November 22, 2011

Women's Journal: Young blood stirring at Vermont

By Scott Sudikoff

Although the University of Vermont (2-8-4, 2-5-0 Women’s Hockey East) has had a tough start to the 2011-12 season, there is a reason to be optimistic. The Catamounts have been led by a trio of talented freshmen and the future looks bright. 

Vermont freshman Amanda Pelkey (photo: UVM Athletics)

Vermont freshman Amanda Pelkey (photo: UVM Athletics)

"Whenever a program can add three freshmen with the ability to score and create offense like they can, you're heading in the right direction," said sixth-year head coach Tim Bothwell.

Forwards Amanda Pelkey (three goals, four assists), Meghan Huertas (one goal, six assists) and Krystal Baumann (two goals, four assists) are the top three scorers for Vermont through this point in the campaign. This heralded class has accounted for 12 of the team's 27 goals.

Pelkey (Montpelier, Vt.) entered the Catamount program after being a member of a Junior Women's Hockey League championship a year ago with the North American Hockey Academy. She registered 22 goals in 79 games played. Pelkey brings a winning attitude to Burlington, earning a gold medal in 2009 and a silver in 2010 with the U.S. Women's Under-18 team.

She has already started to bring in honors as she was named the Hockey East Rookie of the Week on Nov. 7. She led the Catamounts to their first-ever victory over New Hampshire with a goal and an assist in the 4-1 triumph.

Grabbing a local product like Pelkey for the Vermont program has big significance in Burlington.

"Her coming to UVM is much like that of when John Leclair (St. Alban’s, Vt.) came to the men's program," Bothwell explained. "Off the ice, she's honing her leadership skills by watching our captains now."

Huertas also joined the Catamounts after playing with the NAHA. Amazingly, she matched Pelkey with 22 goals and 48 points. Even though she hails from Florida, she had been on the radar for the Catamounts for a while.

"Luckily for us, she happen to go to NAHA right down the road in Stowe, Vt.," said Bothwell. "Interestingly, though, it was Meghan who committed to us first before Pelkey."

Baumann, according to Bothwell, is the fastest player UVM has ever had. She was on her varsity hockey team in Farmington, Minn., for six years (making the team as a seventh-grader) and is Farmington High School's all-time leader in assists and points, earning recognition as an All-State performer in 2011.

The Vermont freshman class also consists of seven others, many who are already making significant contributions.

"I love our freshman class," said Huertas. "Although we are a very young team, skill is definitely something that is not lacking."

"We have so many players and everyone has different qualities whether its speed, grit or goal-scoring ability, we have a mix of everything," added Baumann.

The Catamounts have never made a postseason appearance, finishing seventh or eighth in Hockey East very year, but along with scoring goals, that is something else these freshmen hope to accomplish.

"My goal entering this program is to change all of that," Huertas explained. "I think that the group of girls we have now can take this team to the playoffs and bring home Vermont's first-ever title."

The Catamounts will be back on the ice at Gutterson Fieldhouse on Wednesday when they play Maine.

Games of the Week

Boston University at Cornell, Friday and Saturday

Third-ranked Cornell is currently first place in ECAC Hockey at 6-1-0 (7-1-0 overall) and will look for revenge against the Terriers, who beat them in the NCAA semifinals, 4-1, last March.

The Big Red are led by Jillian Saulnier's 12 goals as well as the 1.25 GAA from goaltender Lauren Slebodnick (Manchester, N.H.). Cornell has fared well thus far against New England opponents, going 3-1 with a plus-16 goal differential.

The Terriers are paced by Jenn Wakefield's league-best 10 goals and 19 points.

Around the region

Brown (2-2-5, 1-2-3 ECAC) has played a lot of extra time season, going to overtime on five occasions leading to five ties. ... UConn (2-11-2, 2-5-0 WHEA) snapped a six-game losing streaking with a 3-0 win against Vermont on Sunday. The Huskies had been shut out in four of those six losses. … Dartmouth (3-4-1, 3-2-1 ECAC) was shut out at home by both St. Lawrence and Clarkson over the weekend and it gets tougher for them as they play at Harvard on Wednesday. ... Maine (7-5-4, 2-3-1 WHEA) will try to stop a streak of three straight ties when it battles the Catamounts on Wednesday and New Hampshire on Saturday. ... UNH (4-8-2, 0-4-1 WHEA) is still searching for its first league win and had a tough weekend against No. 2 Minnesota, being outscored 17-1 in two defeats. ... Quinnipiac (6-7-1, 5-2-1 ECAC) stands in second place in the ECAC but has struggled out of league, dropping games to Maine (twice), Northeastern and BC. … Yale (1-10-0, 1-5-0 ECAC) will be a part of the Nutmeg Classic this Friday and Saturday in Storrs, Conn., along with UConn, Robert Morris and Quinnipiac.

New England power ratings

1. Boston College (8-3-1, 5-2-1 WHEA) ... Eagles are 4-1 against the likes of Northeastern, Providence and BU, and can be deadly on the power play, ranking first in Hockey East at 20.4 percent.

2. Northeastern (10-3-0, 5-2-0 WHEA) ... Huskies struggled with BC this past weekend (outscored 7-2 in two losses), but have a chance for a big win on Wednesday vs. BU. Florence Schelling has been stellar in goal, leading Hockey East in GAA (1.59) and save percentage (.943).

3. Boston University (9-4-1, 4-1-0 WHEA) ... Terriers had an important one-goal victory Sunday over Providence that sends them into a busy week with Northeastern on Wednesday and a pair of games over the weekend with No. 3 Cornell.

4. Harvard (5-1-0, 5-1-0 ECAC) ... Plus-13 goal advantage leads the Crimson into a busy week vs. Dartmouth on Wednesday, and then No. 2 Minnesota comes to Cambridge over the weekend.

5. Providence (6-7-3, 5-3-1 WHEA) ... Friars are 0-2 against the Eagles and Terriers combined, but performing well in league play overall. Genevieve Lacasse leads the way in net with a 2.17 GAA.

Scott Sudikoff can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.