Under other circumstances, this would be a great week to explore the individual performances of players like Ambria Thomas of Minnesota or Tara Dunn of Harvard, each of whom recorded a hat trick last weekend. In a different week, two-goal games by players like Dartmouth’s Carrie Sekela, Minnesota’s La Toya Clarke and Nadine Muzerall, Harvard’s Kiirsten Suurkask, New Hampshire’s Kristen Thomas and St. Lawrence’s Trisha Powers would deserve more attention than simply a passing reference.
But the big news this past week was really the players who did not suit up for their schools. Instead, they were meeting national-team commitments at the Four Nations Cup or Under-22 commitments at the Three Nations Cup.
A total of 11 players from four teams missed games last weekend for extracurricular play, not including the four who took the year off to train with the U.S. National Team in preparation for the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. All of these are impact players who could easily have changed the outcome of the games they missed.
The team most devastated by the Four Nations Cup was No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth (7-3-0), which lost its top six scorers as well as its No. 1 goaltender to Teams Finland and Sweden. The Bulldogs, the WCHA’s highest-scoring team, were shut out by No. 2 Minnesota at Mariucci Arena, 4-0 and 8-0.
Forget about chalking up two wins and great stats for the Gophers, who didn’t have to play very hard to win. Minnesota and UMD are in-state enemies who faced each other in the national semifinals last season, and to see this fierce rivalry reduced to a lopsided embarrassment was a shame.
Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson benefited from the Four Nations exodus this time around, even though she lost defenseman Winny Brodt for the season to Team USA. Halldorson points out that, while last weekend’s games can be disappointing to fans and unfair for the players who stay at school, it’s a sacrifice the sport has to make in exchange for having some of the best players in the world.
“When we, as coaches, recruit elite players, I think we need to be prepared to lose them to international events,” Halldorson said. “We seemed to all be excited that our sport made it to the Olympic level, right? Well, there are repercussions and consequences that go with this growth. It’s not easy, but we just have to learn how to manage those consequences.”
For now, managing those consequences means trying to fit the international factor into the early-season race. The fact is that, other than the Minnesota-UMD blowouts, all the other games affected by the Four Nations Cup were close.
In Upstate New York, No. 5 Harvard (2-2-0) knocked Niagara (5-3-0) out of the Top 10 by beating the Purple Eagles, 5-2 and 2-1. Harvard’s two best players, Jennifer Botterill and Tammy Shewchuk, were playing for Team Canada. However, Niagara’s top scorer (Brooke Bradburn), its goaltender (Tania Pinelli) and even its coach (Margot Page) were all with the Canadian Under-22 Team, and any of those could have changed the outcome of Sunday’s nailbiter. Harvard and Niagara are both bubble teams capable of finishing in the ECAC’s upper division, and those two games could be the difference between hosting a first-round playoff game or going on the road.
The week before, Harvard lost a pair of close games to Minnesota and No. 6 Wisconsin (7-2-1), 2-1 and 3-1. Since Botterill and Shewchuk were not there, however, those game tapes will be pointless to review should the Crimson face the Gophers or Badgers come March.
The last player to leave the country last weekend was Ohio State’s standout rookie defenseman, Emma Laaksonen. The Buckeyes (3-5-1) held a one-goal lead against Wisconsin in the third period, but without Laaksonen’s presence in the slot the Badgers were able to score the equalizer in the final minute of regulation and salvage a tie.
The Four Nations Cup is now over so most teams will finally be back at full-strength, barring injuries. Hopefully every squad will regain its team chemistry by Christmas.
The Saints Are Marching In
One team that not affected by the Four Nations Cup, either internally or from its opponents, was No. 7 St. Lawrence (3-2-1). The Saints handled No. 9 Northeastern on Friday, 4-1, before shutting out Providence Saturday, 2-0.
One bonus for St. Lawrence coach Paul Flanagan has been rookie goaltender Rachel Barrie. Barrie has allowed just four goals in 205 minutes and won both games over the weekend, and her performance gives depth to a netminding corps that includes a pair of grizzled veterans in seniors Emily Stein and Caryn Ungewitter.
“We’ve been fortunate so far this year to have a competitive situation in goal,” Flanagan said. “Rachel was very solid in both games this past weekend. Her strong play provided the team a huge boost of confidence. She’s been very consistent in every period she’s played thus far and seems to have adjusted to college hockey very well.”
Offensively, St. Lawrence seems to be developing a pair of capable scoring lines thanks to the tandoms of Amanda Sargeant and Shannon Smith and Chera Marshall and Trisha Powers. Those pairs combined for five of the Saints’ six goals on the weekend.
“Our strength this year has been our depth up front,” said Flanagan, who insists St. Lawrence can have four solid lines by season’s end. “All four of those players are strong skaters with good instincts and puck skills. But Sara Simard has done a great job complimenting Smith and Sargeant with her physical presence. And Jess Wilson is a smart playmaker who is playing very well with Marshall and Powers.”
It will take a total team effort from those lines on Friday when the Saints head to Durham to take on No. 8 New Hampshire.