A Sign of Things to Come
Minnesota’s two-game sweep of Ohio State last weekend featured the offensive talents of two early candidates for WCHA Rookie of the Year, if not WCHA Player of the Year: the Buckeyes’ Jeni Creary and the Gophers’ Kelly Stephens.
The freshmen each accounted for a clean majority of their teams’ goal-scoring this weekend, with Creary netting two of the three Buckeye goals and Stephens scoring three of the five Gopher goals, including crucial game-tying goals in each game and the game-winning goal in the second game. Creary leads the nation with 10 goals this season, and she has figured in 14 of Ohio State’s 19 goals this year. With six goals for the season, Stephens has scored four more than any other Gopher player.
“We needed [Stephens] to contribute right away, based on who we lost [to graduation],” said Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson “She brings a lot of offensive skills. We had some big holes to fill, and she’s doing a great job.”
Halldorson said that Stephens and Creary have a different set of strengths — while Stephens’ best assets are her speed and hard work, Creary wins games with her great hands.
Creary has had greater success with her on-ice vision, earning four assists for the season, while Stephens has just one. Three of Creary’s four assists came against New Hampshire last month.
Minnesota has shown character early in the season, following up a 7-0 defeat at the hands of Minnesota-Duluth with a 1-1 tie the next day, then coming from behind in both games against Ohio State last weekend.
“We lost nine players to graduation this year, and they were all important, so we have to now establish an identity with our group,” Halldorson said. “Now we’re confident and we have something to build on.”
Ohio State, in contrast, has failed to hold on to a second period lead four times this season, including both Minnesota games, a 2-2 tie against Bemidji State on Oct. 13, and a 4-3 overtime defeat at New Hampshire on Oct. 20. The loss at the Whittemore Center was particularly crushing, because the Buckeyes held the lead until the final minute, but a soft shot from Wildcat freshman Steph Jones — which she admitted she fired just to get off the ice — somehow found its way into the net to tie the game. The Buckeyes’ next opponent, St. Cloud St., has had similar troubles of its own. The Huskies blew a 4-0 lead in a 4-4 tie against Bemidji State on Oct. 27.
The matchup between Bemidji State and Minnesota is the most intriguing in the WCHA this weekend. The Beavers, who won just nine games all last season, are now riding a seven-game unbeaten streak (5-0-2), although none of those victories have been against opponents above .500. Unlike the Gophers and the Buckeyes with their high-scoring freshmen, the Beavers’ attack has been carried by its veterans. Leading the way is junior Amber Fryklund, whose seven goals and seven assists trail only Creary among WCHA scorers.
“Bemidji has always worked hard,” Halldorson said. “I haven’t seen them play yet, but it sounds like they’re very much improved. At this point we can’t take any team lightly. It’s very hard to predict scores in our league this year, and Bemidji has proven that with [its] results.”
UMD gets the weekend off following its two-game sweep of Wisconsin. Bulldog junior Patricia Sautter had her chance to shine in net while usual starting goaltender Tuula Puputti was playing at the Three Nations Cup in Finland. Sautter gave up just one goal in two games. That’s 11 fewer goals than UMD gave up in the two games during Puputti’s extended absence for last year’s Cup.
After the usual delayed start to their seasons, the top Ivy teams have their first key head-to-head meetings of the season, as Brown hosts Dartmouth on Friday night and Harvard hosts Dartmouth on Saturday.
Dartmouth is coming off a dominating weekend against Vermont, where it outshot the Catamounts by a grand total of 127-4 in its 8-0 and 9-1 wins, and junior Carly Haggard led the Green with five goals. Colgate, which tied Harvard last Saturday and fell 2-0 to Brown on Sunday, appears to have handled the jump from D-III to D-I more smoothly than Vermont.
The Brown-Dartmouth game on Friday will be teams’ first meeting since their epic ECAC semifinal showdown last season, which ended with Haggard — straight off a faceoff — impressively fighting her way through a crowd of Bear defenders for the game-winner in double overtime, following a Dartmouth goal that was called back.
Brown goalie Pam Dreyer still managed to make the ECAC All-Tournament team for her efforts in that game, despite not reaching the ECAC final. This year, Dreyer has yet to give up a goal through two games against Cornell and Colgate.
Brown will still be missing junior co-captain Kim Insalaco for the rest of the Bear soccer season, which will finally come to an end on Saturday. Insalaco will be hoping for a promising hockey season, as her injury-riddled soccer team finished last in the Ivies.
Saturday’s Harvard-Dartmouth is a rematch of last year’s ECAC final and the Frozen Four third-place game, though the stakes will be much lower this time around. The teams went 2-2 in their four meetings last year.