Back at home: the ECAC playoffs return to Appleton

Women’s playoff hockey returns to Appleton Arena this weekend for the first time since 2009, and after an 8-year absence, and it is more than welcome. The Saints, who finished second in the ECAC, will take on Yale, who, though sub-.500, present a difficult task for SLU.

Before we preview the matchup, it seems necessary to take a moment to recognize the accomplishments of this team. SLU amassed 24 wins this season, which was their total in 2012, the last time they won the ECAC tournament, but that 2012 figure includes 4 wins in the playoffs. A cinderalla run could see the Saints match their program record of 31 wins, which would require a national championship, but they are bound for the national tournament for the first time since 2012 and have the highest scoring line in the country. And now they get to put all that success on the line in the playoffs. This is why the players play, for a chance to win championships, and the road begins with Yale. 

SLU swept the season series with the Bulldogs, outscoring them 8-1 over two games. Nadine Edney had a hat trick, and four goals in total against Yale, and Amanda McClure picked up three goals over the two contests. One goal in two games against the fourth best defense in the country isn’t surprising for Yale, who only score 2.34 goals per game. The Saints feasted on the Yale defense, which allows more than 2.5 goals per game, and will look to continue that trend this weekend.

Yale will undoubtedly send their top defensive pair to counter the Saints top line of Miller-Webster-Marchment, but the line will undoubtedly pick up at least a goal, but the secondary scorers, like Justine Reyes, Kayla Vespa, Edney, and Kalie Grant will have plenty of room and favorable matchups to work against. The depth of this team has been the secret weapon this season, and it will be crucial in this series, for the Bulldogs will not roll over easily.

Yale is a well-coached and scrappy team, with experience in the playoffs, even if they’ve come out on the losing end of things recently. They just can’t match up with SLU’s high-end offensive talent.  The Bulldogs are lead in scoring by Eden Murray, who has 26 points in 29 games. SLU’s offensive leader, Kennedy Marchment, has twice as many points as Murray, in just 3 more games. So long as SLU doesn’t make any significant gaffs in their own zone, or leave Grace Harrison completely out to dry, and even if they do, she’s good enough to bail them out anyway.

This weekend will mark two (hopefully not 3) of the final three games the senior class will play at Appleton. They’ve now been to the playoffs in each of their four seasons at SLU, but will play at home in the postseason for the first time, which is due in large part to their leadership and dedication to the program. 

“The day they set foot on campus this fall, there was different aura about the senior class,” said assistant coach Mare MacDougall-Bari. “I think that they felt like they wanted to end their college career having done everything they could do bring success to the program.”

They’ve done more than their part this season, taking the Saints program to new heights. Brooke Webster eclipsed 50 points, Kirsten Padalis anchors the fourth best defense in the country, and Alex Moore chipped in 10 points while providing stability and poise on the blue-line. But it’s their dedication to team success that has made the difference for this SLU team, a team that, win or lose, seems like it’s having more fun than anyone else.

“I think fun would be the perfect word to describe it,” continued MacDougall-Bari. “They put in the work during the week and then reap the rewards on the weekend.”

Elite scoring, solid depth, excellent defense and goaltending, a seasoned coaching staff and a team that always manages to have fun is a pretty good recipe for success. Check out the playoff games at Appleton this weekend, you might just like what the SLU women’s hockey team is serving.