Feeling Frozen in Minnesota
Well, the debates have been exhausted and the arguing is done. The four-team field for the inaugural NCAA championship is finally set, and the brackets correspond with USCHO.com’s current poll: No. 1 Dartmouth plays No. 4 St. Lawrence in the first semifinal, while No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth takes on No. 3 Harvard in the nightcap. Both games take place Friday at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis, with the title game following on Sunday afternoon.
Here’s how the teams shape up for the Frozen Four:
No. 1 Dartmouth: 26-3-1
Coach: Judy Parish Oberting
Players to Watch: Goaltender Amy Ferguson; Defensemen Correne Bredin and Liz Macri; Forwards Carly Haggard, Kristin King and Kim McCullough
The Big Green proved its mettle in the postseason last weekend by outlasting No. 5 Brown in the conference semifinal before beating Harvard to capture the ECAC championship. Dartmouth is the overwhelming favorite to win the NCAAs this weekend, and deservedly so.
Defense wins championships. Dartmouth almost learned that lesson the hard way last Saturday when Brown netminder Pam Dreyer stopped 56 shots before succumbing to the Big Green in double overtime, 3-2.
But that was more a question of when Dartmouth would score, as the Big Green’s stifling defense held the Bears to just eight shots on the other end over the final 41 minutes. On Sunday the Big Green held high-scoring Harvard to just one goal. Led by imposing defenders like Correne Bredin and Liz Macri, Dartmouth plays an aggressive defense that starts with the forecheck and continues into the defensive zone, assuming the opposition is able to cross both blue lines.
The only question for Dartmouth defensively is which goaltender will start. Senior Meaghan Cahill (1.32 GAA, .934 save percentage) has the more impressive numbers, but sophomore Amy Ferguson (2.13 GAA, .916 save percentage) has more big-game experience this year. Look for Dartmouth coach Judy Parish Oberting to platoon her goalies as usual, with Cahill minding net Friday and Ferguson getting the nod on Sunday — but don’t be surprised if Oberting has a quick hook should St. Lawrence jump out to an early lead in the semifinal.
Dartmouth’s one limitation is that it won’t blow any teams out of the water offensively — especially against teams with solid goaltenders like Rachel Barrie, Tuula Puputti and Jessica Ruddock. But the Big Green has the luxury of depth, with eight players who have scored at least 20 points this season. In fact, Dartmouth has five scorers ranked ahead of its top forward line of seniors Jennifer Wiehn, Lauren Trottier and Kristina Guarino. Bredin can score from the blue line while the Big Green’s three reliable goalscorers — Carly Haggard, Kristin King and Kim McCullough — skate on the second and third lines.
No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth: 26-5-4
Coach: Shannon Miller
Players to Watch: Goaltender Tuula Puputti; Forwards Hanne Sikio, Maria Rooth, Erika Holst and Joanne Eustace
The Bulldogs benefited from the late-season collapse of No. 6 Minnesota, which fell in the WCHA semifinal and never got the chance to challenge UMD for a NCAA bid. That said, the Bulldogs have only lost one game since December, and stopping the Bulldogs’ offensive attack is a tall order for any goaltender.
But six of UMD’s last 11 games have gone to overtime, with three of them resulting in a tie. Of course, the NCAA games will have 20-minute extra periods until a winner is determined, but if it comes down to sudden death against a streaky scoring team like Harvard, the Bulldogs might be in trouble.
But can anyone stop UMD’s offense? UMD’s top forward line of sophomores Hanne Sikio, Maria Rooth and Erika Holst has combined for 93 goals this season. And the Bulldogs have sufficient depth with the likes of defensemen Satu Kiipeli and Brittny Ralph, as well as forwards Joanne Eustace (who had a four-goal game earlier this year) and Sanna Peura.
Goaltender Tuula Puputti (2.08 GAA, .911 save percentage) has proved reliable all season long. Should UMD face Dartmouth in the championship game, however, Puputti will have to be at her best because the Bulldogs might not be as successful as usual at the other end against Amy Ferguson.
No. 3 Harvard: 23-9-0
Coach: Katey Stone
Players to Watch: Forwards Jennifer Botterill, Tammy Shewchuk and Angie Francisco; Goaltender Jessica Ruddock
The roster might be small, but this team has heart.
It also has two of the three Kazmaier finalists for player of the year in forwards Jennifer Botterill and Tammy Shewchuk. These Canadian linemates are deadly from anywhere but the bench. Botterill has 41 goals and counting, with her latest coming shorthanded in the 3-1 loss at Dartmouth last Sunday. Shewchuk has 26 goals this season, surprisingly low by her standards, but she has more than compensated with a team-high 44 assists. She also had a hat trick against Providence in the ECAC semifinal, and is capable of a multi-goal game any day of the week.
While depth has been the Crimson’s weakness for several years, there is optimism from the bench this year. Kalen Ingram rounds out the scary top line, and the return of center Angie Francisco to the second line in the postseason gives Harvard coach Katey Stone more options offensively. Francisco is comfortable dishing to wingers Kiirsten Suurkask and Tracy Catlin, both of whom have at least 10 goals this season.
The addition of Francisco has also allowed senior Tara Dunn to switch back to the blue line, giving Harvard someone who can handle the puck at the point. Dunn and sophomore Jamie Hagerman will have their hands full against UMD’s top forward line in the defensive zone.
So will rookie netminder Jessica Ruddock (2.03 GAA, .917 save percentage). Ruddock has come up big before this season, including a 3-2 victory against Dartmouth, but she did give up six goals to UMD when Harvard played at Duluth in December.
No. 4 St. Lawrence: 23-7-3
Coach: Paul Flanagan
Players to Watch: Goaltender Rachel Barrie; Forwards Amanda Sargeant, Carline Trudeau and Gina Kingsbury
The Saints have come a long way to get this far (and I am not referring to the trip from Canton to Minneapolis, either). Last season St. Lawrence was eliminated in the ECAC quarterfinals, and this year coach Paul Flanagan has his team playing for a spot in the first-ever NCAA title game.
The biggest difference: goaltender Rachel Barrie. Barrie (2.03 GAA, .928 save percentage) captured the ECAC Rookie of the Year award after putting on a plethora of impressive performances this season, including a victory at Harvard and a tie at Dartmouth in which she held both the Crimson and the Big Green to just two goals. For the Saints to pull off an upset this weekend, Barrie will have to be at the top of her game.
The Saints also have a core of young goalscorers, led by sophomores Amanda Sargeant and Shannon Smith and rookie Gina Kingsbury. Senior Caroline Trudeau and junior Trisha Powers provide experience and depth to the forward rotation.
St. Lawrence has had a great season so far, but it might take a miracle to beat the top seed in the semifinal.