Liberty DI women, ranked No. 1, eye first national title
March 5, 2013 | Lynchburg, Va.
Forecasts for snow on Wednesday forced Liberty University's Division I women's hockey team to leave for the Ashburn Ice House (in Ashburn, Va., near Washington, D.C.), site of this weekend's DI national tournament, a day early, following Tuesday night's practice.
That created a bit of a rush for players to wrap up their classwork and pack their gear for the four-hour road trip to Northern Virginia. But Liberty head coach Paul Bloomfield expects the top-ranked Lady Flames, who are making their fifth nationals appearance in seven seasons, to be fully rested and fired up for Thursday's 9 a.m. opener against No. 8 Michigan.
"Physically and mentally, the girls are ready to rumble," he said, noting they are eager to improve on last season's best-ever fifth-place finish. "We're all excited to go, kind of anticipating getting started. We're humbled by the fact that we're where we are."
Liberty will compete in three games in two days of pool play, facing sixth-seeded Rhode Island at 6 p.m. Thursday and third-seeded Minnesota at 1 p.m. with the top two teams out of each pool advancing to Saturday's semifinals. The championship game is set for 3:15 p.m. Sunday, following the 11 a.m. consolation final.
The Lady Flames last met Michigan last season, winning 2-1. They were swept by Rhode Island in two games last February and split two contests against Minnesota this past November in a tournament at Wisconsin.
"We've got to get down to business and get the job done," Bloomfield said. "They realize they aren't going to be given any handouts. They're going to have to work for everything they get. It's not Christmas time. There's not going to be any freebees. We've got to go at it one shift at a time, one period at a time, one game at a time."
Defending champion Northeastern, which knocked out Liberty last year, No. 2-seeded Massachusetts, fourth-seeded Robert Morris, and seventh-seeded Michigan State are in the opposite pool. Check the ACHA website for all of the matchups.
"There's always been one or two weak teams in the field," Bloomfield said. "This year, all eight teams are pretty strong and anybody can win the tournament."
Entering the tournament as the No. 1-ranked team for a third-consecutive ACHA poll, the Lady Flames could feel the pressure of being the favorite.
"Everybody's coming in and going to be gunning for us," Bloomfield said. "We've got a pretty big target on our back. All those teams will be ready to play us and put up a pretty good show."
Michigan (18-5-4) is led by Monica Korzan (20 goals, 23 assists), who is tied for second among ACHA DI players in total points and Kristin Griebe (23G, 17A), who ranks sixth.
The Lady Wolverines feature two strong goalies — Kathy Ross, who has posted a 9-5-2 record with a 2.07 goals-against average, 0.89 save percentage, and three shutouts, and Kelsey Duggan (5-1-1, 1.44 GAA, 0.91 SP, three SOs).
Rhode Island (19-5) has the ACHA's fifth-leading scorer, Cassondra Catlow (22G, 20A), who boasts an ACHA-best nine power-play goals and ranks second with three game-winners, and Alisha DeFilippo (23G, 13A), who's right behind Catlow with seven power-play scores.
In goal, the Lady Rams start Kayla DiLorenzo, who is 17-5 with a 1.68 GAA and 0.93 save percentage.
Minnesota (14-2-1), meanwhile, features extremely balanced scoring, led by Molly Sparks (16G, 12A), Maddie McGraw (14G, 13A), and Kinzey Johnson (11G, 13A). The Lady Gophers also have two stellar keepers in Dawn Rau (7-1, 1.65 GAA, 0.92 SP) and Samantha Dalster (6-0, 2.23 GAA, 0.89 SP).
But perhaps no team in the field is more balanced than Liberty, led in scoring by Stacey McCombe (19G, 9A), Carrie Jickling (14G, 12A), Amanda Grainger (11G, 12A), Carly Peleshok (8G, 13A), Laura Del Monte (9G, 9A), and Sarah Stevenson (4G, 14A).
The Lady Flames (25-2) also have three experienced goalies, including Chantal Lischynski, who played in last year's nationals before tearing her ACL and only recently returning to the ice. Samantha Rupp has filled in admirably, posting a 6-1 record and allowing just 0.89 goals per game with a 0.92 save percentage. Kristina Toppazzini has provided excellent backup, going 3-0 with a 1.78 GAA and 0.91 SP.
"We haven't made a decision as to who's starting each game (in goal), yet," Bloomfield said. "We'll mix them up a bit."
Liberty, which has outscored opponents 93-31 this season, will look to keep the pressure on its opponents with a barrage of shots on goal.
"The stronger we are offensively, we don't have to worry as much about how we play defensively," Bloomfield said. "But the girls are used to playing both sides of the puck, and there are always shifts during games when you're killing penalties."
The Lady Flames have capitalized on 28 percent of their power plays this season.
"Every year, we get better," Bloomfield said. "We're still not where I'd like to be. I'd like to see us up in the 35-percent range."
He also would like to see Liberty finish a higher percentage of its shots on goal.
"We've worked really well at outshooting the other team, it's just a matter of getting it in the back of the net," Bloomfield said. "We need to miss the goalie, not hit her, hit it in the goal."
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