The USCHO Women’s Game of the Week kicks off its second half schedule with three straight games in WCHA country. First stop, Columbus, Ohio, where No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth seeks to extend its winning streak to seven games against an Ohio State program that has shown a penchant for plucking points off the WCHA elite in recent years. The Bulldogs held serve at home against the Buckeyes on Thanksgiving weekend, but OSU attackers kept UMD goaltenders busier than they have been in any other series this season.
No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth (13-1-2 overall, 11-1-2 WCHA)
Top Scorers: Caroline Ouellette, Sr., F (13-24-37), Noemie Marin, So., F (16-12-28), Jessica Koizumi, So., F (12-7-19)
Top Goaltender: Riitta Schaublin, So. (11-1-1, 1.37, .951)
Scoring Offense: 4.19 (4th)
Scoring Defense: 1.50 (3rd)
Penalty Minutes: 17.2 (7th)
Power Play: 28 of 107, 26.2% (3rd)
Penalty Kill: 99 of 111, 89.2% (6th)
Coach Shannon Miller admits to being pleasantly surprised by her team’s gaudy record, which thus far has matched the start posted by UMD’s last NCAA championship squad in 2003. The catalysts have been both new and old, and reinforcements are on the way for the stretch run.
Two-year captain Caroline Ouellette remains one of the most versatile forces in the college hockey universe. The senior Canadian national teamer ranks fourth nationally in scoring and broke late-game deadlocks with both No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 7 Harvard earlier this year. The new stars have emerged primarily from a large sophomore class that arrived with the burden of replacing Miller’s stellar ’03 crew, which included the likes of forwards Maria Rooth, Erika Holst, Hanne Sikio, and goalie Patricia Sautter. Despite also having to cope with the graduation of Jenny Potter and her 328 career points this season, UMD still ranks fourth in the country in scoring offense thanks to 40 goals from the sophomore quartet of Noemie Marin, Jessica Koizumi, Julianne Jubinville and Ali Lehrke. Shannon Miller will also add Quebec natives Melissa Roy and Karen Demeule to the mix for the stretch run, though neither is expected to play this weekend while they await final blessing from the NCAA Clearinghouse.
The big improvement, however, has come at the defensive end, where Minnesota-Duluth ranks third in the nation in scoring defense after finishing just 14th in 2003-04. Schaublin, a former teammate of Sautter on the Swiss national team, has made a quantum leap in her second year, lowering her goals-against by more than a goal per game and upping her save percentage 43 basis points to a stifling .951. All-American defender Julianne Vasichek can look forward to some seasoned help along the blueline this weekend with the return of junior Krista McArthur, whose physical presence and 65 career points should bolster UMD’s efforts at both ends of the ice.
Ohio State (10-7-1 overall, 9-7-1 WCHA)
Top Scorers: Jana Harrigan, Jr., F (9-19-29), Jeni Creary, Sr., F (14-8-22), Meaghan Mulvaney (5-10-15)
Top Goaltenders: Melissa Glaser, Sr. (5-5-0, 3.00, .901), Erika Vanderveer, So. (5-2-1, 3.09, .894)
Scoring Offense: 2.61 (13th)
Scoring Defense: 3.06 (T-20th)
Penalty Minutes: 13.4 (24th)
Power Play: 20 of 101, 19.8% (9th)
Penalty Kill: 77 of 97, 79.4% (25th)
Ohio State returns from the winter holiday break in a familiar position. In 2003-04, the Buckeyes owned an 11-6-1 record through 18 contests and eventually reached the same 9-7-1 conference mark held by this year’s squad. Coach Jackie Barto is hoping the finish to 2005 is a lot closer to 2001 (12-5-1 down the stretch and an appearance in the WCHA finals) than to last season (5-10-2). Interesting to note, however, OSU bagged points against the conference’s top teams in both of those seasons. In 2001, the Buckeyes shut out Minnesota twice, and last season, they defeated Minnesota-Duluth and tied the Gophers (the last point the NCAA champs dropped in 11 contests that season).
If college hockey handed out an award for Comeback Player of the Year, goaltender Melissa Glaser would be a leading candidate… for the second time of her career. The sixth-year senior and last remaining original Buckeye has persevered through two torn ACLs to post solid numbers while splitting time with sophomore heir-apparent Erika Vanderveer. The defense in front of them remains fairly young (three sophomores, two freshmen) but promising with sophomores Amber Bowman and Tessa Bonhomme both ranked in the top five of the WCHA in defenseman scoring. The bulk of the offense has come off the sticks of steady junior Jana Harrigan, who is three points shy of matching her team-best total of 31 from a year ago, and resurgent senior Jeni Creary, who has upped her OSU career goal record to 71 with 14 goals in 18 games after potting just eight in all of 2003-04.