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Final Four capsules

By Jamal K. Greene, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

Conference: Eastern College Athletic Conference

Coach: Karen Kay (Providence '85, 7th season)

Polls: Tied for second with Minnesota in the U.S. College Hockey Online Poll.

Key players:

Senior defenseman Nicki Luongo (14 goals, 28 assists) was one of three finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award for national player of the year. Luongo was an easy First-Team All-ECAC pick, as she provided needed stability to an otherwise inexperienced defensive unit. Her passing ability and trademark slapshot make her a terror at the point of UNH's highly effective power-play unit. She has seven goals and 17 assists in man-advantage situations, a point total second only to Harvard's Tammy Shewchuk (27 points).

Junior forward Carisa Zaban (28, 36), a Second-Team All-ECAC selection, rebounded from a torn ACL last season to finish fifth in the nation in both scoring and assists. Junior forward Samantha Holmes (29, 23) finished seventh in the country in scoring and sixth in goal scoring. Senior forward Melisa Heitzman (22, 22) and sophomore forward Michelle Thornton (19, 25) round out the 'Cats' full staple of All-ECAC forwards, with freshman forward Kelly McManus (11, 17) making the All-ECAC Rookie Team.

Last weekend, Heitzman, Zaban and Luongo were all named to the ECAC All-Tournament Team for helping take the Wildcats to the league championship game, where they lost to Harvard in overtime, 5-4.

Vulnerable but consistent junior goaltender Alicia Roberts ranked seventh in the nation with a 2.01 GAA, and eighth with a .912 save percentage. She's a marathoner between the pipes, logging 1762:27 minutes in goal, more than anyone else in the country.

Outlook:

At 6.06 goals per game, New Hampshire is the only team that even comes close to matching Harvard's high-powered 6.47 goals-per-game offense. And when the Wildcats are clicking on all cylinders, they can be a nightmare to opposing goaltenders: Zaban, Heitzman and Holmes can match up with any three forwards in the league, except perhaps Harvard's.

Where this team truly excels is in special teams, as Luongo captains the nation's best power-play unit. The 'Cats convert an astounding 35.4 percent of their man-up opportunities, and UNH ranks third in the ECAC in penalty killing.

The Wildcats have the guns, but the question is whether they can use them. This season they played seven nailbiters against the rest of the Final Four field, but came away with just one win and three ties. New Hampshire defeated Brown to win last year's inaugural American Women's College Hockey Alliance National Championship, but then again, the Red Sox won the first World Series.

No. 3 Minnesota (27-3-3)

Conference: Independent

Coach: Laura Halldorson (Princeton '85, 2nd season)

Polls: Tied for second with New Hampshire in the U.S. College Hockey Online Poll.

Key players:

Freshman center Jenny Schmidgall (32 goals, 34 assists) is fourth in the nation in scoring and was a member of the 1998 United States gold medal Olympic team and the 1999 World Championship team that won a silver medal in Finland last month. She was named Most Outstanding Forward of the World Championships, scoring 12 points in five games. Her 66 points are a school record.

Junior Kris Scholz (16, 33) also adds punch from the right wing spot, and sophomore winger Nadine Muzerall (26, 18) is second on the team in goals.

Stud sophomore goaltender Erica Killewald leads the nation with a .948 save percentage and a 1.15 GAA. She has recorded seven shutouts this season.

Outlook:

Like all of the Final Four teams, Minnesota does most things quite well.

Few teams have been able to bust through the Gophers' stingy defense, and still fewer have solved Killewald once they did. The sophomore sensation sees just 18 shots on goal per game, a credit to a strong defensive unit led by sophomore Courtney Kennedy (15, 16). Minnesota ranks first in the nation in scoring defense (1.09 goals per game).

The Gophers average 5.82 goals per game, good for third in the nation, but that number is inflated by a conspicuously weak schedule. For example, five of Minnesota's wins came at the expense of lowly Mankato State--the only other non-ECAC team in Division I along with the Gophers--by a combined score of 39-3. In five games against the three other Final Four teams, Minnesota has scored only four goals in compiling a 0-2-3 record.

Minnesota's offense is a balanced attack that relies on its depth. Ten Gophers have scored at least 10 goals, and eight have at least 30 points. Three of Minnesota's blueliners have handed out at least 15 assists.

By contrast, Harvard has soared to the top of women's collegiate hockey with seven players scoring double-digit goals and six with at least 30 points.

Of course, the Gophers' average margin of victory of 4.73 goals leaves ample room for bench contributions. This and all of Minnesota's accomplishments are qualified by its schedule, as geographic isolation has sheltered the Gophers from the rough-and-tumble ECAC.

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