.
Amherst ranks among the top 10 in Division III in scoring offense (9th, 3.54 gpg), scoring defense (2nd, 1.00 gpg), power play percentage (5th, 26.2), penalty kill percentage (7th, 89.6) and fewest penalty minutes per game (5th, 8.0). Elmira's strongest attributes are its defense (1.53 gpg) and power play (22.6 percent), which each rank in the top 10.
Both teams feature immense depth. Ten Lord Jeffs have recorded at least seven points this season, but no player has more than 12 points. Elmira features nine players with at least seven points, none of which have more than 13. Amherst's Sinead Murphy '12 and Caroline Hu '11 ranked first (0.65) and fourth (1.27) in Division III in goals-against average, respectively, with Elmira's Lauren Sullivan '13 close behind in fifth (1.28). Sullivan earned Tournament MVP honors at the Panther/Cardinal Classic for stopping a combined 37 of 40 shots in upsets over Middlebury and Amherst.
As Amherst head coach Jim Plumer notes, these teams are quite similar. "They remind me of our own team. They play great defense and are very good in transition. I expect it to be another great battle that goes down to the wire." (The past five meetings have been decided by one goal.)
The Lord Jeffs have dealt with a more difficult schedule than they are used to, but they have consistently risen to the challenge. Whereas last year's Amherst team posted a 3-4 out-of-conference record during the regular season, this year's Jeffs are 3-1-1 against non-conference teams and 4-1-3 against nationally ranked opponents. In the eight games against ranked teams, Amherst has allowed only 10 goals.
No results were more impressive than this past weekend's 3-1 win and 0-0 tie at Middlebury, during which the Jeffs played without their two best defensemen, Kirsten Dier '10 and Randi Zukas '11. "What we accomplished at Middlebury was among the proudest moments I've had with this program," Plumer says. "The way we rallied without Kirsten and Randi in the lineup was amazing. It was a tremendous team effort."
After the rematch with Elmira, Amherst will have only one day of rest before resuming its NESCAC schedule with a two-game series against Hamilton College. "This week is a gut check for us," says Plumer. "It won't be easy. Hamilton has one of the best goalies in the country, and we're getting everybody's best shot. It's been a tough month, but we probably couldn't have asked for any more out of the kids than what we've gotten."
2004-05: #1 Elmira def. Amherst, 5-2
2005-06: #9 Elmira def. Amherst, 8-2
2007-08: #7 Amherst def. #4 Elmira, 3-2
2007-08: #4 Elmira def. #3 Amherst, 3-2 (NCAA First Round)
2008-09: #5 Amherst def. #4 Elmira, 4-3 (OT)
2008-09: #6 Amherst def. #2 Elmira, 4-3 (OT, NCAA Finals)
2009-10: #3 Elmira def. #1 Amherst, 2-1