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If the pollsters are right, there should be no question about who will win this weekend's women's ice hockey games in Niagara.
According to the USA Today/ American Hockey Magazine poll and the U.S. College Hockey Online Women's poll, the Harvard pucksters (8-1-0, 6-1-0 ECAC) currently have the nation's No. 1 ranking.
Last night the Crimson put its ranking on the line for the first time against national No. 6 Northeastern, defeating the Huskies 6-1. The outcome should be very similar this weekend when the Crimson takes on the much weaker Niagara (3-4-0, 2-4-0).
"We feel great about it (the No. 1 ranking), but we still have a lot to prove," said sophomore Tammy Shewchuk. "We still need to prove that we deserve it and that we're worthy of the ranking."
Although the Crimson possesses more raw talent and skill, team members are quick to note the challenge that Niagara poses.
"Every team wants to beat Harvard, and they get real fired up about playing us," Shewchuk said. "They're all gunning for us so we're just going to have to keep playing hard and pressuring the other team."
The Purple Eagles have come off a series of defeats against Cornell last weekend, losing 6-0 and 5-1. The Purple Eagles presently hold the No. 9 ranking in the ECAC.
Niagara is a relatively young team, led by a core of talented freshmen. First-year standouts Stephanie Romain and Brooke Bradburn lead the team in scoring, while Tania Pinelli minds the net, with a 3.79 goals against average and a.916 save percentage.
Although the Crimson holds the top national ranking, it is tied for third in the ECAC with 12 points.
Princeton (8-4-0, 7-2-0) is currently perched atop the ECAC leader board. The Tigers, however, are on the verge of losing their seat, having lost three of their last five games. Princeton heads into the winter break with a slight one-point ECAC lead over the rest of the pack.
The Tiger's championship hopes rely on two forwards, senior Ali Coughlin and freshman Andrea Kilbourne. Coughlin is second in the ECAC in scoring, averaging 2.22 ppg, while Kilbourne tops the conference, scoring 2.44 ppg. These two players have been Princeton's primary contributors on offense, giving the Tigers the division's third best offense.
Brown (5-1-3, 5-1-3)--the lone team to defeat Harvard this year--sits directly behind Princeton in the standings, trailing by just a single point. The Bears, winners of two straight conference games, head into the break with the momentum needed to win the ECAC crown.
Along with the Crimson in a tie for 3rd place with 12 ECAC total points, rests Providence (6-2-2, 5-2-2) and the University of New Hampshire (6-1-3, 5-1-2).
New Hampshire held the No. 1 ranking in the nation before being unseated by the Crimson 3-2 last Sunday. Despite losing the top seat, the Wildcats have one of the conference's most potent offenses, ranking second in the ECAC in scoring.
Guided by the scoring of senior defender Nicky Luongo (2.12 ppg) and junior Samantha Holmes (1.25 gpg), the Wildcats stand just 2 points behind Princeton. This weekend the Wildcats head to Maine to face Colby, before taking off for winter break.
Providence--also tied for third in the ECAC--are coming off of a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Brown last weekend. Nonetheless, the Friars have won four of its last six games as it heads into the break.
Cornell (6-4-0, 5-3-0) and Dartmouth (4-2-2, 4-2-2) find themselves tied for sixth in the ECAC, but are only four points off of the division-leading Tigers.
With a conference win last week over Boston College, the Big Green moved out of the bottom tier of the standings. Boasting the ECAC's fourth-best defense, Dartmouth can move up substantially in the standings when they travel south to Boston to play a series against both Northeastern and Harvard.
Cornell heads into the winter break with a sweep of Niagara, beating the Purple Eagles by a combined score of 11-1. Niagara's low scores were no surprise, as the Big Red's net is manned by the ECAC's best goalie. With a .67 goals against average and a .975 save percentage, senior netminder Melissa Junkala may just be able to lead the Big Red into the top of the conference.
Losers of two of their last three--including a 6-1 loss on Wednesday to the Crimson--Northeastern (7-3-2, 3-2-2) looks to rebound with upcoming road games against Boston College and Dartmouth. Led by the scoring of junior Hilary Witt, who has 18 points on the year, the Huskies currently hold the No. 8 ranking in the ECAC.
Right behind Northeastern in a tie for 9th place with three total points, sit St. Lawrence (4-6-0, 2-6-0) and, the Crimson's next opponent, Niagara. St. Lawrence finished out the year with two wins over the University of Maine.
Currently sitting in 10th place in the ECAC standings, Boston College (2-7-1, 1-6-1) has just come off of a weekend home stand, splitting games with Mankato State. Led by sophomore Jen Buckley, who netted three goals in the series, the Eagles look to continue their midseason turnaround at Harvard on Dec. 18th.
Yale (3-5-0, 1-5-0) and Maine (6-5-0, 1-5-0) are presently tied for 12th in the division. The Bulldogs--losers of three straight conference games including a 4-0 shut out by Princeton last Wednesday--get to take the next few weeks off.
Maine has won six of its last seven games. It heads into the break coming off a 9-1 creaming of Bowdoin University, and does not play again until it meets the Crimson on Jan. 2nd.
Rounding out the ECAC standings is Colby University (0-6-0, 0-6-0), who has yet to win a game this year. Losing by an average of 9.6 goals per game, the White Mules just might be the worst team in ECAC history.
With only a few games remaining before winter break, the contending teams hope to hit a hot streak to gain the momentum needed for a strong 1999 and a shot at the ECAC Championship.
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