February 4, 2009

Coming A Long Way

Feb. 4, 2009

By Ryan Holt
Special to GoHolyCross.com

The Holy Cross women's ice hockey team has come a long way since the Crusaders' inaugural season as a varsity team in 1999-2000. However, few in the program expected the current Crusaders to have the type of success they are enjoying this season. They began the campaign on an 18-game unbeaten streak which spanned from Nov. 4, until the team suffered its first defeat at the hands of St. Anselm on Jan. 31. Their record stands at 17-1-1 overall with a 12-1-1 mark in the ECAC East.

"Our success has been brought on by the depth of skill we have at every position," head coach Peter Van Buskirk said. "The players have a tremendous competitive spirit and they come to the rink every day ready to play."

For Van Buskirk, who took over the team after the inaugural season, the development of women's college hockey has helped the Holy Cross program mightily. "This is the strongest team we have ever had at Holy Cross and it is a direct result of the growth of the sport allowing us to bring in better players. There has been an increase in the number of quality female players available every season," he said.

Coming off a successful 2007-2008 campaign in which the team went 16-8-3, the team returned just two seniors. However, they recognized the depth of talent which returned this season and set one goal from the beginning of the year. "We expected to do better than we did last season," said junior captain Lisa Wilson. "At the end of last season the team really came together and we knew we had a talented group of freshmen coming in. Our expectations were to improve on last year's record and to keep getting better."

One of those talented freshmen has been forward Stacey Hochkins who leads the team in goals and points with 18 and 37 respectively. She is the leader amongst freshmen in goals and is in the top-five overall in both points and goals for the entire league. However, not everything has come easy for the rookie sensation. "It has been tough learning how to balance school and hockey," Hochkins remarked. "With the rigorous academics here at Holy Cross and the demanding schedule of practice and games, it is difficult to be at my best in the classroom and on the ice. However, I've survived thanks in part to the leadership on the team."

The leadership comes from the co-captains, Wilson and senior Stephanie Couzin. The two have combined to make the captainship look easy. "Well, we have many natural leaders on the team which certainly makes our job as captains much easier," said Couzin.

Wilson echoed the senior's remarks. "We have such a great group of girls. I think being a captain means the team looks to you to provide that little extra push of inspiration," Wilson stated.

Arguably one of the more outstanding facts about the team is their goaltender situation. Currently, the team rotates three goalies regularly and all have accounted for at least five starts and four wins. The core is led by freshman Carly Dominick-Sobol who has made nine starts. Sophomore Lindsay Atkinson, who was limited by injury last season, has made six starts and fellow sophomore Monique Gallant has made five starts in between the pipes. They all boast a goals against average of under 2.00 for the season.

It is at this position that coach Van Buskirk has seen the greatest transformation. "The goalies have been even this season. With the injury to Lindsay last season, I wanted to bring in another goalie. Fortunately, they have all been tremendous and will continue to be rotated. When we started 10 years ago, we never had this type of depth at goalie," Van Buskirk said.

The Crusaders have had great individual game performances as well this season. For the first time ever the team knocked off perennial ECAC East power Manhattanville with a 5-3 victory on Nov. 11, at the Hart Center. They duplicated the feat two months later by defeating the Valiants on their home ice, in overtime, 3-2. It was a game in which the Crusaders trailed 2-0 at one point. At the time, the Crusaders were the only team to beat Manhattanville, ranked No. 10 in Division III, this season. "Beating Manhattanville was a significant milestone for our team," said Couzin.

"It was so exciting and such a fun game to play in," exclaimed Hochkins. "When Jocelyn (Kratchmer) netted that overtime goal in front of their home crowd, we celebrated like we had just won the Stanley Cup. There was no better feeling."

Despite the team's amazing record, they will not be allowed to participate in a national tournament at the year's end. The Crusaders are technically a Division I team playing in a Division III league, the only such team at Holy Cross. "It is very disappointing that we do not get to play in a national tournament," Hochkins said. "However, I'm looking forward to playing in our end of the season tournament."

The tournament she describes is the ECAC Open which will feature four teams, including Holy Cross, played at the Hart Center on Feb. 28 and March 1.

According to Van Buskirk, the team hopes its status will change in the near future. "Eventually we want to be in a Division I league. There is no timetable, but it will hopefully be in the near future. I think we need to continue to bring in quality, skilled players in order to compete when we do make the move," Van Buskirk cautioned. "It's a big jump. There are not that many women playing the game as opposed to the men so we need to make sure we are ready to move up."

When the Crusaders do make the transition to a Division I league, it will undoubtedly be with players that Van Buskirk praises. "We have such great kids. It's simply the nature of the school. We attract kids of strong character," Van Buskirk said. "We need quality players. We're going to attract quality kids to the school naturally. Over the past few seasons, I've been able to get out across the country and into Canada to recruit players. Obviously, the winning helps spread the name of the school and produces more interest in the program which is great."

Although the team recently lost its unbeaten streak on the road at St. Anselm, the Crusaders control their own destiny to win the ECAC East conference regular season title. They host MIT this Saturday, Feb. 7, at 3:00 p.m. and St. Michael's a day later at 2:00 p.m.