Sept. 28, 2012
STORRS, Conn. - A strong, experienced core of veterans and a large, talented crop of young players look to lead the University of Connecticut women’s ice hockey team and head coach Heather Linstad into the program’s 13th season.
The challenge for the 2012-13 Huskies will be to find consistency in scoring after averaging just 1.62 goals per game. A year ago, UConn was carried by its goaltending and defense. Connecticut owned the top penalty kill in the league at 88.4% and looks to build on that this season, while trying to replace a pair of experienced goaltenders, including four-year starter Alexandra Garcia.
The battle between the pipes will be between junior transfer Sarah Moses and freshman Elaine Chuli. Moses spent that last two years at Niagara before the Purple Eagles’ program was folded. Last season, she posted a 5-7-5 record with 435 saves. For her career, Moses owns a .900 save percentage and 2.90 goals against average.
Chuli is a familiar face to coach Linstad after appearing on the U-18 Canada National Team at the IIHF World Championship in the Czech Republic last year, the team that defeated coach Linstad’s U-18 Team USA in the goal medal contest. In 2011, Chuli led Team Ontario Red to the U-18 National Championship and this past summer she participated in the National Goaltending Camp at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.
“I’m excited for the two goalies that we have,” stated Linstad. “Elaine Chuli is a freshman who comes from playing with the Under-18 in Canada and Sarah Moses is the goalie who transferred from Niagara. In looking at her stats, she did pretty well against conference opponents in Hockey East last year. You have to count on your goaltending to be solid. Usually, one of our fortes is goaltending here at UConn so I think we’ll be fine in the net.”
Sophomore Emily Walsh joined the team mid-way through last season and will also look to compete for playing time in the crease.
The Huskies will also look to a new group of leaders for the upcoming season in seniors Maude Blain, Kelly Horan and Casey Knajdek.
“I do think that we have three very good seniors that are going to lead the show in Casey Knajdek, Kelly Horan and Maude Blain. I think the older kids will lead the young kids, but I think we’ve got a renewed, fresh energy that will do us well in conference and out of conference.”
Blain will anchor the defense after totaling eight points on one score and seven assists and despite missing 10 games last season. Over the last three seasons, Knajdek has shown the ability to play center and on the blue line; dishing out three assists last year. Meanwhile, Horan looks to have a bounce-back season after her scoring production was cut in half from each of her first two seasons. She totaled 18 points in each of her first two years, but registered just nine as a junior on three goals and six assists.
Leading the offensive attack up top for Connecticut is a pair of sophomores in Emily Snodgrass and Kayla Campero, who are the top two returning scorers. Snodgrass led the squad in all major offensive categories with nine goals, 12 assists and 21 points. Campero was second in goals with seven and added seven assists to finish third with 14 total points. Snodgrass posted a team-best four power play goals, while Campero added a pair.
Junior forward Stephanie Raithby also adds a veteran presence to the UConn offense. She hasn’t missed a step, skating in 69 career games, netting 19 points on eight goals and 11 assists.
Along with Snodgrass and Campero, sophomores Rachel Farrel and Sarah MacDonnell showed promise as rookies. Farrel found the back of the net four times and added three assists as MacDonnell scored three times and chipped in one helper.
“I really do believe that we’ve got a good core group in our sophomores. Emily Snodgrass led the team [in scoring], but I think a kid like Sarah MacDonnell, who also played for the U-18 in Canada, she’s got some offensive punch. Caitlin Hewes, who’s on defense, Rachel Farrell and the sophomore group took it serious what they had to do in the spring and what they wanted to do in the summer and I think that they’ve come in with the attitude of making sure that they have in impact.”
New to the ranks up top will be freshmen Brittany Berisoff, Leah Buress, Michela Cava and Margaret Zimmer.
“All four have skill sets that compliment each other very well, will help the team both offensively and defensively and ignite our offense. When I look at all of the young kids, I think it is early to tell, but I think that they will develop very quickly.”
Hewes and junior Kiana Nauheim return alongside Blain on the blue line. As a freshman, Hewes scored four times and picked up four assists. Nauheim, who has played in every game over the last two years, has seven career points, including four assists coming a year ago.
The newcomers aim to bulk up the Husky defense. Junior Erin Burns arrives in Storrs after stints in Syracuse and Niagara. After beginning her playing career for the Orange, where she totaled eight points over 38 games in parts of two seasons, she transferred to play for the Purple Eagles. In her final season at NU, Burns skated in 33 games and recorded eight points on one goal and seven assists.
“Burns is a true defensive-defenseman with the ability to move the puck and start and offensive break. She brings experience and leadership qualities that will be a welcome addition to the locker room.”
Freshmen Alice Hughes and Cassandra Opela round out the UConn defensemen. Both played locally during their prep school careers. Hughes starred at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, while Opela skated for the Boston Shamrocks.
The 2012-13 season gets underway at Union on Saturday, September 29. Hockey East play picks up with a road series at Maine on October 20 and 21. The Huskies are home for the first time, after a seven-game road trip, when they host Syracuse for a weekend series on October 26 and 27.
Connecticut hosts non-conference games against Syracuse, St. Lawrence (Nov. 18) and Princeton (Jan. 2-3). UConn will visit Union, RPI (Oct., 5-6), Colgate (Oct. 12-13), Harvard (Jan. 15) and will participate in the Nutmeg Classic hosted by Yale with a semi-final matchup against the Bulldogs.
The Hockey East Championship is scheduled for March 9-10 in Hyannis, Mass., with the quarterfinal round taking place between March 2 and 4. For the first time in league history, all eight teams will qualify for the post season.