Just Another Olympic Year
Within an hour of winning the Inaugural Women’s Frozen Four last March, Minnesota-Duluth coach Shannon Miller was already brimming with optimism about 2001-02, and with good reason. None of her players from European national teams would be missing for any key stretch of the season.
“We’ve been negotiating with the Swedish and Finnish National Teams and those players will only be gone five weeks all next year,” Miller said. “The WCHA has been accommodating in its scheduling and we only play on three of those five weekends.”
That means that Maria Rooth, the Frozen Four MVP, as well as goaltender Tuula Puputti and forwards Hanne Sikio and Erica Holst won’t be missing much during the Olympic stretch from Feb. 8-24. Miller still couldn’t quite schedule around the Four Nations Cup, held in Finland from Nov. 1-11, as the Bulldogs will be playing at Wisconsin this weekend. The Badgers will be looking to match Minnesota’s success against UMD during the Four Nations Cup last year, when the Gophers pounded the Bulldogs by scores of 4-0 and 8-0.
College hockey teams stocked with U.S. and Canadian National Team players aren’t quite as lucky as UMD. As in the last Olympic Year of 1998, the Americans and Canadians have both been centralized since this summer and will be out of college hockey all season. The ECAC North, namely Harvard, Princeton, St. Lawrence and Dartmouth, have been hit the hardest by Olympic absences.
With respect to Harvard, 2001 Patty Kazmaier winner Jennifer Botterill will be postponing her senior season for a year, and U.S. defenseman Angela Ruggiero will be deferring her junior year of eligibility for the second year in a row. U.S. forward Julie Chu intends to enroll in Harvard next year. That leaves the Crimson with just nine returning veterans and seven freshmen on its roster and its lowest national ranking since 1998, the last Olympic year. As in many programs across the country, incoming recruits will be more crucial than ever this year at Harvard.
“[The freshmen] have made a good combination with our veterans and everyone is gelling pretty well together and on the right page,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone. “I’m excited. I think we’re going to continue the Harvard tradition of outworking people.”
Princeton, which has been without Annamarie Holmes since fall of 2000, bid farewell to Andrea Kilbourne this fall. St. Lawrence will be losing Isabelle Chartrand to the Canadian National Team. Saint forward Gina Kinsbury left school and made the original 30-player Canadian roster, but she has already been released from the team.
Dartmouth’s Correne Bredin will wait another year to finish out her career as she plays for Team Canada. Her absence will make it hard for Dartmouth, which had already lost six seniors to graduation, to match its fast start from last season. The Big Green does have a strong recruiting class this year, as two Canadian U-22 National Team forwards, Cheryl Muranko and Meagan Walton, are among the newcomers.
“I think we had a magical season last year, but we can’t keep looking back,” said Dartmouth coach Judy Oberting. “It was a very veteran team last year. This team is different, and we’ve got immense potential, but it’s going to be a different kind of year.”
Not every program in the country lost players to the Nationals, Northeastern has welcomed back Brooke White, who left for the 2000-01 U.S. squad but was cut early from this year’s roster. She has scored two goals and three assists already this season to help the Huskies to a quick 4-0 start, including a sweep of St. Lawrence on the road last weekend — early evidence of how Olympic roster moves will affect the balance of power in college hockey.
“Brooke White brings a lot of speed to our team and experience at the highest level,” said Northeastern coach Joy Woog. “I know she had a great experience [with U.S.A. Hockey] but it just didn’t happen for her this year.”
The WCHA was hardly shaken by the U.S. and Canadian programs this season. There no Western players on the Canadian National Team roster. U.S. and Wisconsin defenseman Nicole Uliasz is the only experienced WCHA player to postpone her eligibility. Meanwhile, Minnesota will be eagerly awaiting the arrival of forward Krissy Wendell — the U.S. National Team’s leading scorer during 2000-01 — next season.
UMD’s relative strength in teams of returning national team players — including Russian freshman Kristina Petrovskaia — has made the Bulldogs the clear preseason favorites. But the ‘Dogs haven’t been running away from anyone to start the season. Providence played UMD to close 5-3 and 1-0 games during team’s opening weekends. Kelli Halcisak, who was Ohio State’s leading scorer last season, came to Providence in search of a more intimate school environment and has given the Friars an immediate boost.
“We’re not satisfied with the result,” said Providence coach Bob Deraney. “But we’re a predominantly young team with 15 freshman and sophomores and nine juniors and seniors, and with them [UMD] not losing anybody, it was an eye-opening experience for our players.”
The next weekend, UMD blew out Minnesota 7-0, a major role reversal from last season’s early Gopher-Bulldog results. But Minnesota came back to tie UMD, 1-1, the next day. Nothing is guaranteed.
A Split Decision
— Dartmouth coach Judy Oberting, on splitting the enlarged ECAC into two leagues.
The ECAC will have a new look this season as it splits into two leagues, with the arbitrary geographic titles of ECAC North (or ECAC 9) and the ECAC East (or ECAC 8). The addition of four programs to the ECAC — Quinnipiac, Connecticut, Vermont and Colgate — made the split necessary.
“There was no other solution other than to break up because you can’t have a league with 17 teams in it, particularly when you play in the Ivy League and you’re strapped to 29 games, so there had to be some flexibility somewhere,” Stone said.
“It’s necessary because there’s a lot of growth in women’s college hockey and these new teams needed a place to play,” Oberting added. “But the competition will still be high.”
Among the newcomers, Colgate and Vermont of the ECAC North were both top-10 Division III programs. Quinnipiac made the jump from the club level, while Connecticut, who is led by former Northeastern coach Heather Linstad, debuted as a Division I independent last season. Woog believes that it will be tough for the new programs to grow up quickly.
“It’ll take them some time because there are so many opportunities for young kids to play now,” she said. “The talent is spread around and now there a lot of teams going for the high-quality Olympic athletes.”
But Stone was cautious about overlooking the new programs. Harvard opens against Colgate on Saturday.
“I don’t think were going to have any holidays all year,” Stone said. “Lot’s of times schools have put a lot of money into the program to get it going very quickly. We saw Duluth do it. We saw Minnesota do it. Why can’t Colgate and Vermont do it? You never know.”
Most of the traditional college hockey rivalries between the East and North teams will be maintained despite the split. For instance, the Beanpot will continue as always, and Brown and Harvard will continue to play New Hampshire, Northeastern and Providence. Naturally, not everyone could get exactly what they wanted.
“I think we were fortunate to be able to schedule our larger rivals,” Oberting said. “But we won’t play Northeastern. Niagara will be very good but we couldn’t fit them.”
The ECAC North, which includes the six Ivy schools that don’t start play until this weekend, will play a double round-robin. The ECAC East will play a triple round-robin during the regular season.
The split brings an end to any heated competition for ECAC playoff spots. Where once 13 teams had to battle for eight spots, each league will now have its own eight-team playoff. Deraney was optimistic about that implication.
“I think it’s good because it gives you something to play for, especially the emerging teams,” he said.
Getting the U Going
Another key administrative development in the offseason was Hockey East’s announcement that it would start a new women’s hockey league by 2004-05. Currently five of the nine Hockey East Schools — New Hampshire, Providence, Northeastern, Maine, and Boston College — sponsor college hockey.
All five of those schools are in the ECAC East. Deraney said that the success of Hockey East in the men’s game gives him reason for optimism.
“We’re excited about being with a group of teams that share similar philosophies,” Deraney said. “All I can say is that the success that the men have had at the national level bodes well that what they’re doing works well in the hockey realm.”
Coaches across all of college hockey were excited about the growth prospects.
“Hopefully it will get the U [UMass-Amherst and UMass-Lowell] going, and I’m hoping the other schools [Merrimack and Boston University] will step up and sponsor women’s college hockey,” Oberting said.
With the advent of Hockey East, there is finally a reason to believe that the women’s Beanpot might actually be four teams deep. Northeastern and more recently Harvard have dominated the competition throughout its history.
“I think it’s going to raise the standard for the other teams in Hockey East that haven’t been doing enough for their programs,” Stone said.