BOSTON, Mass. – With a very young and talented roster women's ice hockey will look to pull off the upset of the season as they travel to Rye, New York to face the second seeded Valiants of Manhattanville College on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Playland Ice Casino in the first round of the ECAC East tournament.
As the seventh seed the Beacons face perhaps their toughest challenge of the season, as they look to bring down the defending conference tournament champions. Head coach Colleen Harris knows that her squad has the talent and quickness to topple the reigning champs and push the Beacons back to the semi-final round of the ECAC East tournament.
For UMass their mindset is to get on the scoreboard early and often come Saturday's match-up. They will need to set the tone the second the puck hits the ice. Whenever UMass has pushed the pace they have seen tremendous success on both sides of the red line. That mentality will be crucial as the Beacons face a team that allowed less than two goals a game all season. Not only will UMass have to establish an early presence, but they will need to maintain it for all 60 minutes.
Looking to help UMass build that early momentum will be junior transfer Emily LaRosa (Weymouth, Mass.). After two seasons at Nichols College, LaRosa came to UMass Boston this past fall and quickly made her presence felt on the ice. Having played in all 24 games this season, LaRosa leads the Beacons with 10 assists, and ranks second in goals scored with six.
Behind her are freshmen Kayla Kiernan (North Smithfield, R.I.) and Dylan Caron (Burrillville, R.I.) who each showed tremendous control and poise in their rookie seasons. Kiernan leads the Beacons in goals scored with seven, while Caron sits just one tally behind her teammate. Sophomore Katie Loiselle (Glocester, R.I.) has also established herself as a playmaker with her seven assists this season to go along with three goals, one of which was a game-winner against Salve Regina.
Defensively, Brittany Usmail (New Hartford, N.Y.) will have to remain a vocal leader throughout Saturday's contest. The only four-year defenseman on this year's roster, Usmail will look to use her previous tournament experiences as a way to guide this young and determined group of players. The Beacons will also look to sophomore transfer Tor Pizzuto (Waterbury, Conn.) to be leader in Saturday's contest. A very capable player, Pizzuto has also shown that she perhaps has one of the hardest shots in the entire ECAC East conference. Currently ranked second on the team in points with 13, Pizzuto has nine assists and four goals to her name after her first full regular season with the Beacons.
Between the pipes UMass will look to senior netminder Leah Hallett (Rocky Hill, Conn.) to continue what has been a tremendous month for the Rocky Hill, Connecticut native. Going into Saturday's match-up Hallett has combined for 605 saves this season and has a .929 save percentage. She also boasts one shutout and has seen a combined 1,144 minutes of action this season.
Another key factor if the Beacons are to be successful this weekend is to limit the Valiants shots on goal. Anytime Manhattanville has the puck on their sticks the Beacons defense has to step in and do whatever it takes to prevent a shot on goal. The fewer chances Manhattanville has at goal the more and more desperate they will become, especially in the later minutes of the second and third periods. As a team the Beacons must also limit their trips to the penalty box. Manhattanville enters this year's tournament ranked third in the conference when on the power-play, so for the Beacons keeping all five players on the ice will be crucial.
The winner of Saturday's contest will advance to the semi-final round of the ECAC East tournament, which will be played next Saturday, with the championship game played on Sunday. The highest remaining seed after Saturday's game will host the final two rounds of the tournament, with the tournament champion earning the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The first-round schedule is as follows:
No. 6 Southern Maine (7-14-4) at No. 3 New England College (10-12-3), 1 p.m.
No. 8 Nichols (7-16-2) at No. 1 Norwich (22-2-1), 3 p.m.
No. 7 UMass Boston (7-14-3) at No. 2 Manhattanville (13-8-4), 3 p.m.
No. 5 Castleton State (9-13-2) at No. 4 Salve Regina (11-9-5), 7:30 p.m.
Note: Holy Cross, St. Anselm, and St. Michael's College do not qualify for the ECAC East tournament due to their Division I and II status.