The Montclair State University women’s ice hockey team will play in their final regular-season game this weekend. If they win, the Red Hawks can accomplish three goals: they will have earned a division title for the first time in their history, finish undefeated in their conference and be the first ranked seed in the playoffs.
At last Thursday’s practice, defenseman Amanda Peterson talked about why this year will have a positive impact on the program’s future.
“I think recruiting-wise it’s important because we need more players,” Peterson said. “It’s something that we can use if we go undefeated. We can go out there and be like ‘Hey, we did this last year and we’re a legit team. Come play for us.’”
Head coach David Solomon discussed the widespread leadership on this year’s team.
“Whether it’s a calming voice in between periods, or when the game’s getting chippy and we’ve taken a few penalties, that’s where [Alex] Tepper or Peterson, any one of [the team’s leaders] will chime in,” Solomon said.
Compared with last year, the 2017-2018 season so far has been a monumental success for these Red Hawks, who can finish with an undefeated conference record with a win in their season finale on Saturday at the University of Pennsylvania.
What they are not guaranteed is a spot in the 2018 national tournament. On Feb. 25, the Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) will announce its final rankings — which will determine what teams make it to the ACHA Women’s Division National Tournament this March.
New rankings have been announced on achahockey.org and the Red Hawks are ranked fifth in the ACHA Division II East Region. That means they are locked in to make the national tournament according to the rankings released at the end of January.
If the Red Hawks had lost a few more games and been ranked sixth, then the winner of the Delaware Valley Collegiate Hockey Conference (DVCHC) would have taken over the sixth ranked spot and knocked Montclair State out of participating in the national tournament.
The Red Hawks’ consistent goal scoring from key players, like Kristen Iattarelli, senior forward Mikaela Schultz and defenseman Brittany Meneghin, has maintained the team’s undefeated record. It’s an achievement to be proud of, even if it is not the Red Hawks’ women’s hockey team’s ultimate goal.
Co-captain and senior forward Iattarelli commented on what she thinks the playoffs will demand of her and her teammates come February.
“There’s definitely things we have to work on, and we have to get to practice,” Iattarelli said. “We have to work on the little things. If we can’t stay disciplined and responsible, we’re definitely not going to [advance] when we go to nationals. Discipline is a big problem right now, but we need to fix that as we go forward.”
The Red Hawks only lost twice, 0-6 to University of Delaware back on Nov. 19, 2017, and 1-12 to Bishop’s University on Jan. 20, but that evening, four Red Hawks skaters could not play and the conference leaders were not at full strength.
One of the keys to any hockey teams’ success over the course of a long regular season that spans from September to March is the play of the team goaltender. Last season was sophomore goalie Kawanne Ferguson’s first season ever playing as a hockey goalie, and she struggled with a 3-5 record and a 4.88 goals-against average. This season, Ferguson has quadrupled her win total to 12 and lowered her goals-against average by more than a goal.
Ferguson’s teammates commented on her growth as a player and a teammate.
“She definitely takes advice very well,” Iattarelli said. “I’ll give her simple hockey advice, like ‘collapse on the puck’ and she responds very well, so it’s been nice to have someone who is so approachable.”
Senior defenseman Alex Tepper chimed in.
“Kaye lets us know what’s going on [this year],” Tepper said. “She’s gotten a lot better about that. Last year she didn’t. Just communicating with our D-partners is important, to let [your D-partner] know what’s going on, stuff like that.”
The Red Hawks will play anyone on the team who is playing nicely so that the team can play as well as a well-oiled machine. Solomon discussed his team’s ability to play as a unit in the playoffs.
“We need to be disciplined and focused because the playoffs are a different animal from the regular season,” Solomon said. “[In the playoffs] one bad penalty can cost you a power-play goal, and you’re not assured you’re going to come back. You don’t have another game.”
The Red Hawks will play their final game of the regular season away at the University of Pennsylvania Saturday night at 8:15 p.m. The DVCHC conference playoffs will begin on Feb. 16 and end on Feb. 18.