Let the Seeding Begin
With the WCHA Tournament looming in three weeks, the battle for seeding position is in full swing out west. The biggest fight is for fourth place — the final “home” team in the first round — for which St. Cloud State (15-13-2) currently holds a one-point lead over Ohio State (12-15-3). The seeding advantage (which isn’t really home ice since all WCHA playoff games will be in Rochester, Minn.) will be decided this weekend when the Buckeyes travel to St. Cloud for a two-game series.
Ohio State and St. Cloud are each coming off the most difficult stretch of their respective regular seasons — each with four games against western powers No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth and No. 4 Minnesota. Both teams took UMD to overtime (St. Cloud was victorious last Saturday, 6-5, while OSU fell to the Bulldogs a week earlier, 7-6), and each beat Minnesota at home. But the more important games are this weekend, which Ohio State coach Jackie Barto sees as a warmup for the inevitable match-up in the postseason.
“Three of our next five games will be against St. Cloud so we will know each other well going into the WCHA’s,” Barto said. “The team that finishes in fourth place will bel isted as the home team and have last line change, so this series has a lot riding on it. This series is a big one and I am sure we’ll see some exciting hockey this weekend.”
The Buckeyes and Huskies are both young up-and-coming teams, but they have different playing styles. Ohio State has been most successful in the defensive zone. When OSU shut out Minnesota last Friday, 1-0, the Buckeyes held the Gophers to just 16 shots, making life easy for both goaltender April Stojak as well as for the offense, which needed just one goal from forward Shana Frost, the team’s leading goal-scorer.
“Defensively we did not give Minnesota much room at all,” Barto said. “We pressured them extremely hard and we were also very effective in our breakout and forecheck and we were able to trap Minnesota and force turnovers. I felt we also took care of the puck and did the little things very well. Our defensemen had an outstanding night — Kelli Halcisak, Emma Laaksonen, Emily Hudak and Lindsey Steblen all played very well. And April Stojak came up with a couple of big saves in the third period.”
St. Cloud, meanwhile, is a much more offensive-minded team. Whereas the Buckeyes have only one player — Halcisak (12g, 20a) with more than 30 points, the Huskies have four — forwards Ricki-Lee Doyle (23g, 34a) and Roxanne Stang (25g, 11a) and defensemen Fiona McLeod (12g, 34a) and Kobi Kawamoto (16g, 21a). Incidentally, every one of those players on both teams, with the exception of junior McLeod, is a freshman.
The Huskies beat UMD last week thanks in large part to two individual performances. Stang scored four goals, finishing the hat trick in regulation before scoring the game-winner in overtime. And netminder Laura Gieselman recorded 61 saves against the Bulldogs’ potent offense.
That gives the Buckeyes blueline two challenges this weekend. For one thing, the OSU defensemen will have to stop high-scoring forwards like Stang and Doyle, both of whom are capable of breaking out for multiple goals. On the other end of the ice, Ohio State’s blueliners will have to test Gieselman early and often — Halcisak and Laaksonen (13g, 15a) are the team’s two leading scorers.
“We will have to get to Gieselman — she has been playing extemely well,” Barto said. “We will need quality shots and we need to jump on rebounds. I also feel we will have to stop St. Cloud’s powerplay and capitalize on our power play. We like playing on the bigger sheet of ice so I do not see the St. Cloud rink as a disadvantage.”
Regardless of the ice surface, St. Cloud has the advantage heading into the home stretch. Even if the Huskies lose both games to the Buckeyes, all they need is a sweep at Mankato State — which has not won a conference game all season — in the final weekend before the playoffs (Ohio State, on the other hand, wraps up conference play this weekend).
Here Comes Harvard
No. 3 Harvard (18-7-0) has turned plenty of heads in the past week. The Crimson beat three ranked teams in a span of eight days, and it even handed No. 1 Dartmouth (20-2-1) its first loss in 10 games. Harvard trails the Big Green by one point for first place in the ECAC.
Center Jennifer Botterill lifted the Crimson to victory as usual. Last Tuesday Botterill scored an overtime goal to beat Northeastern in the Beanpot final — the third year in a row she has performed that feat. On Saturday she got the game-winner against Dartmouth late in the third period. Botterill (33g, 26a) leads the nation with a 2.81 points per contest average, while linemate Tammy Shewchuk (17g, 34a) is second at 2.32 points a game.
In addition, freshman goaltender Jessica Ruddock is starting to come into her own at the other end of the ice. She bailed Harvard out of several jams against Northeastern and Dartmouth, and on Wednesday she stopped 37 shots to shutout No. 6 Brown.