NMU women skaters capture first crown

MARQUETTE – While the Northern Michigan University men’s hockey team is preparing for this weekend’s big series against Bowling Green State, the women’s club team is already focusing on the postseason.

The Wildcats recently won their first conference title and competed in its league playoffs last weekend. NMU finished the season at the top of the Division II Central Collegiate Women’s Hockey Association with a record of 8-0-2.

“It feels absolutely amazing to win the conference,” Wildcats co-president Amanda Crandell said. “This is my fourth year playing on the team and to be a part of this is really great. Our program has grown a lot over the last few years.”

Co-president Elle Fitzgerald agreed.

“Winning it is awesome,” she said. “I’ve been a part of the team for four years and we lost the majority of our games during that time, so it’s nice to be on a winning team.”

When asked how to describe the team as a whole, Fitzgerald says that the Wildcats are a high-scoring team with special teams also a strength.

“We reached the double digits in goals in most of our games,” she said. “We also get a lot of goals with our power play. We communicate well with each other.”

NMU junior Sierra Rusinek led the team with 31 points, which was third in the nation, according to the ACHA website, www.achahockey.org, while Kendall Turro finished with 24 points (seventh in the country) and Carlie Kangas had 21 (10th).

The Wildcats played their regional games last weekend in downstate Mount Pleasant and made it to the championship game before losing to Michigan State 5-4 in a shootout.

However, NMU snagged an ACHA tournament bid and will play for the chance at a national title in March along with the Spartans, North Dakota State and Rainy River (Minnesota) Community College.

“After the championship, there was a regional vote that I think was based on team stats and goals, stuff like that,” Crandell said. “There are four teams that make it in from the West and four from the East regions.

“We were disappointed after losing the championship, but we knew we still had a chance to make it in. We were hoping and praying, so the last few days have been nerve-racking.

“It feels amazing to make it to nationals. Words can’t describe it. It’s really nice to see our hard work pay off.”

Crandell likes her team’s chances as it prepares to play on a national stage.

“I think we have a really good chance to do well,” she said. “We played Rainy River and Michigan State already this year. Even though we lost to both of them, I feel like if we play at the level that we know we can, we can go far. I feel like this is our time to shine.”

The ACHA takes place March 4-8 in York, Pennsylvania.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.