The Ivy League’s Hallowed Rinks Grace the Top of the Polls
Sure, the early-season talk was all about the up-and-coming WCHA. But, now that the Eastern teams have all started playing for real, the most experienced programs are back on top of the polls.
Ivy League schools finally started their seasons last weekend, and Dartmouth (3-0-0) showed it deserves the No. 1 ranking with three convincing victories on the road. Granted, two of the wins came against programs that did not make the playoffs last year, but the Big Green also easily handled No. 8 New Hampshire in a 4-1 victory at the Whittemore Center, outshooting the Wildcats 41-18.
Dartmouth confirmed that its biggest strength is its depth, as 10 players scored goals in the team’s first three games (sophomore forward Carly Haggard, last season’s ECAC Rookie of the Year, and senior forward Carrie Sekela have each lit the lamp three times). And coach Judy Parish Oberting got quality play from two goaltenders, senior Meaghan Cahill and sophomore Amy Ferguson, who combined for 51 saves and a save percentage of almost .930 — although Ferguson allowed two late goals against Maine to leave the game in doubt until the buzzer sounded.
“We are very fortunate to have Meg and Amy playing as well as they are,” Oberting said. “They have worked extremely hard in the offseason and are pushing each other every day. The competition keeps them on their toes and makes it very difficult to decide who will start a game on any given day. Depth in any position makes the team stronger, and there is no exception in the net. If one is having an off day, the other is there to pick up the slack.”
But the country’s top-ranked team almost blew a 3-0 lead at upstart Maine (3-1-0) on Sunday when the Black Bears scored two late goals. After breezing past UNH in Durham, Oberting was not expecting trouble in Orono.
“Maine came out and played hard for three periods,” Oberting said. “As soon as we let up with a 3-0 lead, they were there to put the pressure on. This says that you can assume nothing in this league until you have seen every team play, which is exactly as it should be.”
Another team that survived a few nailbiters was Brown (2-0-0), which jumped two spots into the No. 2 slot behind its Ivy rival. The Bears opened the season at Meehan Auditorium with two important nonconference wins over No. 3 Minnesota (6-2-0) and No. 5 Wisconsin (6-2-0). Sophomore netminder Pam Dreyer seems to be picking up right where Kazmaier winner Ali Brewer left off in the Meehan crease, stopping 66 shots in two games for a .971 save percentage.
Dreyer’s 36 saves in regulation against the Gophers, who beat the Bears in last year’s national championship contest, sent the game into overtime, when a Gardner save rebounded wide and allowed forward Kathleen Kauth an open look at the goal on the other end of the ice to get the win. On Sunday, Dreyer replaced freshman Katie Germain after the rookie allowed three Wisconsin goals in the opening 1:43. Dreyer shut down the Badgers after that and Brown scored five unanswered goals to complete the weekend sweep.
After getting off to great starts last weekend, the Big Green and the Bears can relax a little for now. Dartmouth travels to Yale and Princeton (the two teams struggling at the bottom of the Ivy League) while Brown will play two exhibition games in Canada.
Grudge Match: Gophers vs. Bulldogs
While the Eastern powers enjoy a routine weekend, the two WCHA juggernauts will face each other in a game that is about more than just the standings. Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth (7-1-0) are tied for the No. 3 spot in this week’s USCHO.com poll and have a history of bad blood heading into a two-game series at Mariucci Arena.
The Gophers and Bulldogs last faced each other in the national semifinals. Although UMD led 2-0 just 15 seconds into the second period, Minnesota rallied for a 3-2 victory to advance to the championship game against Brown. And although both teams lost one valuable player from last season’s roster (Winny Brodt for Minnesota, and Jenny Schmidgall in Duluth), they both have enough firepower to reach the semifinals again.
However, things have not started as smoothly as Minnesota or UMD would have liked. In their first conference game, the Bulldogs lost to Wisconsin, 4-2. The Gophers, meanwhile, lost to unranked Ohio State (3-4-0) before falling to Brown in overtime last Saturday. Despite the losses, the two teams are tied for first place in the WCHA heading into this weekend’s series.
“The league is very different this year,” said Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson. “Every weekend is going to be a challenge. Duluth is like any other team — a beatable opponent that will play us very tough.”
This game will feature seven of the WCHA’s top 10 scorers (UMD sophomores Maria Rooth, Hanne Sikio, Erika Holst and freshmen Sanna Peura Satu Kiipeli, along with Minnesota rookie La Toya Clarke and senior Ambria Thomas), but Halldorson knows that talent alone will not win this, or any other, hockey game.
“We have lost two games in which we could have played much better,” Halldorson said. “Last year we could win a lot of games just on talent, but this year we have to be prepared for every game. Our league is so much better this year that, if we don’t show up prepared, other teams are going to take advantage of us.”
The other important WCHA series this weekend is between Wisconsin and Ohio State — the two teams to beat UMD and Minnesota, respectively. The Buckeyes trail the Badgers by two points for third place in the conference standings, and third place could be an important position come the playoffs now that we know the two juggernauts are actually beatable this year.
Where Have all the Players Gone?
There won’t be many people in Niagara this weekend when No. 6 Harvard (0-2-0) takes on the No. 10 Purple Eagles (5-1-0), and that’s not because all of Niagara’s tourists will be at the Falls.
Instead, both teams will have a small roster due to commitments to the Canadian National Teams. Harvard star forwards Jen Botterill and Tammy Shewchuk are donning the Maple Leaf for Canada in the Four Nations Cup, while Niagara is sending its goalie (Tania Panelli), go-to scorer (Brooke Bradburn), and even head coach (Margot Page) to Switzerland with the Canadian Under-22 Team. So we should find out just how deep the rosters for the Crimson and Purple Eagles are.