2015-16 Team-by-Team Previews: Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers

2015-16 Roster | 2015-16 Schedule

Head Coach: Scott McDonald (10th Season)
2015-16 Captains: Taylor Thurston (C), Jess Paton (C), Carly Payerl (A), Cassie Clayton (A)

2014-15 Season Recap

Record: 15-19-5 (5-12-3 CHA/6th place)
College Hockey America Postseason: Conference champions; advanced to semifinals with quarterfinal series win vs. Robert Morris, defeated Mercyhurst in semifinals, defeated Syracuse in championship game
NCAA Tournament: Eliminated by Minnesota in quarterfinals

Just a season after surprising everyone with an upset over Mercyhurst to capture the College Hockey America title, RIT repeated the feat, claiming back-to-back championships and earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament this time around. But things didn’t look nearly so good for the Tigers for the bulk of last season; in fact, they ended the regular season in the basement of the league standings.

They did pretty well right off the bat, picking up sweeps over Union and Brown, a split against Vermont, and a tie against Northeastern in their first eight games. But they started off their conference slate with a tie and a loss to Lindenwood, and continued the winless skid with the same results the next weekend at Princeton. RIT earned its first CHA win against Penn State on Nov. 14 but settled for the series split after an overtime loss the next day. They ended the 2014 calendar year going 1-7-0 in their last eight games, which included sweeps at the hands of Mercyhurst and North Dakota and a loss to Syracuse.

After coming away with just one win in series against Robert Morris and Penn State to start 2015, the Tigers picked up big overtime wins over Syracuse and Lindenwood. They lost their next three, one to the Lions and two more to Mercyhurst, and tied the Colonials twice before ending the regular season with a split in a home-and-home with the Orange. RIT headed into the College Hockey America postseason ranked dead last in the standings and holding a 1-4-2 record since defeating Lindenwood on Jan. 30.

Those numbers quickly proved to be inconsequential as the Tigers swept Robert Morris in the opening round of the CHA playoffs to advance to the semifinals, hosted by the No. 1-seeded Lakers. In the semifinal game, they knocked Mercyhurst out of the tournament for the second straight year, this time with a 4-1 win. In the championship game against Syracuse, Carly Payerl notched the game-winning goal in double overtime as RIT clinched an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. In the NCAA quarterfinal round, Minnesota eliminated the Tigers by a score of 6-2.

When all was said and done, it ended up being a pretty special season for RIT, particularly for the team’s senior class. They ended their collegiate careers with a Division III national championship, two College Hockey America championships, and the first trip to the Division I NCAA Tournament in program history. Forward Lindsay Grigg was named the CHA’s Best Defensive Forward, defender Taylor Thurston took home the league’s Sportsmanship Award, and defender Christa Vuglar was named to the CHA All-Rookie Team. Goaltender Ali Binnington, who was an integral part of the Tigers’ championship run, was named a CoSIDA/Capital One Division I At-Large All-American for the third straight season.

Meet the Newcomers

G Jenna de Jonge, Pursuit of Excellence

De Jonge already earned herself a win at the Gene Polisseni Center, stopping 40 shots in a stellar performance as a prep to defeat the Tigers, 3-2, in an exhibition game last season.

Coach McDonald on de Jonge (via RITAthletics.com):

“Jenna brings great size and athletic ability to the position,” said McDonald. “I am excited to see her compete with Jetta (Rackleff) and Brooke (Stoddart) in the preseason, as it will be the most competitive position battle on our team.”

D Brinna Dochniak, Minnesota Blades, Stillwater Ponies

Dochniak twice won the Norris Award as Stillwater’s best defenseman, and last season, she scored six goals and 16 assists for 22 points with the team. She captained the squad as a senior and was a four-year letterwinner.

Coach McDonald on Dochniak (via RITAthletics.com):

“Brinna (Dochinak) has tremendous speed, is steady, and tough to beat in the defensive zone.”

D Logan Land, Burlington Jr. Barracudas

Competing with Burlington in the Provincial Women’s Hockey League (PWHL), Land scored 11 goals, 12 assists, and 23 points in 38 games this past season.

Coach McDonald on Land (via RITAthletics.com):

“Logan (Land) sees the ice really well, is a smooth skater, and will give us a boost offensively from the blue line.”

F Brooke Baker, Niagara Jr. Eagles, Little Caesars U19

Baker is a four-time attendee of USA Hockey player development camps and played three seasons for the Little Caesars club before joining the Niagara Jr. Eagles in 2014-15. There, she notched 11 goals, 11 assists, and 22 points in 50 games to help the team capture the High Performance Hockey League New York State Championship.

Coach McDonald on Baker (via RITAthletics.com):

“Brooke (Baker) is a strong power forward who is tough to play against in the corners and in front of the net,” said McDonald.

F Kendall Cornine, Morristown-Beard High School, East Coast Wizards

Cornine was honored as the New Jersey Girls High School Player of the Year in 2015 as well as the New Jersey Devils High School Player of the Year in 2014 and 2015 while skating for Morristown-Beard (N.J.). She broke the all-time high school scoring record in New Jersey with 104 goals, 95 assists, and 199 points in 74 games played.

Coach McDonald on Cornine (via RITAthletics.com):

“”Kendall (Cornine) has an exceptional skill set with great speed and a high hockey IQ.”

F Kathryn Kennedy, Hamilton Hawks

Kennedy recorded 10 goals, 12 assists, and 22 points in 32 games with the Hamilton Hawks Midget AA Team.

Coach McDonald on Kennedy (via RITAthletics.com):

“Kathryn (Kennedy) can play in any situation, is very tenacious and smart on the ice.”

F Mallory Rushton, New Hampton School

This past season, Rushton tallied 12 goals, 15 assists, and 27 points in 24 games with New Hampton (N.H.), and also scored 24 goals, 21 assists, and 45 points as a junior in 2013-14. She’s a two-time All-New Hampshire Prep School honoree and All-Region selection.

Coach McDonald on Rushton (via RITAthletics.com):

“Mallory (Rushton) brings a lot of energy and is a proven goal scorer who plays much bigger than her size indicates.”

F Reagan Rust, Pittsburgh Penguins Elite U19

In 55 games with Penguins Elite, Rust scored 23 goals, 15 assists, and 38 points, and can also double as a defenseman if needed.

Coach McDonald on Rust (via RITAthletics.com):

“Reagan (Rust) is very crafty with the puck, is an exceptional playmaker, and has great size at 5-8.”

F Kandice Sheriff, Leaside Jr. Wildcats

Competing in the PWHL with the Jr. Wildcats, Sheriff led the team with 61 penalty minutes and also chipped in four goals and five assists.

Coach McDonald on Sheriff (via RITAthletics.com):

“Kandice (Sheriff) is a tough power forward who has a nice touch as a playmaker and has a nose for the net.”

2015-16 Season Preview

Key Departures: G Ali Binnington, F/D Lindsay Grigg, F Kolbee McCrea, F Celeste Brown, D Emilee Bulleid
Key Returners: D Taylor Thurston, D Haley Northcote, F Mackenzie Stone, F Carly Payerl, F Jess Paton
Key Additions: G Jenna de Jonge, F Kendall Cornine, F Brooke Baker, F Reagan Rust

Though RIT has won back-to-back conference championships, the team will be dealing with major losses at all three positions, and that’s not typically the best news for a club that finished in last place during the regular season anyways. That senior class that accomplished so much for the program has now graduated, and the Tigers will be left to fill in spots among their top lines, defensive pairings, and, most notably, in the crease.

Goaltender Ali Binnington has long since been RIT’s most valuable player, and her ability to make save after save was a huge reason why the Tigers came away with victories in both of those double-overtime thrillers. To put it simply, she’ll be missed; last season, she recorded a .937 save percentage, 1.82 goals-against average, and five shutouts. She was sidelined for a bit with an injury, and back-ups Jetta Rackleff and Brooke Stoddart split 12 games between the two of them. With Binnington in net, the team was 12-11-3; with Rackleff and Stoddart, they were a combined 3-8-2. Both are returning this year, but RIT couldn’t have been happy with either of their performances last season. Rookie Jenna de Jonge is a big, technically sound goaltender who bested the Tigers themselves last season in an outstanding showing with her prep team. She has considerable upside because of her size, which will help her out as she gets a shot right away for the team.

RIT graduates a big chunk of its offensive core as well. Leading scorer Lindsay Grigg (seven goals, 18 points), who could play both forward and defense, is gone, and so is leading goal-scorer Celeste Brown (10 goals, 16 points) and fellow 16-point scorer Kolbee McCrea. Junior Mackenzie Stone is the only returning player who was among the Tigers’ top-five scorers last season. Seniors Carly Payerl and Jess Paton have shown they can chip in, but those three will now more or less be featured up front. RIT’s noticeably large incoming class of forwards could help things; out of the six the team is bringing in, Kendall Cornine, Brooke Baker, and Reagan Rust are probably most capable of making an immediate impact. Still, the Tigers were ranked fifth in the CHA last season in goals per game with 1.82, and unless their upperclassmen make some major strides, they’ll struggle to improve on that number.

Defensively, the Tigers weren’t bad last season, even with the sub-par goaltending they received with Binnington out of the line-up. They were ranked 12th in the country in goals against per game with 2.23, and they yielded just under 29 shots on goal against per game, which was about middle-of-the-pack in 2014-15. Their defensive corps as a whole is definitely more of a stay-at-home group, and RIT had three defensemen last season who ranked in the top seven in the CHA in blocked shots: Morgan Scoyne, Taylor Thurston, and Emilee Bulleid. Scoyne and Bulleid have now graduated, but Thurston, a junior, has been a leader on the blue line for the past few seasons now, and was also tied for the team lead in assists last season with 11. Christa Vuglar showed potential as a freshman, and senior Haley Northcote and junior Caitlin Wallace have been solid. That group should make up the Tigers’ top-four, and they’re not very dynamic, but they’re pretty experienced as a whole now and their biggest focus will just be on staying reliable in their own end and moving the puck up efficiently.

With a transition under way in goal, and the team in search of scorers up front, I’m not sure how much of an improvement we’ll see in RIT this season. Projections and previous results have mattered little to the Tigers lately, as they’ve found a way to be crowned conference champions in back-to-back years despite all that, but they’re losing a big group of veterans this time around. Offensively, the squad is going to struggle, but they’ll hope to see at least one or two players develop into go-to scorers. Defensively, they’ll also be dealing with some changes, but the Tigers should at least be sound again in that department. Though RIT has quickly become a team that you never want to count out, the team is going to have a difficult time making a big move up the CHA standings in 2015-16.

Schedule Highlights

Oct. 2-3 vs. Minnesota State
Oct. 9-10 vs. Rensselaer
Oct. 21 at Syracuse
Nov. 6-7 vs. Robert Morris
Nov. 27-28 vs. Princeton
Dec. 4-5 vs. Lindenwood
Jan. 8-9 at Providence
Jan. 29-30 at Penn State
Feb. 5-6 at Lindenwood
Feb. 12-13 vs. Mercyhurst

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