This Week in the ECAC Women’s League: Jan. 16, 2003

On Friday night the nation will finally discover what Dartmouth can do at full strength against the upper echelon of women’s college hockey when the Big Green hosts No. 3 Minnesota. The game’s result should also provide a better perspective on whether No. 4 Dartmouth is worthy of a Frozen Four bid itself.

The Big Green dropped a game to No. 1 Harvard in November and two games to No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth last weekend in which it was missing players to the Canadian national team. Friday’s Minnesota game provides Dartmouth’s best chance yet to prove itself.

"With the teams we have left on our schedule, we’re still in control of our own destiny."

— Dartmouth coach Judy Oberting, on the Big Green’s Frozen Four chances.

While Big Green coach Judy Oberting admitted that the scheduling conflicts have been unlucky, they haven’t doomed Dartmouth’s Frozen Four chances either. With games against the Golden Gophers and the Crimson still left on the schedule as well as the ECAC tournament, there’s still plenty of hockey to be played.

“With the teams we have left on our schedule, we’re still in control of our own destiny,” Oberting said.

Oberting speculated that given the team’s results and the NCAA selection criteria, it would likely be necessary to beat a team at Minnesota or Harvard’s present level to make it into the Frozen Four. Friday’s game could also count as one of Dartmouth’s last 16 games — though that would only happen if Dartmouth didn’t make the ECAC final.

With much left to be accomplished, Oberting’s not going to point to the Canadian national program as the sole source of her team’s past and future failings.

“I’m tired of hearing people say that I’ve been complaining because I haven’t been complaining,” Oberting said of the national-team absences.

Dartmouth’s injuries this season have been just as disruptive as the Canadian program conflicts, if not more so. Tri-captain Lydia Wheatley is missing the entire season due to a torn ACL. Sophomore and former Canadian U-22 member Cheryl Muranko has played just seven games and remains out of action with a torn meniscus. Sophomore defenseman Alana BreMiller — a U.S. U-22 player — played just nine games because of a broken arm.

Such injuries have had a ripple effect in the Dartmouth lineup. For much of the season, Oberting played Canadian Olympian and freshman Cherie Piper both at forward and defenseman, though she has now settled on keeping Piper at forward, barring any future disruptions.

Dartmouth has not fully overcome all the challenges of its constantly changing roster. Oberting admitted that her team defense has suffered from it, as Dartmouth has allowed five or more goals in five of its 16 games so far this year. The Big Green only allowed five or more goals twice last year, zero times two years ago, and six times during the 1999-2000 season. Particularly difficult this season was a 6-5 win over Ohio State in which Dartmouth blew a 5-2 lead in the final three minutes before managing to win in regulation.

“We’ve always been good with our team play, but it’s been hard to get into a rhythm,” Oberting said.

Two of those five-goal games this year were against UMD this past weekend in 6-3 and 5-3 defeats. In the first game, Dartmouth seemed to be in good position with a 2-1 second-period lead on the power play, but UMD tied it on a shorthanded goal by Jenny Potter and never looked back. In the second game, Dartmouth kept the game tied 3-3 in the third before falling off.

“We did get worn down,” Oberting said of the UMD series. “They were on their ice, and they played at their speed. We didn’t do ourselves any favors.”

But now that Dartmouth returns Piper, Gillian Apps, Meagan Walton and Correne Bredin from Canada, the team carries offensive depth, home ice and high expectations into Friday’s game against Minnesota.

Best of the Rest

St. Lawrence’s two games at Brown are the only ECAC points at stake this weekend. The Saints enter the weekend coming off 5-1 and 7-0 thrashings of Connecticut, despite the absence of Gina Kingsbury to Canada. No team has scored as many goals against the Huskies as the Saints did last weekend. Its Frozen Four hopes are still very much alive, but like any team other than Minnesota, UMD and Harvard the Saints don’t have much margin for error. Brown’s chances of another miracle Frozen Four run are all but over now as the Bears have yet to triumph over a team above .500 since their season-opening win over Niagara.

Both Harvard and Princeton are off two weeks for exams. Harvard, despite the absence of captain Jennifer Botterill, managed a 5-2 victory. Now the Crimson will go through its second two-week break of the season, which can be a blessing or a curse depending on how it’s used.

“It’s nice to have a two-week break, but we definitely have to get into the weight room, and use this time away from games properly, so we can be faster and stronger when we get back,” said captain Kalen Ingram.

The other two series this weekend are CHA-ECAC battles: Mercyhurst vs. Cornell and Findlay vs. Colgate. The bottom half of the ECAC has struggled out of conference this year, and that has implications on all league members. Such nonconference defeats pull down the RPI of everyone in the conference and that could have a bearing come Frozen Four selection time.

ECAC Awards

Offensive Player of the Week-Jessica Link, Brown, So., F
Rookie of the Week-Julie Chu, Harvard, Fr., F
Goaltender of the Week-Rebecca Lahar, Colgate, So., G

Coming Up

Minnesota at Dartmouth (Fri. 6 p.m.)

The season series between the two teams has flip-flopped each of the past four years. In 1999-2000 Minnesota swept Dartmouth, a year later Dartmouth swept Minnesota, then last year Minnesota beat Dartmouth in their lone meeting … With a win against Minnesota, Dartmouth’s seniors can match the Class of 2002 as the winningest in Dartmouth history … Big Green goaltender Amy Ferguson is four wins away from setting a school record.

St. Lawrence at Brown (Fri. 7 p.m., Sat. 3 p.m.)

The Saints are 2-2-1 over the past two seasons, despite the Bears’ historical dominance in the league rivalry … A Saint sweep would avenge a season-ending loss from last year’s ECAC semifinals … Saint goaltender Rachel Barrie is a shutout away from breaking the school record in that category … Barrie was also nominated for the Hockey Humanitarian Award … Brown has already matched its regular-season loss total from either of its last two season.

Mercyhurst at Cornell (Sat. 2 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m.)

With a victory over Findlay, Cornell finally snapped a 12-game winless streak dating back to last season, the longest such streak in school history … That streak did not count a tie against Division III Middlebury … Mercyhurst is 6-3-1 against the ECAC with wins over Vermont (2), Colgate (2), Brown and Yale.

Findlay at Colgate (Sat 2 p.m., Sun 2 p.m.)

Findlay already beat Colgate twice earlier this year by scores of 5-0 and 4-2 … This will be the first time Colgate has ever played the same team four times in a single season … Colgate goaltender Rebecca Lahar is 41 saves away from matching her school record from a year ago … Lahar is presently second in the nation in saves … Colgate’s only D-I nonconference wins this year are against Wayne State and Quinnipiac.