Women's Hockey: 'Cats seeking an end to recent six-game losing streak

By Max Sullivan
On February 13, 2014

The UNH women's hockey team (9-18-2, 4-11-2 WHEA) lost any hope of hosting a game in the Hockey East Tournament with its loss last Sunday to Connecticut. Now, the team's goal is to scrape whatever points they can out of the last two weekends of their season and get out of seventh place, starting with two games this weekend at the Whittemore Center against fourth-place Vermont (13-13-4, 9-7-1 WHEA).

"We're expecting a big game," UNH forward and captain Nicole Gifford said. "It's not going to be an easy game at all, so it will be a big important weekend to get four points."

Vermont, with whom UNH tied at Burlington, Vt. on Nov. 10, is looking to sweep the Wildcats this weekend. By doing so, they would clinch a hosting seed in the Hockey East Tournament, as well as place higher than sixth in WHEA for the first time since joining the conference in the '05-06 season. The Catamounts will also clinch a home game if they win on Saturday and UConn (9-19-2, 6-10-1 WHEA) loses their next game.

The Catamounts are led by Amanda Pelkey, a junior forward who is third in WHEA in points with 31, as well as Brittany Zuback, also a junior forward who is sixth in points with 28. Their goaltender, Roxanne Douville, is second in the conference in goals against average with 2.19. 

In the game back in November, the Wildcats took a 3-0 lead into the third period. Gifford, freshman forward Cassandra Vilgrain and junior forward Hannah Armstrong scored the goals. The Catamounts rallied, however, and scored three goals in the first five minutes of the final period. The game went to overtime and ended in a tie.

The Catamounts are 4-1 in their last five games and are coming off two straight wins against Providence and Maine. They've outscored their opponents 16-9 in that stretch.

"They've been doing really well lately, and their offense has really picked up," Gifford said.

The following weekend, the Wildcats play third-place Northeastern (14-13-2, 9-6-2 WHEA). They lost to Northeastern 3-0 on the road.

If the standings don't change in the next two weeks, the Wildcats will play second-place Boston University (12-5-0, 19-10-1 WHEA) in the conference tournament. BU features the top-two in both points and goals: Sarah Lefort (27-20-47) and Louise Warren (22-15-37). The Wildcats lost all three games to BU this season and were outscored 12-6 in the series, despite close matches on Nov. 1 and 24.

If UNH has its way in the coming weekends, they'll be able to leapfrog sixth place Providence (11-19-0, 6-11- WHEA), who leads them by just two points. Things have not been trending in the Wildcats' favor as of late, however. They are hoping to snap out of a six-game losing streak this Saturday.

According to Gifford it can be difficult to stay focused on one game at a time while going through the final weeks of her collegiate career.

"It is [crazy]," she said about the end of her senior year. "It is, but you've just got to take everything in and not look too far ahead because every game is special now, and you don't want to get lost, thinking about the future when you've got games this week to worry about."

After college, Gifford hopes to go to Europe to play, possibly in Switzerland. Nothing is definite, she said, but lately she's been getting in contact with European teams. 

When asked about the high points of the season, Gifford said that it's difficult to think about good times in a season so wrought with trouble: injuries to forwards Jonna Curtis, Kate Haslett and, briefly, defenseman Alexis Crossley, as well as the firing of their head coach, Brian McCloskey. Most of the good moments this year took place in the first half of the season. They started their year 5-2-1, a stretch which included a win against then No. 2 Boston College.

"You know, I think, honestly, with a lot that's gone on, it's hard to think back," Gifford said. "We've played tough every game, we beat BC right at the start of the year, you know, that was a huge game for us to knock off a top-five team, and ... I think, you know, just being able to work on the adversity that we've faced this year, and all the injuries and stuff like that, and still compete together in every game. ... I think that's a high point of this year."

The Wildcats are 16-2-0 lifetime at home against Vermont. However, the Catamounts were 2-1 in their last three games played at the Whitt. Faceoff for both Saturday's and Sunday's game is 2 p.m.

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