No. 3 W. Hockey Faces Tall Order in NCAA's Frozen Four
The No. 3 Harvard women's hockey team travels to Minnesota this weekend to take place in the inaugural Frozen Four NCAA Championship.
The Crimson (23-9-0, 20-4-0 ECAC) will face steep competition. Harvard starts its weekend against No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth Friday night at the University of Minnesota's spacious new 10,000 seat Mariucci Arena.
The Bulldogs (26-5-4, 15-5-4 WCHA) are the only representative of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in the Frozen Four.
Led by a strong core of sophomores, the Bulldogs were able to win the WCHA tournament last weekend with a 3-0 shutout of Ohio State. Duluth have been very hot as of late, losing only once since December.
In only their second year as a Division I program, the Bulldogs have accomplished great feats thanks to their core of excellent second-year players.
The team's top scorers are sophomores Hannie Sikio, who is second in the WCHA in points, and Maria Rooth, who took home MVP honoirs in the WCHA tournamnet, scoring 6 goals in 3 games.
Meanwhile, sophomore goaltender Tuula Puputti--who played in the 1998 Olympics for Team Finland--has been among the best goalies in the WCHA this year, posting a .894 saves percentage and giving up just 2.37 goals per game.
In two meetings just before winter break this year, Harvard fell to Duluth in Minnesota by scores of 4-3 and 5-2.
But since that time, Harvard freshman goalkeeper Jessica Ruddock has matured into one of the best goaltenders in the nation.
Ruddock will have to be at her best on Friday. Duluth has a strong offense that routinely outshoots their opponents.
If the Harvard defense can hold the game close into the final period, the Crimson's chances of advancing to the championship game Saturday night will improve. The Bulldogs have struggled in overtime this year going just 2-4-1 while the Harvard team has yet to lose an overtime contest.
If Harvard advances to the next round, the Crimson will most likely play a strong Dartmouth team, which meets St. Lawrence in the first round on Friday night. The No. 1 Big Green (26-3-1, 20-3-1 ECAC) has retained the top national ranking throughout the entire hockey season.
Dartmouth's success rests in large part to experience and a well- rounded scoring attack that dominates teams with less depth. The Big Green returned 20 players and lost only one letterwinner from a team that won a school-record 21 games last year.
Combine that with their balanced scoring attack--Dartmouth has eight players with over 20 points--and it is no surprise the Big Green has had yet another successful season.
The team also boasts strong goalkeeping. Netminders Meaghan Cahill and Amy Ferguson have split the work this season playing 13 and 12 games, respectively.
Cahill has impressive numbers, posting a stingy 1.41 goals-against average, but Ferguson has more big- game experience and may end up getting the nod in at least one of the two games or being called in if Cahill struggles.
The offense is led by last year's ECAC Rookie of the Year Carly Haggard andjunior Kim McCullough, who both collected 29 points this season. The offense is very well rounded with the two players mentioned above not even skating on the first line.
If Harvard was to meet the Big Green in the championship game, it would have to feel better than any of the other tournament teams about its chances of coming away with the national championship. The Crimson has played ECAC rival Dartmouth very close this year and by now, it has a good grasp on the Big Green's roster and strategy.
Harvard split the season series with the Dartmouth, losing in Hanover by one goal, 5-4, only to come back later in the season with a 3-2 win at Bright Hockey Center.
Dartmouth has had an immensely successful season, winning both the Ivy and ECAC regular season championships. The Big Green set a school record for the second straight year for most wins in a season and defeated Harvard this past weeekend 3-1 to take the ECAC tournament crown as well.
Dartmouth shouldn't have any trouble with its first round opponent, St. Lawrence. The Big Green has had large success over the Skating Saints, beating them 5-3 the last weekend in January and holding on to a 2-2 tie earlier in the season.
The fourth-seeded Saints were a controversial pick for this season's inaugural tournament. By some measures, University of Minnesota may have seemed a more deserving team. The Gophers (23-9-2, 18-4-2 WCHA), who are the defending national champions, won the WCHA regular season title and beat No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth twice this year. Nevertheless, the Saints (23-7-3, 18-4-2 ECAC) remain in the tourney despite winning neither a regular season nor a postseason championship.
St. Lawrence has no real offensive firepower. Its leading scorer, sophmore Amanda Sargeant, is tied for just 10th in the ECAC in points.
No other Saint player has cracked the top 15 in points.
The Saints do, however, have a star freshman goalie to rival Harvard's Ruddock. St. Lawrence freshman goalie Rachel Barrie was this year's ECAC Rookie of the Year, posting impressive numbers for her first year. Her 2.03 goals against average equals Ruddock's mark, while her .928 saves percentage is 11 points better.
Still, St. Lawrence has not had much success against the rest of the teams in the tourney. The Saints are 1-4-1 against the rest of the tournament field this year.
St. Lawrence has been wholly unsuccessful in its attempts to beat Dartmouth this year. And even if the Saints should miraculously slay the mighty Big Green, they would have to play either Minnesota-Duluth--whom they lost to twice this year, 7-0 and 4-3--or Harvard, to whom they fell, 7-1, a week and a half ago in the ECAC tournament.
In the regular season, the Saints split their series with the Crimson. St. Lawrence's 2-1 win over Harvard was its only victory against any of the other three tourney teams this year.
To say the least, the Crimson faces a steep challenge this week in its attempt to win the first-ever NCAA women's hockey championship and its second national title in three years. Harvard needs to maintain strong defense and will most likely need multi-goal games from its two best players, senior Tammy Shewchuk and junior Jennifer Botterill.
The pair is among the three finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award, which is given to the best player in women's hockey. The winner will be announced this weekend.