Much could shake out of this weekend’s action at the top of the national rankings as four of the nation’s top seven teams, including the top three, do battle.
No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth and No. 2 Minnesota host No. 3 Harvard and No. 7 Brown in what should be four of the most important nonconference games in women’s hockey this season.
— Shannon Miller, whose Bulldogs — along with Minnesota — meet Harvard and Brown this weekend.
Three of the four, UMD, Minnesota and Brown, played in last season’s NCAA Frozen Four. Harvard, which opened its season last weekend, was impressive in drubbing Vermont, 13-0, and No. 4 Dartmouth, 9-2, on the road.
The two-time defending national champion Bulldogs will host the third-ranked Crimson Saturday before facing Brown Sunday. They enter the weekend with the proverbial bullseye on them; but head coach Shannon Miller is excited about the weekend.
“I think this is great,” she said. “It’s exciting to see this weekend and our next series (Nov. 30-Dec. 1 at Minnesota) affect the rankings. This is going to be a true test of where we are right now.”
Minnesota head coach Laura Halldorson, whose Gophers saw a nine-game winning streak snapped with a 2-2 tie with Bemidji State Saturday, also is aware of the ramifications these games may have.
“The way things have evolved, all games are important,” she said. “But this is the only chance we get to play these two teams and the games could have implications at tournament time.”
With only four teams receiving bids to the NCAA championship, head-to-head games against teams being considered for selection to the tournament is a factor in the process.
Minnesota is 6-8-1 against the Crimson and the Bears but just 2-4-1 at home. The Gophers have lost all three home meetings with Harvard, but have not met either team in Minneapolis in three years.
Minnesota has met Brown three times at national tournaments, owning a 2-1-0 mark in those games, including a 4-2 win in the title game of the last American Women’s College Hockey Alliance Championship in 2000.
UMD has not lost to either team, posting a 5-0-1 record. The Bulldogs beat both teams en route to their two NCAA titles, topping Harvard 6-3 in the semifinals in 2001 while beating Brown 3-2 in last year’s championship game.
Both the Gophers and Bulldogs were missing four players this past weekend. UMD shutout Ohio State twice but lost sophomore forwards Leah Kasper and Meghan Stotts to concussions in the series. Minnesota beat and tied Bemidji State at home to stay atop the WCHA standings.
Miller, whose Bulldogs have struggled to have everyone on the ice at the same time due to conflicts with scheduling practices versus classes, as well as national-team commitments, feels her team could be more prepared, but still should be ready.
“We’re not as prepared as I’d like but it’s nice to have everybody back,” she said. “We’re putting our lines back to what they were a few weeks ago so it’s a matter of getting them used to being together again. We also have to put our power-play units back together, review responsibilities and work on puck movement.”
“I’m not sure if it will affect us,” Halldorson said of her team’s work last week without four of its top players. “The team is pretty motivated this week.”
Halldorson is looking forward to this weekend’s action not only because the games promise to be exciting, but also because she gets to renew acquaintances with Brown coach Digit Murphy and Harvard coach Katey Stone, whom she has known for years. She and Murphy are close friends and Halldorson is godmother to the Bears coach’s youngest son.
“These are healthy rivalries,” Halldorson said. “They’re based on mutual respect that the teams and coaches have for each. It’s always fun to play these teams and to see friends again.”
The friendship, however, ends for 60 minutes as no quarter is asked or given. With women’s college hockey enjoying arguably its best talent base ever, and four of the nation’s top teams doing battle, a showcase of the best the game has will be on display.
At stake are early-season bragging rights and the inside track to qualifying for the 2003 NCAA Frozen Four in Duluth. Next week’s national rankings will reveal how things shake out this weekend in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
WCHA “House”Hold Hints
The Minnesota-Harvard game will air live, at 2:05 p.m. CST Sunday, on Fox Sports North … The top 10 overall scorers in the WCHA are all either UMD or Minnesota players … Minnesota State travels to St. Cloud State in the only WCHA games this weekend … UMD is 69-for-69 killing penalties this season … Bulldog goalie Patricia Sautter is unbeaten (19-0-1) in her last 20 starts … UMD has posted four consecutive shutouts … Bemidji State goalie Jill Luebke has earned ties in her first two collegiate starts after Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Minnesota … St. Cloud State outshot an opponent for the first time this season, outshooting Wisconsin 30-29, in Saturday’s 5-3 win in Madison … The victory was the Huskies’ first in Madison … The Badgers, taking on 10th-ranked Mercyhurst this weekend, are facing their fourth ranked opponent in six series this season.
Offensive Player of the Week–La Toya Clarke, Jr., F, Minnesota
Defensive Player of the Week–Patricia Sautter, Sr., G, Minnesota-Duluth
Rookie of the Week–Ashley Stewart, Fr., F, St. Cloud State
Minnesota State at St. Cloud State (Friday-Saturday)
St. Cloud State leads the all-time series 10-3-1 … MSU senior goalie Katie Beauduy defeated North Dakota Saturday for her first win since Feb. 9, 2001, when she defeated Findlay 3-1 … SCSU senior goalie Laura Gieselman stopped 37 shots in Friday’s 4-2 loss at Wisconsin, her third consecutive 35-plus save effort … Freshman Brie Anderson stopped 26 shots in Saturday’s 5-3 win over the Badgers for her first collegiate victory … The Huskies are at home for the first time in nearly a month after six consecutive road games.
No. 6 Wisconsin at No. 10 Mercyhurst (Saturday-Sunday)
Wisconsin won the only two previous meetings between the teams … They are meeting in Erie, Pa., for the first time … Despite a 5-4-1 overall record and No. 6 national ranking, the Badgers are sixth in the WCHA standings at 1-4-1 … The Badgers have had 16 players record a point this season, including 13 who have scored goals … Wisconsin’s top three goal-scorers are all underclassmen … Like the Badgers, Mercyhurst has 16 players with a point and 13 with a goal … Eight players have recorded a power-play goal and seven players have score game-winning goals … The Lakers have been successful on their last 32 penalty kills … They have not allowed a power-play goal in their last six games … After this weekend, Mercyhurst will have played eight of its 14 games against WCHA opponents.
No. 3 Harvard at No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth (Saturday)
No. 7 Brown at No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth (Sunday)
UMD went 1-0-1 against Brown last season in the teams’ first meetings … The Bulldogs own a 4-0-0 record against Harvard … UMD has been successful on their last 78 penalty kills, dating back to last season … They have not allowed a power-play goal in 12 consecutive games … Senior goalie Patricia Sautter has not allowed a goal in her last 222 minutes, 17 seconds of action … Eighteen of the Bulldogs 19 skaters have recorded a point this season … Harvard’s Jen Botterill is the leading active scorer in the country with 240 career points in 83 games … Brown senior forward Courtney Johnson played in her 100th career game over the weekend, the only player on the current Bears’ roster to do so.
No. 7 Brown at No. 2 Minnesota (Saturday)
No. 3 Harvard at No. 2 Minnesota (Sunday)
Brown leads Minnesota 5-4-1 in the teams’ all-time series but the Gophers are 2-1-1 at home against the Bears … Harvard leads Minnesota 3-2-0 all-time … Neither team has won on its home ice in the series, with the Crimson owning three wins in Minneapolis … The Gophers have scored at least one special teams goal in eight of 10 games … Saturday’s 2-2 tie with Bemidji State was just the second time Minnesota has allowed two goals in a game this season … The Gophers have held opponents to one goal six times and posted two shutouts … Eleven of the Bears’ 12 goals this season have been scored by underclassmen, including all four power-play goals and both game-winning goals.
No. 8 Providence at Ohio State (Saturday)
Connecticut at Ohio State (Sunday)
The Buckeyes defeated Providence, 4-3, in the teams’ only meeting, Nov. 18, 2001 … OSU was a 3-1 winner over UConn in their only meeting, Nov. 16, 2001 … Buckeye head coach Jackie Barto came to OSU from Providence, where she was 70-53-10 in five seasons … She is also a member of the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame … After opening the season 7-for-12 on the power play, the Buckeyes have converted just one of their last 42 chances … OSU is 0-for-26 in its last four games … The Buckeyes have allowed the game’s first goal in both wins this season … They are 0-2-1 when scoring first … Four of Connecticut’s 13 goals this season have been unassisted … Providence freshman goalie Jana Bugden stopped all 39 shots she faced in the Friars’ 5-0 and 3-0 wins over Maine … She has started seven consecutive games.
Bemidji State at North Dakota (Saturday-Sunday)
The two teams skated to a 3-3 tie at Bemidji State, Oct. 20 … The Beavers needed three unanswered goals to earn the tie … Guylaine Haché scored the tying goal with 21 seconds to play in the third period … Freshman goalie Jill Luebke has earned a tie in both of starts this season … After leading the nation with eight ties last season, the Beavers have three in their first 11 games this season … BSU is 3-2-2 against unranked teams … North Dakota is 1-3-1 versus WCHA opponents, including two losses at top-ranked Minnesota-Duluth.