ANGOLA, Ind. – This time last year the Trine University women's hockey team wrapped up their inaugural season with a nine-game losing streak. They finished last in the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA) with a 2-16 record in conference play and a 4-17-1 record overall.
Today they are preparing to head to Lake Forest College to compete in their first NCHA Slaats Cup Playoff series. They finished the season with a big two-game sweep over visiting Concordia University Wisconsin to take the four-seed by head-to-head tiebreakers over the Falcons.
The team finishes the regular season with an 8-8-2 record in the NCHA and a 10-11-2 record overall. Both constitute six-win improvements over last season.
"We are really proud of our team for those six wins," said Head Coach Tom Hofman, "We have all worked hard, on and off the ice, to get better and that work shows in our increased consistency. Even when we have lost this season we have been in the game."
Aside from hard work, Hofman can point to a few things that have contributed to the improvement from last season.
"The biggest thing that has helped us is our depth. We had some good players last season, but we just didn't have the depth to run with the top end of the NCHA, who all have four solid lines," said Hofman.
Last season the Thunder never entered a game with a full lineup, which would include four offensive lines and three defensive pairs. This year it has been the norm.
"From a more technical standpoint, our forecheck and penalty-kill have both improved a ton," continued Hofman.
The statistics bear out his statement on the team's penalty kill. Last year in NCHA play the Thunder killed off 71.9 percent of opponent's penalties, a league worst. This season they finished fourth in the NCHA by killing off 90.7 percent of opponent's penalties. And that improvement comes despite opponents having 11 more power-play opportunities.
A successful forecheck is harder to see in the stats but no less important according to Hofman.
"When we get the forecheck going, when it's aggressive and players buy into it, we are golden. It creates a lot of turnovers and gives us some good chances off of those turnovers in the offensive end. Being a part of a strong forecheck doesn't always show up on the scoresheet for a player, but it definitely shows up in the team's win total."
Exemplars of that fact are sophomore Hannah Nelson (Libertyville, Ill.) and freshman Brandi Wilson (Fenton, Mich.). While neither of them have made a huge points contribution to the team this season, Hofman pointed out both as crucial parts of the team's success.
"Wilson is playing center for us, which requires a lot of responsibilities in our system. A freshman playing that role shows our confidence in her," said Hofman, "Nelson centers for one of our top lines. She helps set up goals with her aggressive play, she just doesn't get the points she deserves."
Nelson in particular centers a line with two of the top three point-getters for the Thunder. Classmate Sula Argyris (Woodhaven, Mich.) leads the team with 14 points and 10 assists.
"I love the playmaker kind of player and Argyris plays that role on her line," says Hofman, "So often she starts the scoring play with a shot of her own. Without her taking good shots we don't get those goals."
Rounding out the line is freshman Theresa DiMaggio (Shelby Township, Mich.) who has been on an offensive tear since the beginning of the New Year. She has scored 12 of her 13 points and has recorded four multi-point games since the team has returned from its holiday break. She currently sits in third among NCHA freshman with her 10 points in conference games.
"DiMaggio is just one of those skaters that works really hard. You see her in the gym on our off day and its really paying off. She's a player that skates 110% no matter where she is on the ice," continued Hofman.
Rounding out the offense is sophomore Eryn Isaacson (Fenton, Mich.) who once again leads the team in goal scoring. So far this season she has tallied 11 goals.
In net, a familiar face continues to anchor the Thunder defense. Junior Molly Scarborough (Ramsey, Minn.) has returned to start the majority of the team's games this season. But the improvement from last year is noticeable. She currently sits in the top-five among NCHA goalies in both goals-against average and save percentage.
"I really like where her save percentage is. She sees a lot of shots and has become the kind of goalie that mostly turns them away," said Hofman, "We definitely have a number one, we knew that inside the program but I think everyone can see it now."
A final unsung hero of the team is sophomore defender Kirsten Vandenheuvel (London, Ontario), who anchors the defensive unit along with Scarborough.
"We want Vandenheuvel on the ice for every critical situation. We moved her down by the net on the power-play and she is out there on the penalty kill a lot," says Hofman, "We wouldn't be where we are without her. She has also done a lot of work with our young defenders this year and they are a better unit because of that."
Trine will look to continue their success in the first round of the NCHA Slaats Cup Playoffs where they will face off with Lake Forest College in a two-game series, with a mini-game following the second game if necessary. The Thunder split with the visiting Foresters in their regular season doubleheader.
Tune in for the first game starting at 7 p.m. CST on Friday, Feb. 22.