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Happy New Year! In this first blog post we’ll take a look at the first half of the season with some surprises and disappointments so far in the 2012-13 season as well as hand out some mid-season All-American recognition.

Three surprises

1. Elmira

With Greg Fargo leaving to take the Colgate job and former EC men’s assistant coach Dean Jackson taking over the reins of the women’s program, as well as leading scorer Tori Charron jumping ship to Norwich, I had my doubts coming into the season if the Soaring Eagles could maintain its level over the past few seasons. Although Elmira has seen back-to-back ECAC West Play-In round exits, the Soaring Eagles are 11-1-1 currently with their lone loss coming to Middlebury. EC still has some formidable opponents to play, including a looming showdown for ECAC West power at Plattsburgh on Jan. 19 and 20. Elmira will also host Manhattanville on Jan. 4 and Middlebury on Feb. 16 in two more crucial games. Sophomore Ashton Hogan, who transferred in over the summer from Plattsburgh has relished her new role with Elmira, leading the team with 12 and three assists for 15 points.

2. Hamilton

Under first-year coach Emily McNamara, Hamilton is off to its best start in program history with a 6-2-0 record entering the break. The last time the Continentals opened a season this strong was in 2000-01 when they were 6-3. Hamilton only ended up winning two more games that season to finish 8-12-1. McNamara came to Hamilton after serving for four years as an assistant coach under legendary Bill Mandigo at her alma mater Middlebury. Hamilton’s schedule gets a little tougher in the second half with five brutal road games at Elmira, Middlebury (2) and Bowdoin (2) as well as a pair of home games vs. Trinity. However, led by seniors Kate Zimmerman (11-2-13) and Becca Hazlett (5-2-0, .907 save percentage, 2.00 GAA) the Continentals are primed for making a run at the best season in Hamilton women’s hockey history.

3. Bowdoin

For the first time since the mid-2000’s it might be safe to say Bowdoin is Back. The Polar Bears, a national powerhouse in the early 2000’s with back-to-back Frozen Four appearances in 2002 and 2003, have fallen back over the past five or six seasons while Middlebury, Amherst and Trinity have rose to the top of the NESCAC. However, with a 6-1-1 record so far in 2012-13 including an impressive tie against Norwich where they dictated the play at times, Bowdoin is back and primed to make a run at the NESCAC and nation’s elite again. Led by the senior goalie tandem of Kayla Lessard and Tara Connolly along with a balanced offense, Bowdoin has picked up some nice wins over Holy Cross, St. Norbert and UMass-Boston. Their lone loss so far came at the hands of undefeated and top-ranked Plattsburgh in their first game of the season (4-1.). Junior defensemen Emily Tang and Madeline Lane might be two of the best defensemen in the country no one is talking about as well. I’d put Bowdoin as Middlebury’s chief challenger to the NESCAC crown this season.

Three Disappointments

1. Amherst

I don’t know if anyone could have predicted Amherst’s drop would happen this fast after previous head coach Jim Plumer left for Division I Vermont this summer. The Lord Jeffs also lost some key contributors to graduation but they still returned the reigning NESCAC Player of the Year Geneva Lloyd, along with Tori Salmon and Ashley Salerno. Amherst slipped over .500 coming into the break picking up two one-goal victories at Oswego and Utica to up its record to 5-4. On paper, who the losses came to aren’t terrible as Plattsburgh and Elmira both beat the Lord Jeffs at the Panther-Cardinal Classic. What was alarming is the scores with Plattsburgh winning 8-3 and Elmira downing Amherst 6-1. Granted, both of the games were close heading to the third and then opened up late, it still is an alarming number of goals going in for a team that built itself on defending from the net out. Amherst has given up 30 goals to date, they gave up 36 all of last year, and five of those came in its final game in the NCAA Quarterfinals at Norwich.

2. Norwich

While Norwich’s 6-1-3 record so far is certainly nothing to shake your fist at, it’s still not quite what everyone had in mind in Northfield coming into the season. The Cadets brought in a much-hyped recruiting class featuring numerous transfers from Division I and top Division III programs as well as some promising young rookies, including a Czech Republic National Team player. Three of Norwich’s blemishes have come at home where they have been close to unbeatable over the last four years. NU rallied to tie Elmira late with two third period goals in its season opener, and then they blew a two-goal lead vs. Plattsburgh at home after dominating the opening 40 minutes. The Cadets also had their record 44-game ECAC East regular season unbeaten streak snapped at the hands of Saint Anselm in a 4-3 OT loss in mid November.  NU closed the first semester, salvaging a tie with Bowdoin after being outplayed by the Polar Bears for stretches. Injuries took their toll on the Cadets a bit in the first half with No. 1 goalie Kelly Fisk missing the whole semester up until the Bowdoin game, as well as senior captain Jill DeBus missing the Saint Anselm game. So far, NU is still looking for some players to step into the roles vacated by Julie Fortier, Melissa Rundlett, Sarianne Lynn and Amanda Wilks and until that happens, Norwich will have a hard time making it back to its fourth straight national championship game in March.

3. River Falls

River Falls, like Norwich certainly hasn’t had “bad season” to date. The Falcons are 7-4-2 so far and all four of their losses have been by one goal, including two to unbeaten and No. 2-ranked Gustavus Adolphus to close the first semester. After sweeping Adrian to open the season though and beating Superior 4-0 in its next game, UWRF has gone 4-4-2 over their last 10 which is a stretch they are very unaccustomed to as of late. RF has dominated the top of the NCHA for several seasons now and this year they are in a logjam toward the top with Adrian, Eau Claire, Stevens Point and Superior all chomping at their heels to knock off the reigning champion. The tough part of UWRF’s schedule is over and I fully expect the Falcons to get on a roll in the second half.

Mid-Season All-American Picks

1st Team East:

F. Jenny Kistner, Plattsburgh
F. Tori Charron, Norwich
F. Katie Zimmerman, Hamilton
D. Geneva Lloyd, Amherst
D. Allison Era, Plattsburgh
G. Kayla Lessard, Bowdoin

2nd Team East:

F. Teal Gove, Plattsburgh
F. Ashton Hogan, Elmira
F. Katie Little, Manhattanville
D. Kayla Parsons, Norwich
D. Brooke Wilgosh, Elmira
G. Lauren Sullivan, Elmira

1st Team West:

F. Nina Waidacher, St. Scholastica
F. Kelsey Kusch, Adrian
F. Chloe Kinsel, River Falls
D. Alix Vallee, Adrian
D. Lindsey Hjelm, Gustavus Adolphus
G. Jess Nestrom, Bethel

2nd Team West:

F. Cassandra Salmen, Stevens Point
F. Cristina Masten, Bethel
F. Dani Schultz, Superior
D. Alex Blair, St. Scholastica
D. Amanda Ryder, River Fallls
G. Brittany Zeches, Adrian

Stay tuned later this week for the ever-popular yearly tradition of 20 Bold Predictions as well as an early look at the 2013 Laura Hurd Award watch.

Happy new year! drop the puck!