The quest for their ultimate goal begins Thursday.
The Sault College women’s hockey team will kick off the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division 2 national championship Thursday afternoon in Marlborough, Mass..
The team enters the five-day event also putting their unbeaten record on the line as they begin pool play this afternoon against Rowan University.
“Exciting and nervous,” Sault College coach Brianne Shunock said. “There’s lot of nerves. If we compare last year to this year, last year we were really just excited to attend nationals. This year, there’s a lot that’s expected of us. We’re going to the tournament and everyone knows who we are this year. We’re the only undefeated team in the ACHA, so going in, a lot of teams are probably excited to play us to (try) to break our undefeated streak.”
The tournament features 16 teams divided into pools of four. Sault College begins play as the lone unbeaten team in the event and the top-seeded team in their pool and Shunock said the goal entering the event is being ready mentally.
“We just have to be mentally prepared more than anything,” Shunock said. “We know that we can win (games), we’ve done it 26 times this year, but the hardest thing for us is going to be focusing on the mental side of the game. Not getting in our heads too much and not letting the nerves get to us, just playing our game. Sometimes, especially in playoff hockey, the nerves are built up so much that you start making the little mistakes that can be very costly when you’re playing skilled teams.”
Rowan enters action today with a 9-7-1-3 record this season, but surrendered just 20 goals against all season.
“We can’t take any team lightly,” Shunock said. “No matter if they’re ranked second or fourth in our pool, we need to remember that we don’t know the competition in their conference. It might be more difficult than what we experienced in ours.”
Shunock added that the team has done video work ahead of Thursday’s opener to learn about their opponents and “how our current systems can help us to win each game.”
Shunock said Sault College’s games during the regular season against Assineboine Community College, who had the second best record in ACHA play this season behind Sault College, as well as Dakota College, both of whom are also in the tournament, is an experience to draw from.
“We do know we can play with the national champions and we can beat them,” Shunock said of their games against Assineboine, who won the national title last year. “We have to hold on to that confidence and use that to ignite the fire within us. We also need to keep our heads on straight and remember that anything can happen at this tournament.”
Sault College recently went 4-0 to win their regional tournament, which included a pair of wins over Adrian College, who they beat 3-0 in the regional final.
“You never know what to expect and how other teams might grow since the last time you played them,” Shunock said of regionals. “That was evident in our final game against Adrian. Even though we played them earlier in the round robin.”
Shunock added that having a busy stretch during regionals is helpful for the team.
“It was really valuable for our team to play four games over a weekend to play different teams instead of two games against one team that we typically do,” Shunock said.
Shunock also said the team was fortunate to face a strong goaltending performance in the regional final.
“We faced some really good goaltending in the final game,” Shunock said. “Adrian’s goalie had 68 shots and the most important thing for us was to stick to our game of being very aggressive in the offensive zone and not spending a lot of time in our end, getting the puck out quick and cleanly.”
Following Thursday’s game against Rowan, Sault College will face the University of Delaware on Friday afternoon before wrapping up pool play against Providence College, the second seed in their pool, on Saturday afternoon.