Women’s hockey skates into the season with high hopes

The Norwich women lined up on the blue line at Kreitzberg Arena.
After a stellar season last winter ended with getting knocked out of the playoffs,
the team hopes to go all the way this year.

The Norwich University women’s ice hockey team is entering its 11th season under head coach Mark Bolding, with hopes to recapture its place at the top of the NEHC conference once again. With a winning record of 23-7-1 that closed out the cadets’ 2016-17 season, they are looking to improve with the advent of the 2017-18 season.“We were a really close group last year. Since we only graduated two seniors, we are fortunate enough to keep that tight bond this year,” said team captain Bryn Labbe, 20, a junior forward from Calgary, Alberta.

The freshman class consists of six players, (one defenseman and five forwards.) The roster will be “abnormally large for a college level hockey team,” Labbe noted, but this is not a bad thing. Numbers are always a plus because numbers mean variety of skills and added depth.

The team has very high hopes this year as the first game is just around the corner. The home opener is approaching quickly as they get ready to host the Lady Hawks of Saint Anselm on Tuesday Oct. 24.

“It really feels like we are working harder than we ever have as a team during pre-season, between workouts and captain’s practices,” said Labbe. “We are going to be more than prepared come game time.”

The team’s pre-season routine consists of team lifts four days a week along with a captain’s practice every Sunday. Now that the ice is down in Kreitzberg Arena, coach’s practices are under way.

As the freshmen are getting into their new routines, “they are learning from the upperclassmen quickly,” said Labbe. “They have quite the role models to look up to, which is really exciting to watch because the team is clicking that much quicker as the days go by.”

The team did not finish off as it had hoped at the end of the 2016-17 season in March. The women went 0-2 at the Frozen Four, much to the dismay of last year’s team. The main goal this year is to make it even farther than they did last year.

“We have so much more talent than we know what to do with sometimes. The most important thing here is that we work together as a group to mesh into one team and not 30 individual athletes,” said Sarah Schwenzfeier, 22, a senior forward from Hingham, Mass., who won CCM First Team East Region honors from the American Hockey Coaches Association (AHCA) last spring.

As an experienced veteran out on the ice and one of the team’s leading scorers, Schwenzfeier knows the game like the back of her hand. She’s gotten to play on a line with most every other forward at this point.

“I don’t have anything bad to say about getting switched around from line to line. Everyone has something to bring to the table and it’s easy to adapt to playing with everyone since we skate together every single day,” Schwenzfeier said.

The team’s chemistry “has always been really strong,” said Schwenzfeier, mostly due to the fact that they spend a lot of time together with the exception of being in classes, where even there, many of them have classes together. This is how the team has been able to become so close so fast.

Last year’s regular season 15-2 conference record and team statistics just go to back this up. The team’s daily routine, after all, is: wake up, go to class, go to workout, go to practice, go to bed. Then the next day repeat. This is how the bonding gets done so easily, despite the tensions from any close-knit group.

“Sure, we fight from time to time, but we are girls after all,” said Schwenzfeier. “All girls get moody. Especially when we spend a good chunk of our time with each other every single day. There’s going to be disagreements, but it has never gotten in the way of our game.”

With the disappointment of last season’s finish still fresh, the Women’s Ice Hockey team is ready for redemption. The team is not willing to accept the 0-2 record earned at the 2017 Division III Women’s Ice Hockey Frozen Four Tournament. The women are coming into the 2017-18 season with even bigger hopes.

Although the home opener is Saint Anselm, a non-conference opponent, the team is very excited to play against them. “Opening our season to them will be really fun. It is the perfect team to get our freshman acquainted with the Division III College Hockey experience,” said Kim Tiberi, 21, senior defenseman from Raleigh, N.C.

Last season the Cadet’s notched up a huge win against the Hawks as the scoreboard read 5-2 at the end of the third period in Kreitzberg Arena. The Hawks have an outstanding record as well, so getting a win against them is always a confidence booster for the Cadets.

Each game will be a test for the Cadets, no matter what the opposing team’s statistics are. The opposing team on any given day “could be the lowest-ranking team in the league,” said Tiberi, but the Cadets still have to come out harder than ever to earn the win.

Some of the team’s toughest opponents beside the Hawks that they are scheduled to play this season are the Plattsburgh State Cardinals, Elmira College Soaring Eagles, Adrian College Bulldogs, and their in-state rivals, the Middlebury College Panthers.

“Obviously it shows in our past records that Plattsburgh is definitely our toughest opponent,” said Jessica Piracini, 20, a junior forward from Tewksbury, Mass. “They always give us our toughest battle, but every time we play them, we get that much closer to beating them. It’s like a mind game almost.”

The Plattsburgh State Cardinals are a powerhouse team, who are four-time reigning national champions to gain the Division III Women’s Ice Hockey title. The Cardinals are “the team to beat,” said Piracini. They have always had an outstanding women’s hockey program. They are “just a powerhouse that can’t be beat, and if they do lose it’s rare.”

The Cadets take off for Michigan at the end of October for an opening season tournament against Wisconsin-River Falls and either Adrian College or Stevenson College, depending on how the tournament bracket turns out. This will be a quick test for the lady Cadets to start off the season because it is some of the toughest competition the team will face.

But head coach Bolding has his sights set high as he is expecting to make it back to the NCAA tournament again this year. Bolding, with all the time he has invested into the women Cadets, has been a major part of the program’s success in his time here. As well as being a former Cadet himself and an All-American while skating for Norwich, Bolding knows what it takes to compete and bring his team to the top.

“We’re very excited to get the season started now that the ice is finally in here at Kreitzberg and the girls are chomping at the bit to get out there,” said Bolding.

“We have a strong upper class and our freshmen class looks strong as well. Everyone is looking forward to start the season and to hopefully make our way back to the Frozen Four and return to Kreitzberg with a national championship this year.”

Nothing would make the team happier than to bring home the gold at the end of the season. The cadets feel they are so close to yet another national championship. “If anything, this is the year for the girls,” said Bolding.

Superstition might be in their favor too. For all the Norwich women’s hockey fans out there, here’s a interesting fact; The last time that the women’s team brought home the national championship was in 2011, a year after the men’s team had won in 2010. The men’s team brought home the gold this past 2016-17 season, which means the women’s team is due for theirs this year.

“There are so many superstitions that go on within the team,” said Labbe. “The pre-game routines range anywhere from some girls having to tape their sticks in the same spot in the rink every game at the same time to throwing the football back and forth to even listening to the same playlist in the same order.”

Coach Bolding and assistant coach Mollie Fitzpatrick officially hit the ice with the team on October 16th to begin the 2017-18 season.

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