POTSDAM Clarkson University senior Jamie Lee Rattray always seems to be smiling.
She has even more reason to smile now as her womens hockey team enters the season as the preseason favorite to win ECAC Hockey. Clarkson, which went 28-10 overall last year, is also No. 3 in the U.S. College Hockey Online preseason poll.
If that wasnt enough, Clarksons road to a possible national championship may be eased a bit because of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, which will keep some of the top players in the country off of their teams for the upcoming season.
I think most of us definitely have noticed that, Rattray said about the Olympics. Weve got such a deep squad here. We have some talent that could take us far this year. You realize some of those teams will have their best players out with Olympic teams. But the talent in this league is unbelievable and we have to bring it every night if we want to win.
Clarkson opens the season at 4 p.m. Saturday with a home game against the Rochester Institute of Technology.
I think were really excited. We have a lot of returners and two girls who (graduated) and four great freshmen coming in, Rattray said. I think we are ready to build off of last year. I especially cant wait to get going this weekend.
A season ago, the Golden Knights jumped out to a 13-2 start and were ranked as high as No. 2 nationally at one point. But Clarkson went 12-6 in its last 18 regular-season games and finished one point out of hosting the ECAC Hockey championship weekend, also finishing one spot out of earning home ice for the NCAA Tournament. Clarkson traveled to Boston University where it lost 5-3 in a quarterfinal game.
We had a good, consistent first half, and sometimes we had a couple dips here and there (in the second), and thats something we do want to fix, Rattray said. Every game counts. It doesnt matter who you are playing, or where you are, you have to bring the same effort. Thats one thing we are going to focus on this year. You can look at preseason polls as much as you want, but it doesnt matter if you dont bring it.
Rattray, a native of Kanata, Ontario, was Clarksons leading scorer last year, tallying 22 goals and 30 assists in 36 games. She led the nation with nine game-winning goals and also scored three shorthanded goals.
Shes just a special player, said Clarkson co-coach Shannon Desrosiers. Weve watched her since she was young, with her being (near) Ottawa. You dont get players that bring that energy and that character and that desire to win all the time. We are just really lucky to have her.
What should excite Clarkson, and throw a scare into Golden Knight opponents, is that Rattray has dramatically improved every season of her collegiate career.
A top recruit from the Ottawa Jr. Senators program, Rattray delivered a mild freshman season, finishing with seven goals and 18 assists in 37 games.
She improved by 13 points as a sophomore, tallying 19 goals and 19 assists in 33 games, and then last year she upped her previous best by 14 points.
She handled (early struggles) admirably, Desrosiers said. Shes a leader for us this year and shes not only grown as a complete player, shes grown as a kid.
Facing a little adversity her freshman year was a good thing. At the time it wasnt, for her, but it made her grow and have to work through things. She will just continue to develop.
ST. LAWRENCE OUTLOOK
The Saints will be looking to make a third straight trip to the ECAC Hockey championship weekend and a second NCAA Tournament appearance in three years.
SLU, which went 19-14-5 overall last year and 12-6-4 in ECAC Hockey, was picked to finish fifth by the coaches in the preseason poll.
The Saints lost their leading scorer from last year, Kelly Sabatine, to graduation, but return Rylee Smith, who recorded 15 goals and 19 assists, and Amanda Boulier, who supplied eight goals and 24 assists.
We expect a very productive year out of our upperclassmen, Saints coach Chris Wells said. They have championship experience in their tenure at St. Lawrence and know what it takes to compete against the best teams in the country.
SLU opens the season with a pair of games against the University of New Hampshire, at 7 tonight and at 3 p.m. Saturday in Appleton Arena.