Union College hockey goalie Melissa Black is eighth in the nation with a .944 save percentage. The 5-foot-5 freshman ranks 16th in Division I with a 2.23 goals-against average. Her 594 saves leads the country.
She is also dead last in wins.
The Dutchwomen, who host Vermont in a non-conference game at 4 p.m. today at Messa Rink, are in the throes of an NCAA-record 35-game winless streak (0-24-11). This season, Union is 0-13-5.
But don’t blame the 18-year-old Black. She has had made more than 50 saves in a game three times, including a season-high 58 against Colgate on Oct. 30. Black has also had three other games where she’s made more than 40 saves.
“She’s physically a very good goalie,” Union coach Claudia Asano-Barcomb said. “I think she’s very quick. She’s so athletic. She works at the little pieces of the game. She’s a gamer. What she does in games is pretty amazing.
“She’s been critical. Day in and day out, she has been our most valuable player.”
Senior forward Kathryn Tomaselli, who is the Dutchwomen’s leading scorer with four goals and three assists, knew Black was special early on.
“It might have been the second day of skating with captains’ practices,” Tomaselli said. “For the life of me, I literally could not score on her. It was frustrating. I was like, ‘Who is this freshman I can’t score on?’ She’s been awesome.”
Last season, with the Aurora Jr. Panthers of the Provincial Women’s Hockey League, Black posted a 1.70 GAA, a .945 save percentage and five shutouts. The thing she’s had to get used to at Union is the type of shots she is facing.
“I’m pretty happy with my numbers, but kind of surprised, as well,” Black said. “I faced a lot [of shots] last year, but definitely not the caliber or as many like 60 in a game. . . . It’s something to get used to.”
Despite her size, Black is able to cover the net well. She moves quickly from side to side.
“Being a short goalie, you just stay up as much as you can,” Black said. “Just not go down. That’s what really helps me.”
There is frustration for Black that she has yet to win. But she’s not letting it affect her attitude and her game.
“Hopefully, we can get one soon,” Black said. “We’re just trying really hard. Everyone’s pushing themselves. Everyone’s trying to get a win.”
In order to get that elusive streak-busting win, the Dutchwomen must find a way to score goals.
The offense has struggled mightily. Union has scored just 15 goals in 18 games. The Dutchwomen have been shut out eight times.
In games that have been decided by one or two goals, Union has lost seven times. Last season, that number was eight. So, Black is giving the Dutchwomen a chance.
“It’s been a struggle this year,” Tomaselli said. “So, to have close games like that is incredibly important. She keeps us in every single game, whether it’s a high-shooting game [or not]. She gives us a chance.”
Asano-Barcomb acknowledges the lack of goal scoring has been the major issue. She also has three forwards, senior Courtney Turner and sophomores Nicole Russell and Erica Kelly, out with injuries.
“I look at our record, and I see it, and I know it and I’m a person who wants results,” Asano-Barcomb said. “We have a lot of league games to play. We’ve had a lot of injuries. They seem like excuses, but they’re legitimate. We have three solid kids out of the lineup who play a lot.”
“Everyone recognized [the offensive struggles] as an issue,” Tomaselli said. “I think we’re working really hard to fix those issues. We’ve had goal scorers who now are going 10 games without a goal. Whether our team is a winning team or not right now, to have those players struggling with themselves, it’s not easy to see, but it’s also not easy to get out of. We have to work on that first, and then we’ll get some Ws.”
Despite the rough season, Asano-Barcomb said the team’s morale is still good.
“I’ve watched our practices,” Asano-Barcomb said. “I’ve filmed our practices to see body language, communication, everything like that. I think we’re learning, and learning a lot. It’s going to pay off.”