MINNEAPOLIS — It didn’t take long for the first upset to happen in the history of the NCAA women’s hockey tournament. In the opening game of the inaugural women’s Frozen Four, No. 4 seed St. Lawrence shocked top seed Dartmouth, 3-1.
St. Lawrence will take on the winner of Friday night’s semifinal between No. 2 seed Minnesota-Duluth and No. 3 seed Harvard in the championship game on Sunday, at 5 p.m. Central time. Dartmouth will play in the consolation game Sunday afternoon.
The Saints (24-7-3) marched on to the title game behind 31 saves from goaltender Rachel Barrie, the ECAC Rookie of the Year. Offensively, St. Lawrence attacked Dartmouth (26-4-1) on the power play, with two of the Saints’ three goals coming on the man advantage.
St. Lawrence’s strong performance comes on the heels of an embarrassing 7-1 loss to Harvard in the ECAC Tournament semifinal last weekend.
“Our kids played with enthusiasm and confidence, which is impressive for such a young team,” said St. Lawrence coach Paul Flanagan. “Dartmouth saw us lose big last weekend, but we answered the bell right off the bat tonight and really got in their face.”
St. Lawrence pounced on the early lead 4:34 into the game thanks to a two-on-one breakaway. Forward Suzanne Fiacco took a lead pass from linemate Sara Simard and raced down the right wing. When Dartmouth defenseman Liz Macri fell down at the blueline, Fiacco attacked Big Green netminder Amy Ferguson from just inside the circle, banking the puck off the far post and into the net.
“I was looking for the pass, but when I saw only one defender I decided to take the open shot,” Fiacco said.
Dartmouth coach Judy Parish Oberting decided to start Ferguson in goal, breaking the season-long platoon between Ferguson, a sophomore, and senior Meaghan Cahill. Ferguson, who got the nod although she usually plays in Dartmouth’s second game of the weekend, turned in an uncharacteristic performance in the first period, allowing three goals on 10 shots. Cahill replaced Ferguson in the second period, shutting out the Saints on seven shots in 40 minutes.
“Ferguson had an unbelievable game against Harvard in the ECAC championship game last weekend, and we thought tonight would be another similar pressure situation,” Oberting said. “Sometimes changing the goalie gives the team a new attitude on the game. Meg certainly didn’t face the same kind of shots Amy had to stop in the first period.”
The Saints got to Ferguson twice more in the opening period, with both goals coming on the power play.
Winger Chera Marshall had one of those goals, scoring from the post off a gorgeous backhand feed from linemate Trisha Powers behind the goal line. The other special-teams goal came from center Jessica Wilson, who put the puck on net from the slot and watched Ferguson inadvertently knock it across the goalmouth.
“We really wanted it tonight,” said St. Lawrence center Gina Kingsbury, who had the secondary assist on Marshall’s goal and is another important rookie contributer for the Saints. “We made a point of jumping on the puck first tonight,” added Kingsbury, who was 10-0 on faceoffs in the first two periods.
Dartmouth got on the board with 4:19 left in regulation on a partial breakaway. Playing shorthanded, Big Green winger Carly Haggard raced into the slot and threw a desperation shot on net. The puck crossed the goal line as Haggard and St. Lawrence defenseman Isabelle Chartrand fell to the ice.
“We dug ourselves a hole but we fought to get back into the game,” Oberting said after her team, which has been ranked No. 1 in the USCHO.com poll for most of the season, lost its chance to play for a national championship. “We didn’t come out ready to play tonight, and St. Lawrence was on fire. When you’re tight and don’t have a lot of confidence, your special teams really suffer.
Dartmouth had several breakaway scoring opportunities in the second and third periods, but Haggard was the only Big Green skater able to solve Barrie’s stone wall. Dartmouth did outshoot St. Lawrence 11-1 in the final period, but that was not enough to overcome the early three-goal deficit.
“We came out a little bit flat,” said Dartmouth co-captain Kristina Guarino. “The bounces didn’t go our way and we weren’t on the same page. We normally make 50 to 60 passes in a period, but that didn’t happen in the first tonight. It was just a bummer.”