Women’s hockey shows up strong at ACHA Nationals, sets stage for future success

CELEBRATION — NMU womens hockey finished the DII National Championships 2-1, garnering the best record of any Michigan team participating in the tournament. 
CELEBRATION — NMU women’s hockey finished the DII National Championships 2-1, garnering the best record of any Michigan team participating in the tournament. 
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Last week, the NMU women’s hockey team traveled down to Chesterfield, Missouri for the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s (ACHA) Women’s Division II National Championships. Despite not moving on to the semifinals, the Wildcats had a strong showing, finishing the tournament 2-1. This score gave them the best record of any Michigan team participating in the tournament. 

The first game, which happened to be the only loss for the Cats, came against the Assiniboine Cougars. Heading into the second period of the game down 6-0, the Wildcats got two goals from senior Chloe Valente and junior Breanna Bisek to cut the Cougars lead down to 6-2. Assiniboine, however, continued to apply pressure, adding four goals to their lead, all while outshooting the Wildcats 54 -11 and eventually taking the victory 10-2. 

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In game two against the Central Michigan Chippewas, the Wildcats were able to take control early as Valente kicked off the scoring with a shorthanded goal. Goals by freshmen Lauren Cooper and Eva Kierzek gave the ‘Cats a 3-0 lead heading into the second. Nineteen seconds into the second period, Valente added to the Wildcats’ lead by scoring her second goal of the game. The Chippewas responded with two goals to close out the second period, but the Wildcats got another quick goal 33 seconds into the third period as senior Paris Wegleitner extended their lead 5-2. Wegleitner potted an empty goal to secure the win for the Wildcats 6-2. 

In the final game, the Wildcats took on the Boston College Eagles in a close back-and-forth contest. Wildcat goals came from Bisek, freshman Tyya McKenzie and Valente. Even though the ‘Cats were outshot all game 39 to 23, goaltender junior Larkyn Ripley stood tall recording a .948 save percentage and saving 37/39 shots, allowing the Wildcats to take the win over the Eagles 3-2. 

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“Beating Boston was awesome. They’re a team that only has 14 skaters,” said Kristina Ligas, junior defenseman and alternate captain. “And we haven’t really had to play against a team that has the same amount [of players as] a small team like us. That was just a fight until the end.” 

With this season now coming to a close, the focus has shifted to what comes next. Both team captains and seniors, Valente and Wegleitner, are leaving at the end of the semester, leaving their roles vacant for next season.  

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“It’s not only them leaving, but also their personality, their skill and everything,” Ligas said. “It’s just something we’re going to have to bounce back from.” 

Alternate captain junior Cecelia Cunningham, who has been on the team for three years, described how big this season has been for the program in terms of growth.

“Last year, we were only starting with 10 skaters, that was really hard,” Cunningham said. “But this year, we got to actually focus more on the game of hockey, instead of just going out there surviving a minute and coming back to the bench and then going out and doing it again. This year we had fun and had more team building.”

Ligas discussed how the season has also been massive for the team’s overall chemistry.

“Half of the team didn’t play with each other at the start of the year,” Ligas said. “We all just got to learn how to play with one another.”

With a long off season ahead, NMU women’s hockey intends to maintain their stride, according to Ligas who emphasized the team’s activeness outside of the rink and their ice slots at the Berry Events Center for voluntary practice, open skates, etc.

Those interested in playing for NMU’s women’s club hockey team next season can find more information on their website.

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