When Ohio State’s schedule for this season was unveiled, no one envisioned a paved road to the Frozen Four.
Besides perennial WCHA powers Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth and Wisconsin, which the Buckeyes would see a total of 12 times, they had such notables as Dartmouth, New Hampshire, Princeton, Providence and St. Lawrence to contend with.
To date, Ohio State has played the toughest schedule in the country. The Buckeyes have played 13 games against teams ranked in the top 10 and have been outshot only four times. However, the Buckeyes are just 1-11-1 in those games and find themselves in a battle for a spot in the WCHA Final Five, currently in fifth place, with just six points separating third place from seventh.
“We’ve played hard and we compete for 60 minutes,” Ohio State head coach Jackie Barto said. “There’s a fine line between winning and losing those games. I feel we’ve been in every game except one. It comes down to doing the little things and we’ve made little mistakes that have cost us.”
Six one-goal losses have been crucial. Barto said her team realizes that they need to improve in all aspects of the game.
— OSU head coach Jackie Barto
“We’re all looking at ourselves to step up a notch and win games,” she said. “We’re improving and doing some good things but now we have to step up and turn some of these games into wins.”
At times, the offense has been productive and has sparked wins. However, OSU has been shut out six times this season, nearly one-third of its games. The Buckeyes have scored 23 goals in their last six games, despite being shut out, 1-0, at Princeton in their last series before the break. They turned around and blanked the Tigers 4-0 the next night.
Defensively, they’ve limited opponents to just 22 shots per game. On the flip side, they’re allowing nearly three goals per game and, at a time when a .900 save percentage is no longer the magic number it once was, the Buckeyes have posted a team save percentage of just .879.
“I’m happy with our effort but we need to take that step forward,” Barto said. “Our offense is starting to come together. We’re playing four lines and we’re confident in attacking the net.
“We need to secure our own zone defensively and work on cutting down the number of shots we give up in front of the net.”
With the season entering the home stretch, Ohio State is playing for a spot in the Final Five but, Barto said, the team can’t look that far down the road.
“Our big goal is to stay in the moment,” she said. “We need to play for and prepare for the next game. We’re really putting an emphasis on our league games but we do it game by game and don’t look ahead. Right now, we can control our own destiny.”
A strong finish may put the Buckeyes in contention for a spot in the Frozen Four. They have seven games, and could play as many as nine, against ranked opponents, games which add to their strength of schedule and, ultimately,their PairWise Ranking.
“I look at our team and am pleased with our effort, our enthusiasm and how we are battling,” Barto added. “Our seniors feel ready to separate ourselves from the other teams (in the league) and everyone realizes that every point is important.”
Mavericks Finally Turning Corner
Minnesota State has returned from its break to put together a modest four-game unbeaten streak. Modest or not, it marks the longest streak for the team since doing the same twice during its inaugural season — the difference being that they’ve done it against Division I opponents rather than club or Division III squads.
After a year and a half at the Maverick helm, head coach Jeff Vizenor said there is a change in attitude on this year’s squad.
“We were a little disappointed,” he said of his team after a pair of ties at Bemidji State last weekend. “We felt we could get four points up there. It’s a changing of the guard that we think that way.”
Friday, MSU did something which it has not shown a penchant for in recent times — responding to adversity.
The Mavericks fell behind 2-0 on a shorthanded goal midway through the second period but, rather than pack it in for the night, they came back with a power-play goal by senior Tristin Stephenson just 11 seconds later.
However, they let a two-goal lead slip the next night and Mandy Bambrough’s goal with 2:06 to play in the third period enabled the Beavers to come from behind.
“It was a case where I’m sure [BSU head coach] Bruce [Olson] feels they let one slip away Friday and we feel we let one get away Saturday. We were still happy with two points but would have liked four.”
The weekend result kept the Mavericks at .500 over their last 11 games. After beginning the season 1-8-0, MSU has put together a 4-4-3 record, a win total which matches all of last season.
A big reason for that success has been the team’s ability to score goals. After needing 10 games to score their first 16 goals, the Mavericks have scored 16 more in their last four games.
“We’re getting the puck to the net and kids are staying in the slot for rebounds,” Vizenor said. “We’re shooting and shooting well, and we’ve had some pretty goals over the last couple of games.”
Goaltending, always the team’s strength, has also been important recently, but the team’s defensive play has stepped up to match the quality of the goaltending.
“It’s exciting to see that we’ve only given up six goals in our last four games,” Vizenor said. “Our goalies are playing well but, even starting with the Minnesota series, the team has been playing well defensively.
“Our focus this week has been on our defensive play. We’re in every game because of our goaltending, and they both do a nice job of stopping the first shot. It’s up to the rest of the team to take care of the puck after that.”
Even though his team has come off a 27-day layoff to go 2-0-2, Vizenor points back to the team’s series against Minnesota, 5-2 and 3-1 losses on Dec. 7-8, as a key point.
“It was fresh in their minds how well they played against Minnesota,” he said. “We started to build from there.
“I feel like our kids were excited and happy to be back and they came back mentally ready to play.”
With his team playing well and in the right frame of mind, Vizenor feels good about his team’s chances of reaching its goal of qualifying for the WCHA Final Five.
“It’s still within our control,” he said. “Part of the reason we were disappointed this weekend was that we didn’t come out with at least one more point. We’ve got to try to gain points on everyone and we can’t let opportunities like that slip by.”
Bemidji State senior center Amber Fryklund scored her 100th career point Saturday, becoming the first BSU player to reach that plateau … With their two ties versus Minnesota State, the Beavers have played five overtime games at home this season, posting a 1-2-5 record in eight home games … The series with MSU was the start of a seven-game homestand for Bemidji State … After scoring two shorthanded goals in Saturday’s 10-2 win over St. Cloud State, No. 3 Minnesota has just a minus-one goal differential while killing penalties … The Gophers have allowed 11 power-play goals on 105 chances while scoring 10 shorthanded goals in 20 games … UMD’s series sweep of Dartmouth over the weekend pitted the two most penalized teams in the nation against each other … With 36 and 28 penalty minutes, their 64 total minutes were slightly less than their combined average of 33 minutes per game … The Bulldogs lead the nation, averaging 18.2 minutes per game …
Two of the nation’s longest unbeaten streaks are on the line this weekend when No. 2 UMD and No. 7 Wisconsin meet … Both are second nationally, having gone unbeaten in their last nine games … The Bulldogs are 8-0-1 while the Badgers are 6-0-3 … Wisconsin’s unbeaten streak is the longest in its four-year history … With a pair of assists in Saturday’s 6-3 win over No. 4 Dartmouth, UMD captain Maria Rooth reached the 200-point plateau for her career … In two exhibition games last week, the Badgers used freshman goalie Meghan Horras for the first time … She posted a 5-0 shutout of McGill, the second-ranked team in Canada, before dropping a 4-3 overtime decision to Brampton of the National Women’s Hockey League … After playing poorly and narrowly escaping with a 4-3 win over Quinnipiac last Tuesday, St. Cloud State turned in a solid effort Friday yet dropped a 2-1 decision to Minnesota.
WCHA Awards (Dec. 16)
Offensive Player of the Week–Lill Raynard, Sr., F, Bemidji State
Defensive Player of the Week–Jackie MacMillan, Sr., G, Wisconsin
Rookie of the Week–Natalie Darwitz, Fr., F, Minnesota
No. 7 Wisconsin at No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth (Friday-Saturday)
UMD leads the all-time series 9-4-3 … The two teams have split six games in Duluth, including 3-1 and 3-2 Wisconsin victories last season … They racked up 50 penalty minutes in their last meeting, a 3-3 tie in Madison, Oct. 26 … The Bulldogs’ series-opening 7-2 was the last action for Badger sophomore defenseman Carla MacLeod, who suffered a broken ankle in the game … Even though the Bulldogs lead the nation in penalty minutes per game, UMD is second nationally in penalty killing (93.7%) and has seven shorthanded goals versus eight power-play goals allowed … Badger sophomore forward Jackie Friesen is third on the team with 15 points, matching her season from a year ago … Her 10 goals are tops on the team and are three more than she scored during her entire rookie campaign … The Badgers are ending a seven-game road swing this weekend … They have not played at home since 4-0 win over Minnesota State, Dec. 1.
Minnesota State at Wayne State (Friday-Saturday)
MSU is 5-1-0 versus Wayne State … The Mavericks and Warriors are playing in Detroit for the first time this weekend … Wayne State is 3-3-0 at home this season … MSU is 1-4-3 on the road … The Warriors were idle last weekend after dropping a 5-1 decision at Brown and a 9-0 decision at Harvard … The losses extended their losing streak to five games …WSU has scored first in all five of its wins … Maverick junior forward Amanda Osborn’s team-high 17 points are more than any MSU player has scored in either of the last two seasons … Osborn had just 10 points in two seasons coming into the 2002-03 campaign … MSU senior defenseman Anne Rickbeil played in her 100th career game in Saturday’s 3-3 tie at Bemidji State.
No. 3 Minnesota at No. 4 Dartmouth (Friday)
No. 3 Minnesota at No. 5 New Hampshire (Saturday)
Minnesota is 3-2-0 versus Dartmouth … Both losses were four-goal defeats in Hanover, Dec. 9-10, 2000 … The Gophers have split 11 games with New Hampshire, 4-4-3 … Minnesota owns a five-game unbeaten streak in the series … The two teams have met three times in Durham with the Gophers posting a 2-0-1 record … The teams’ first meeting at the Whittemore Center, Jan. 30, 1999, resulted in the only scoreless tie in Minnesota history … Gopher senior defenseman Winny Brodt, who began her collegiate career at New Hampshire during the 1997-98 season, has not scored a point in her career against the Wildcats, the only team on the Minnesota schedule against which she has not recorded a point … Minnesota leads the nation with 10 shorthanded goals … Six different players have scored shorthanders for the Gophers … Freshman forward Natalie Darwitz tied a school record with five assists in Saturday’s 10-2 win over St. Cloud State.
North Dakota at Bemidji State (Saturday)
The two teams played to a 3-3 tie in their first meeting, Oct. 20, in Bemidji … In that game, the Beavers need a three-goal third period to overcome a 3-0 deficit, with Guylaine Haché’s goal with 21 seconds left in regulation completing the comeback … That game was UND’s first varsity contest … The Sioux are 5-3-1 in their last nine games … Fifteen of UND’s 18 skaters have scored goals this season … BSU junior goalie Anik Coté recorded her 1,000th career save in Friday’s 2-2 tie with Minnesota State … Sunday’s 3-3 tie was the fourth tie in six starts for freshman goalie Jill Luebke.
Ohio State at St. Cloud State (Saturday-Sunday)
OSU owns a 10-5-1 record against the Huskies … The Buckeyes are 5-1-0 in St. Cloud, with the Huskies’ only win, 3-2 in overtime, coming in the teams’ first meeting, Oct. 22, 1999 … By season’s end, Ohio State will have played 20 of its 34 regular-season games against ranked opponents … After scoring 72 points in her first two seasons, Husky junior forward Roxanne Stang has just seven points in 19 games this season … SCSU senior forward Jennifer Swanson scored her first goal of the season in Saturday’s 10-2 loss at Minnesota.