Stingy blue-line play spells success for GVSU

Solid defensive unit shutting down opponents in 2014-15

By Abbey Haji-Sheikh | 1/14/15 8:35pm

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#5 Michelle VanFleet

by GVL / AJ Bedard / The Lanthorn

With an impressive 7-3-1 record thus far in the 2014-15 season, the Grand Valley State women’s club hockey players have shown their league that they mean business.

GVSU played well last weekend in its two-game series at Liberty University, the No. 2 team in the ACHA Division I standings, but fell short in 3-2 and 2-0 losses. Not discouraged, the Lakers continue to work on their skills in practice and bond off the ice as much as possible.

Perhaps one of the best-bonded groups on the team, GVSU's defensive unit has been very effective on the ice this season. The Lakers have surrendered fewer than two goals in seven of their 11 games so far, yielding just 1.72 goals against per game. What makes them so good together?

Co-head coach Sean McKernan credits the success of the defensive unit to hard work and communication.

“Our defense has been outstanding all year," McKernan said. "We have a deep core of seniors and we’re fortunate in that aspect. I couldn’t be happier with the way our defense has played all year."

Defenseman Alexa Tenwalde, a member of GVSU's talented core of seniors, said part of the team’s success can be accredited to solid friendships as well as solid protection of the net.

“It’s nice, when we go on road trips, they always put the defense together in the rooms, so we’re always with each other," Tenwalde said. "We feed off each other in practice really well and just have a lot of fun together."

Tenwalde said she hopes the chemistry continues to improve as the team moves into the second half of its season.

“We have a pretty tough schedule coming up and, I think after how we played in Liberty, it’s really going to keep feeding into the rest of the season," she said. "If we keep that momentum up, it could be really great."

McKernan also has high hopes for the rest of the season, saying that the strong defensive core is, as a unit, vital for the team’s success.

“We don’t match lines or anything like that, we just go out there and play our best," he said. "Each player on defense is pivotal in our success in getting the puck out of our zone. No one player has been more important than the other; it’s a strong core.

“Communication is key out there on the ice. The anticipation you need, knowing where the other players are, even your (defensive) partner, knowing where they’re at so you don’t leave your team out to dry."

The dynamic has certainly helped the team's goalies feel comfortable between the pipes. Taylor Watson boasts a 1.50 goals against average and a .930 save percentage in six starts, while Lauren Allen owns similarly impressive marks of 1.73 and .929 through five starts.

Senior Hannah Aittama said the close-knit friendships and the exceptional communication contribute significantly to the on-ice effectiveness on the blue line.

“We’ve really bonded this year, more than others," Aittama said. "As a whole group, we really just mesh well together. It doesn’t really matter who plays with who, we can all just go out there and do what we have to do.

"We’ve been practicing extremely hard. We, defense especially, never take a practice off. We keep challenging ourselves and the forwards, and I just think we have all been clicking really well, this past weekend especially."

Defense figures to be key this weekend, as the Lakers travel to compete in a two-game series at Adrian College (4-1-2) -- a team that has surrendered just seven goals in seven games.

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