This Week in the WCHA Women’s League: Dec. 5, 2002

With this week’s being the final column of 2002, let’s review each of the WCHA’s seven teams over the first two months of the season.

Minnesota-Duluth (11-1-2, 7-0-1 WCHA, tie-1st place)

The Bulldogs jumped into the driver’s seat in the WCHA last weekend with a pair of wins at Minnesota, tying the Gophers for first place in the league standings with two games in hand. They defeated the Gophers by using not only their stars, such as Maria Rooth and Hanne Sikio, but role players as well, with Tricia Guest providing a hat trick in Sunday’s 6-5 win.

UMD’s size and strength was on display in both victories over Minnesota as it scored several goals by converting rebounds and putting home loose pucks in front of the Gopher net.

Where the Bulldogs have gotten themselves in trouble this season is with penalties. They are averaging 18.6 minutes per game and are allowing nearly seven power plays per game. Fortunatley for coach Shannon Miller and her charges, their penalty kill is operating at a .937 efficiency.

However, both goals by Harvard, in UMD’s only loss of the season, came on the power play. They also gave up four power-play goals to Minnesota, including three on Sunday, and had to battle from behind in both games due to those goals.

The few shortcomings the Bulldogs have, though, have been overcome by brute force offense. UMD averages 5.36 goals per game and nearly 41 shots on goal, putting pressure on opponents’ defense and allowing other teams little time in the attack zone.

A weekend off for the Bulldogs immediately before Thanksgiving was key in their wins over the Gophers as they appeared well-rested. They will close out 2002 with a home series this weekend against St. Cloud State followed by a home-and-home series with Bemidji State.

They will have nearly a month off before returning to action but will need to be on top of their game immediately as they host No. 4 Dartmouth and No. 9 Wisconsin in their first two weeks back. A key for UMD will be will be the health of Rooth, the team captain. She suffered a separated shoulder in Sunday’s game and will not be available until after the start of the new year.

The most important thing for the Bulldogs is that they’ve put themselves in position to claim one of the four spots in the NCAA Frozen Four, which they will host on March 21 and 23. With 18 games left in the regular season, anything can happen but UMD is in the enviable position of controlling its destiny.

Minnesota (13-2-1, 7-2-1 WCHA, tie-1st place)

After this weekend’s series at Minnesota State, the Gophers will be off for nearly a month, their first break since beginning the season 10 weeks ago. The break couldn’t come at a better time.

Despite coach Laura Halldorson’s protestations to the contrary, her team looked tired in two losses to UMD. Although the Bulldogs used their size and strength to beat the Gophers in one-on-one matchups, Minnesota made mistakes that seemed could only be attributed to fatigue.

Goalie Jody Horak, the league’s leading goaltender, took the blame for Saturday’s 4-3 loss. Although it’s hard to place the blame on any single player ever, she gave up three bad goals despite a solid 35-save effort. With a career goals against average of 1.47, Horak has gone for weeks at a time without giving up a soft goal. Saturday marked the 12th time in 15 games she has started in net for Minnesota this season after starting just 16 times last season.

National scoring leader Krissy Wendell, who has been nothing short of sensational this year, also showed signs of fatigue Sunday. With UMD already leading 2-1, she coasted past Bulldog defenseman Krista McArthur at the right point. By the time she returned to the play, Tricia Guest had given UMD a 3-1 lead. It was one of several times Minnesota players coasted through plays rather than stopping and starting to get back into a play.

It’s hard to blame the Gophers for being tired. They played 10 games in a 31-day span, eight of which were against ranked opponents. Halldorson said she and her staff had looked at the schedule in October and felt a 7-3 mark would be good. They went 7-2-1 and, despite falling from first to third in the national rankings, are in a good position with a 6-2 mark against ranked teams.

Wendell and fellow rookie Natalie Darwitz have taken the WCHA and nation by storm, ranking first and second nationally in scoring, combining for 33 goals and 73 points in just 14 games. The two keyed Minnesota’s 14-game unbeaten streak to start the season and will be keys down the stretch as the Gophers try to defend their WCHA title.

Ohio State (5-9-2, 4-6-2 WCHA, third place)

Although third in league standings, the Buckeyes also have played more conference games than any other team in the league and, to maintain their position, will need help from some other teams.

Inconsistency has been OSU’s Achilles’ heel through the first two months of the season. The Buckeyes are averaging 5.40 goals in five wins but five of their nine losses have been shutouts.

They scored seven power-play goals in two wins over Minnesota State to open the season and added two more in a pair of wins over St. Cloud State last weekend. In 12 games in between, they scored just five times on 66 power-play chances.

The team’s goaltending has not lived up to expectations either. Senior April Stojak has posted just an .873 save percentage and is the only WCHA netminder who has played at least one-third of her team’s minutes with a mark under .900. Freshman Natalie Lamme, who had split time with Stojak through the season’s first 10 games, saw her first action in three weeks Saturday and promptly posted her first career shutout in a 6-0 win over the Huskies.

The next six games, all of which are on the road, could prove vital for OSU. They are off this weekend before facing No. 10 Princeton on Dec. 13 and 14. The Buckeyes will have two weekends off before returning to play Jan. 2 and 4 with games at No. 4 Dartmouth and No. 5 St. Lawrence before going to St. Cloud State for their first WCHA games of the new year.

Wisconsin (9-4-3, 3-4-3 WCHA, 4th place)

Unbeaten in six non-conference games, the Badgers have struggled during conference play, thanks in no small part to injuries. Key among them is one to sophomore defenseman Carla McLeod, who broke a leg Oct. 25 and will not return to the lineup until after the new year.

Fellow blueliners Kerry Weiland and Sis Paulsen also have missed games and coach Mark Johnson surely is looking forward to the time when his group of defensemen, maybe the best in the nation, has everyone healthy and together again.

Wisconsin also has given away several unexpected points, losing at home to St. Cloud State earlier and needing a pair of third-period goals to earn a tie with Minnesota State at home Saturday.

Depth has not been a problem for the Badgers but, in back-to-back series against UMD and Minnesota, key players such as Meghan Hunter and Kendra Antony were not able to keep pace offensively with their Bulldog and Gopher counterparts. The duo, which entered the season with 118 combined goals, has managed just eight this season. Hunter, who entered the season with 65 goals in her first two seasons, has just two this year.

As always, Wisconsin has relied on senior Jackie MacMillan in goal. She has played every minute through the team’s first 16 games and may not get a rest all season. Despite posting a 2.22 GAA and .906 save percentage, she has had her moments. In the last two weeks, she has posted two shutouts, making 49 saves in the two games. In two ties over the last two weeks, she has allowed six goals on 41 shots.

Nevertheless, the Badgers know they are capable of making a second-half run like they did last season when they went 15-3 after Jan. 1, including three wins against eventual national champion UMD.

After a road series at Bemidji State this week to concluded 2002, Wisconsin returns to face St. Lawrence on the road and will host No. 6 New Hampshire on Jan. 24 and 25, and also will have rematches with both Minnesota and UMD during the season’s second half.

Bemidji State (5-5-3, 3-3-2 WCHA, 5th place)

Despite residing in fifth place, the Beavers have the third-best record in league play. With only eight league games under their belts, they host Wisconsin this weekend and face UMD in a home-and-home series next weekend to close out 2002, a tough four-game stretch which will set the tone for the second half of the season.

In their favor is that, after being swept in their season-opening series at Mercyhurst, the Beavers have not lost consecutive games. They also put the first blemish on Minnesota’s record this season with a 2-2 tie on Nov. 9.

BSU has neither been swept nor completed a sweep in four conference series so far, an inconsistency which has kept them from rising about the .500 mark in conference play. Whether the Beavers can step up from that level will be determined in the next two weeks, a stretch that will follow a break of two weekends without a game.

A key for Bemidji State so far has been its goaltending, primarily that of junior Anik Coté, who ranks second in save percentage and third in goals against average in the WCHA. The trio of Coté, senior Bre Dedrickson and freshman Jill Luebke have combined for a 2.04 GAA, third best in the conference.

Finding a consistent source of offense has been the Beavers’ biggest problem to date. Senior Amber Fryklund leads the team in scoring with 13 points in 13 games, but the team averages just 2.46 goals per game. She and junior Guylaine Haché have combined for 11 goals, more than one-third of the team’s total of 32.

With three of its last four games before the break on the road, BSU has its work cut out. Coach Bruce Olson and his charges will be extremely happy to maintain their .500 pace through the four games. Doing so for the remainder of the season will mean the team has taken another step forward from last season’s 12-13-8 mark and fifth-place league finish.

St. Cloud State (3-10-0, 3-7-0 WCHA, 6th place)

The Huskies are more than a little disappointed with their current position but injuries decimated the team early in the season and, with a full contingent, they ended a six-game losing streak early in November with a 5-3 win at Wisconsin.

A two-game series at UMD followed by a non-conference series at North Dakota will round out 2002 for St. Cloud State and the Huskies will have a much-needed opportunity to regroup for a second-half run at moving up in the league standings and earning a playoff spot.

The early absence of junior captain Kobi Kowamoto from the lineup displayed the team’s biggest weakness: the inability of its defense to consistently move the puck out of its own zone. That’s a big reason they are allowing 36 shots per game. Senior goalie Laura Gieselman has been steady, posting a .901 save percentage, but freshman Brie Anderson has stopped just 81.2 percent of the shots she has faced in five starts with a 7.02 goals against average.

Offensively, the team hasn’t found its stride either, scoring just 20 goals in 13 games. Senior Abby Cooper and sophomore Melanie Pudsey share the team lead with just four goals apiece while junior Roxanne Stang, who scored 72 points in her first two seasons, has managed just three points thus far in her third year.

Coach Jason Lesteberg turned Bemidji State around last season and will look to do the same during the second half of the season with his Huskies. He will hope to have a full complement of players available and ready when the team returns from its break to face Quinnipiac at home on Jan. 7.

Minnesota State (3-10-1, 2-7-1 WCHA, 7th place)

Despite occupying last place in the league standings, things are improving for the Mavericks, as witnessed by Saturday’s 3-3 tie at Wisconsin, their first point against the Badgers in four seasons.

Minnesota State’s five points this season has surpassed their total of three from the last two seasons combined. Although the Mavericks have received solid, at times spectacular, goaltending, it’s the offense that has been the main reason for the Mavericks’ surge.

Junior Amanda Osborn has scored seven goals after recording just five in 67 games the previous two seasons. Senior Tristin Stephenson has eight points in 14 games, doubling her output of last season. A pair of newcomers, freshman Devon Nichols and sophomore transfer Melanie Salatino, have chipped in with six and five points, respectively.

Most noticeable about the Mavericks’ offense is that they take the puck to the net more often and with more urgency than in the past.

MSU has not had complaints about its goaltending with the combination of junior Shari Vogt and senior Katie Beauduy in the past, and the same holds true this season. Despite seeing nearly 41 shots per game, the duo has combined for a .911 save percentage. Aside from a horrific series at UMD, Oct. 18-19, in which they allowed 18 goals and a whopping 129 shots, Vogt and Beauduy have allowed just 2.75 goals per game.

Vogt’s .922 save percentage, in spite of seeing 447 shots in 11 games is testimony to why she is being considered as one of the nation’s top goalies. She set a school record with 63 saves in a 6-0 loss to UMD this season and has proven she can, singlehandedly, win games for her team.

Defensively, the Mavericks need to improve in their own zone. Lack of size and strength is the team’s biggest problem, one which was exploited by UMD. Opponents are allowed to spend too much time in the Minnesota State zone and around its net for the Mavericks to be successful on a consistent basis.

In MSU’s favor is that it has 12 of its final 20 games on home ice. They will round out 2002 this weekend with a pair of home games against No. 3 Minnesota before returning to action on Jan. 4 and 5 to face Quinnipiac at home.

An Apology Owed

Being the former sports information director for the Minnesota women’s team, I’m fortunate to call a great number of people around the WCHA, both men’s and women’s leagues, friend. Few more so than Halldorson.

After spending four seasons working with her, I have told many stories about the woman whom I considered one of the finest coaches I have been priviliged to work with. All of the stories have been based in truth and only slightly exaggerated.

With that said, I am making a public apology and calling a moratorium on Laura Halldorson stories due to the fact that I backed my boat through her garage wall, putting a four-foot crack in her bathroom wall, while storing my fishing boat for the winter at her home.

All I can say is Forrest Gump’s mom was right. Stupid is as stupid does!

Minnesota State Adds Blueliner for 2003

Minnesota State signed defensemen Kerri Wallace (Rocky Mountain House, Alberta) to a National Letter of Intent, bringing the total of players signing with WCHA schools to 15.

Wallace currently is playing with the Calgary Oval X-treme in the National Women’s Hockey League, where she has two goals and one assist in eight games.

Last season, the 5-foot-9 defensemen was a rookie in the NWHL with the Vancouver Griffins.

WCHA “House”hold Hints

Saturday’s game between Wisconsin and Bemidji State has been pushed ahead one hour to 2:05 p.m. … The Beavers have had the past two weekends off. … After killing 79 of its opponents 81 power plays, UMD gave up four power-play goals on 14 chances to Minnesota. … WCHA offensive player of the week Hanne Sikio recorded her 100th career assist in the Bulldogs’ 6-5 win Sunday. … The Gophers’ Ronda Curtin, playing center for the first time this season, recorded her 150th career points in the same game. … Minnesota State’s tie at Wisconsin last Saturday was its first point against the Badgers in 13 games. … Ohio State’s weekend sweep of St. Cloud State were the Buckeyes’ last WCHA games of 2002. … Their next league games will be Jan. 18 and 19 at St. Cloud State. … For the second week in a row, Wisconsin got goals from all three of its Saskatchewan natives in a single game. Senior Kendra Antony and sophomores Jackie Friesen and Amy Vermeulen accounted for the Badgers’ goals in Saturday’s 3-3 tie with Minnesota State.

WCHA Awards

Offensive Player of the Week–Hanne Sikio, sr., F, Minnesota-Duluth Defensive Player of the Week–Emily Hudak, sr., D, Ohio State Rookie of the Week–Krista McArthur, fr., D, Minnesota-Duluth

Coming Up

No. 9 Wisconsin at Bemidji State (Friday-Saturday)

Wisconsin is 13-1 all-time against Bemidji State, including a 6-0-0 record at the Beavers’ John Glas Fieldhouse. … Badger sophomore Amy Vermeulen has two goals in four games after joining the team following Wisconsin’s soccer season. … She had two goals in 25 games last season. …. Saturday’s tie gave the Badgers a 2-2-1 record this season when they’ve trailed after two periods. … Bemidji State has taken at least one point and given up one point in each of four conference series this season. … The Beavers have pulled their goalie for an extra attacker seven times in 13 games this season. … They’ve scored twice with the extra attacker to earn ties. … BSU enters the weekend with a modest three-game unbeaten streak.

No. 3 Minnesota at Minnesota State (Saturday-Sunday)

The Gophers own an 18-0 record against the Mavericks, including eight wins in Mankato. … Only once in those 18 games has MSU scored more than one goal, getting shut out seven times. … Minnesota goalie Jody Horak and Brenda Reinen allowed career highs in goals, with four and six respectively, in the Gophers’ series with UMD. … Saturday’s 4-3 loss snapped a 31-game unbeaten streak by Minnesota when leading after two periods. … MSU’s leading scorer, junior Amanda Osborn, has 12 points this season, one more than Ryann Geldner scored last season to lead the team. … Her seven goals this season match Geldner’s team-high total of last season. … Osborn had 10 points in 67 career games entering this season.

St. Cloud State at No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth (Saturday-Sunday)

The Bulldogs are 9-2-1 versus St. Cloud State, including a 4-1-1 mark at home. … The Huskies, however, won the teams’ last meeting, 3-0 in Duluth on Feb. 24. … With a four-point weekend at Minnesota, UMD junior forward Jenny Potter climbed to within seven points of the 200 mark for her career. … She scored 71 as a freshmen with the Gophers and has 122 in two seasons at UMD. … Four Bulldog players have scored at least 170 career points. … Senior captain Maria Rooth is the team’s all-time leader with 197. … Seven of St. Cloud State’s eight freshmen skaters have contributed points this season. … The Huskies are 3-0-0 when even with or ahead of their opponents after two periods.