Four visitors evicted
Saturday’s first round of the NCAA tournament had a little of everything. Whether you like wide-open offense, defense clamping down for 60 minutes, great saves, soft goals, goalie changes, video review, or overtime tension, there was something to offer — and that was just in Ithaca, N.Y. When the goal lights had been illuminated for the last time and the final buzzer sounded, all of the seeded teams advanced. That outcome was the same as last year’s quarterfinals, and in sharp contrast to the slew of upsets in the conference tourneys.
Boston College 6, St. Lawrence 3
In most years, the game at Chestnut Hill would have been called wide open, although on Saturday, another contest gave new meaning to the phrase. Still, by the second intermission at Kelley Rink, each team had held and surrendered a lead.
The Eagles scored the only goal of a fairly even first period. Alex Carpenter and Emily Field combined on a short-handed, two-on-one attempt that was stopped by goaltender Carmen MacDonald. As the Saints continued to arrive on the scene and offer ineffective resistance, the BC duo fired away until MacDonald, in an effort to push the puck away from danger, instead put it on the stick of Carpenter, and the Eagles’ leading scorer sniped a shot upstairs.
Once the second period got underway, St. Lawrence rediscovered the post-season magic that had carried it to the NCAAs. Cracks in the Boston College defense appeared, and after a quick flurry of odd-man rushes and juicy rebounds, SLU led 3-1 just 3:33 into the second stanza.
This time, however, the Saints’ magic faded. MacDonald, who had been the foundation of the team’s ECAC championship, began to wobble. Her glove failed to capture a soft shot by Field, and Boston College was back in it. Defenseman Blake Bolden scored a back-breaking goal with just 11 seconds remaining in the second period, and the game was even. MacDonald’s blocker failed her on a shot from Danielle Welch that snuck into the top corner of the net, and BC owned a lead that would endure. MacDonald on one shot proved more effective without equipment, catching a shot with her bare hand after her glove had been knocked off. The Eagles added an insurance goal plus an empty-net tally for the 6-3 final and a second straight trip to the Frozen Four.
Cornell 8, Boston University 7 — 3OT
Records are made to be broken, and this game succeeded in breaking a few of them. The previous mark of seven goals by one team in an NCAA tournament game was eclipsed; the record of nine goals by two teams combined was obliterated.
Usually, the concept of a team going on a run is used in basketball, not hockey. Discovering runs in limited hockey scoreboard activity requires as much imagination as discovering constellations in the night sky. However, this match saw each team rattle off a string of at least three goals multiple times.
When Kasey Boucher scored at 16:45 of the opening period to make it 3-0, the Terriers had to feel like they were in control. They would learn that no lead was safe, and it took less than seven and a half minutes of game time for the Big Red to put BU on the short end of a 4-3 score. When Marie-Philip Poulin scored later in the period to tie things up, it took just over a minute for Cornell to take a 5-4 lead. By 6:19 of the third period, Rebecca Johnston had completed a hat trick, and the advantage had mounted to 7-4. The Terriers answered with a run that spanned nine minutes and three power plays, and regulation play ended with the unlikely score of 7-7.
Overtime signaled the start of an offensive drought. To that point, the goaltenders had recorded save percentages more likely to be seen in lacrosse. Cornell’s Amanda Mazzotta saved seven of 10 shots, and her day was done after 20 minutes. Replacement Lauren Slebodnick fared no better over the next two periods, yielding four goals against only eight saves. At the other end, Kerrin Sperry was pummeled for all seven goals while stopping 29 shots. Perhaps the goalie coaches showed up for overtime, the team defense tightened, or the attackers were just worn out from all of those post-goal celebrations, but the next 59 minutes and 50 seconds passed with no change in score. Finally, junior defenseman Lauriane Rougeau of the Big Red found the energy to carry the puck end-to-end, and nobody for the Terriers could match her effort. Rougeau cleared the last defender and flicked a backhand that found the five-hole, and Cornell was able to empty the tank on one final celebration.
Minnesota 5, North Dakota 1
In comparison, the games out West were tame affairs, particularly the all-WCHA contest in Minneapolis. The Gophers led for all but the game’s first minute and 28 seconds, and put the game out of reach with a three-goal middle period. Minnesota’s five top-scoring forwards each found the net once, highlighted by the 30th goal of the year for Amanda Kessel on a solo short-handed effort.
As the deficit grew, the only remaining drama was whether North Dakota could snap the shutout string of Noora Räty that had grown to more than four games. UND succeeded in that regard in the final period, but it had to pull its goaltender while on a five-on-three power play to do so.
While the Fighting Sioux were disappointed that their first venture into the NCAA tournament had been brief, they were not shocked by their fate.
“We just ran into a better club,” coach Brian Idalski said. “That’s really the bottom line.”
Wisconsin 3, Mercyhurst 1
A year ago, the Badgers started their march to a fourth NCAA title with a narrow 2-1 quarterfinal win over Minnesota-Duluth. Their 2012 NCAA tournament began in quite similar fashion. Carolyne Prévost staked the hosts to a 1-0 lead 12 minutes into the game, but Kelley Steadman responded for Mercyhurst in the final minute of period two. Twelve minutes later, Prévost struck again. The senior set up Hilary Knight perfectly on a two-on-one rush while short-handed, and Knight doesn’t miss from point-blank range. Wisconsin added a goal into an empty-net and safely advanced to its sixth Frozen Four in seven seasons.
It’s ironic that the winning goal was scored at the Lakers’ expense while their power play was on the ice. Mercyhurst owns the nation’s best conversion percentage, and had not yielded a short-handed goal this season.