Wisconsin and St. Lawrence shared top billing in the USCHO preseason poll, so conventional wisdom had these teams meeting this Sunday in Minneapolis, not this Friday as will be the case. The Saints have the edge in Frozen Four experience, this being their third straight appearance and fourth overall, but they have not been to a national final since upsetting then-No.1 Dartmouth at Mariucci Arena in 2001. The Badgers are in uncharted waters making their debut at the season’s final weekend, but then 2005-06 has been a season of firsts for Wisconsin, so why not a first-ever trip to the NCAA championship game as well?
Two things to focus on this Friday — the finesse (Wisconsin forwards) vs. the physical (St. Lawrence defense), and the two Kazmaier finalists in the biggest moment of their careers to date.
The Badgers feature a versatile attack but the principals all share the common denominator of speed, and on the Olympic-sized ice of Mariucci Arena, that asset should come to the fore. St. Lawrence, on the other hand, boasts one of the biggest, strongest, and most physical blueline sextets in the country. At last year’s Frozen Four, Harvard’s fleet-footed forwards (Sarah Vaillancourt in particular) induced that group into six penalties and Crimson used three power-play goals to eliminate St. Lawrence. Wisconsin is used to the extra space from playing at the Kohl Center and remains one of the nation’s least-penalized teams. How well the Badger offense creates space and how well the Saint defense denies space looms as a pivotal struggle in this matchup.
Wisconsin’s Sara Bauer and SLU’s Sabrina Harbec are both among the final three candidates for 2006 Patty Kazmaier Award, and both the WCHA Player of the Year and the ECACHL Player of the Year are worthy of the game’s highest individual honor. However, the list of national championship Most Outstanding Players is every bit as impressive as the collection of Kazmaier winners. Only Harvard’s Jennifer Botterill and Minnesota’s Krissy Wendell appear on both lists and neither accomplished the two feats in the same season. Bauer turned in a brilliant all-around performance at the WCHA Championships, while Harbec snapped a four-game goalless streak to win the game this past Saturday. If either can summon a transcendent performance this Friday, that could be the difference between two loaded rosters that have both produced 30+ wins this season.
No. 3 St. Lawrence (31-4-2 overall, 16-2-2 ECACHL)
Top Scorers: Sabrina Harbec, So., F (25-36-61), Carson Duggan, Fr., F (28-14-42), Emilie Berlinguette, Fr., F (18-18-36)
Top Goaltenders: Jess Moffat, Sr. (18-2-0, 1.29, .940), Meaghan Guckian, So. (13-2-2, 1.27, .935)
Scoring Offense: 4.00 (2nd)
Scoring Defense: 1.27 (2nd)
Penalty Minutes: 14.3 (7th)
Power Play: 54 of 234, 23.1% (2nd)
Penalty Kill: 204 of 225, 90.7% (2nd)
No. 2 Wisconsin (34-4-1 overall, 24-3-1 WCHA)
Top Scorers: Sara Bauer, Jr., F (22-35-57), Sharon Cole, Sr., F (15-24-39), Bobbi-Jo Slusar, Jr., D (12-27-39)
Top Goaltenders: Meghan Horras, Sr. (16-2-1, 1.54, .928), Jessie Vetter, Fr. (9-1-0, 0.93, .951), Christine Dufour, Jr. (9-1-0, 1.10, .943)
Scoring Offense: 3.87 (3rd)
Scoring Defense: 1.31 (3rd)
Penalty Minutes: 9.6 (31st)
Power Play: 40 of 208, 19.2% (7th)
Penalty Kill: 143 of 163, 87.7% (10th)
1/8/03: UW 2, SLU 1
11/23/01: SLU 1, UW 0