It’s a milestone year for women’s college hockey’s oldest tournament — the ECAC championship. The tournament that begins this weekend with four best-of-three quarterfinal series will be the ECAC’s 20th championship. Needless to say, the sport has come a long way since then.
While the expansion of women’s hockey has been welcome, the ECAC tournament itself has lost some of its parity. With the split of the ECAC into two leagues a year ago, followed by the formation of Hockey East a year ago, the depth of the tournament this year isn’t what it once was. The teams that combined to win the first 14 ECAC titles — Providence, New Hampshire and Northeastern — are no longer in the league The ECAC quarterfinals were once able to produce four potentially close matchups, but that is no longer the case.
Last year, the combined scores of the No. 1 vs. No. 8 and No. 2 vs. No. 7 series were 29-1 (four games). With Harvard now playing Cornell and Dartmouth playing Colgate, this year isn’t likely to be much better. Rest assured it’ll take some time before the league will get back to the level of parity when No. 8 seeds have a fighting chance against the No. 1 seeds — consider Harvard taking No. 1 New Hampshire to overtime in 1998 or St. Lawrence toppling No. 1 Brown in1995.
That said, there will still be plenty of good hockey this weekend. The No. 4-5 matchup between St. Lawrence and Brown promises excitement, and the No. 3-6 matchup between Princeton and Yale gives those teams a chance to decide their regular season deadlock. And though No. 2 Dartmouth and No. 1 Harvard are heavily favored this weekend, there’s no doubting those games importance. This is, after all, their final prelude before the ECAC Championships and possibly the Frozen Four.
No. 5 Brown (12-12-4, 9-6-1) at No. 4 St. Lawrence (21-7-4, 10-4-2)
Game Times: Fri. 7 p.m., Sat. 7 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m. (if necessary)
Regular Season Meetings: Brown 4-3, Tie 5-5
Live stats: web.stlawu.edu/sports/w_hockey/taslive.htm
Brown, more so than any other team in the ECAC, has reason to be thrilled about starting over with a clean slate. Since the Bears have lost four more games than any other team in school history since the 1991-1992 season, it is easy to forget that they are the defending ECAC champions. Not to mention, their senior class has won two of the last three ECAC titles and played in two of the last three national championship games.
While the Bears have been remarkably inconsistent this season, they have consistently showed up in their biggest games of the season, such as their tie against Minnesota-Duluth or their close defeats to Harvard. Freshman Karen Thatcher told the Brown Daily Herald she felt that the Harvard game proved that they could skate with anyone in the country. That isn’t wishful thinking. No team garnered more shots all season against Harvard than Brown did that day. Not to mention, Brown had its most successful results of the season against St. Lawrence.
No team in the ECAC has better reason to come out strong this weekend than the Bears. The ECAC championships will be played at Meehan Auditorium next weekend. For the Bears not to make the semifinals on their home ice would be embarrassing.
The talent is there for the Bears. They have two U.S. national team players in goaltender Pam Dreyer and defenseman Kim Insalaco, and there are several national Under-22 players on the roster as well. But consistency and discipline have not been there this season. Brown is fifth in the nation in penalty minutes, but just 15th in the nation on the penalty kill. Not too many teams have successful seasons with that combination. That said, the ECAC playoffs give Brown a chance to bring a sharper focus onto the ice. A little bit of common sense will give the Bears a giant leap forward.
Also, seniors like Insalaco and Dreyer will be eager to close out their careers on a high note. They are two of the greatest postseason players in Brown history. Insalaco cored one of the most dramatic goals in ECAC history to clinch the league championship last year, as well as the game-winning goal in Brown’s Frozen Four upset of No. 1 Minnesota. Dreyer surrendered just a goal in each of those games, not to mention she had a 56-save performance against No. 1 Dartmouth in the 2001 tournament. The two have each shown flashes of brilliance this season. Insalaco, in particular, has come on strong as of late, scoring 13 point in her last eight games to nearly double her season point total.
While Dreyer has had an outstanding career, so has Saint goaltender Rachel Barrie. No other ECAC quarterfinal has a single goaltender with NCAA championship game experience. This one has two.
St. Lawrence coach Paul Flanagan had been hoping for the best in terms of holding onto the No. 3 seed and avoiding a matchup with Brown, but Princeton’s upset of Dartmouth knocked the Saints down to the fourth slot. Though the Saints will have a tougher quarterfinal matchup, there is a silver lining to it. St. Lawrence’s schedule was among the nation’s weakest during the second half of the season, and two games with Harvard were their only tough test. The Saints stepped up to that challenge, and they could use another. Overcoming adversity this weekend will go along way towards success next weekend.
No. 6 Yale (9-18-2) at No. 3 Princeton (18-8-2)
Game Times: Fri 7 p.m., Sat 7 p.m., Sun 4 p.m.
Regular Season Series: Princeton 6-2, Yale 3-1
Live Broadcast: www.goprincetontigers.com
While Yale is having its most successful season ever under interim coach Hillary Witt, the Bulldogs will be hard-pressed to repeat their feat of beating Princeton by a 3-1 margin on Feb. 15. For Princeton, playing the Bulldogs and their freshman goaltender Sarah Love again is a welcome chance at redemption.
There are a lot of reasons to expect Princeton to have a better showing this time around. Tiger No. 1 goalie Megan Van Beusekom was not playing in the loss to Yale. Judging by her 34-save performance in the win over Dartmouth last weekend, Yale is going to have a tough time scoring this weekend. The defeat to Yale came at New Haven a day after Princeton beat Yale 6-2 at Princeton. All indications are that the Tigers left their best game behind in New Jersey that weekend. That kind of oversight shouldn’t happen in the playoffs, and if it does, the Tigers will pay for it.
No. 7 Colgate (12-19-1, 4-11-1) at No. 2 Dartmouth (22-7-0, 12-4-0)
Game Times: Fri 7 p.m., Sat. 7 p.m., Sun 7 p.m.
Regular Season Meetings: 7-1 Dartmouth, 8-0 Dartmouth
Live Broadcast: www.dartmouth.edu/~brdcast/sports
While Colgate stepped up a notch this year by beating out travel partner Cornell in the ECAC standings, the Red Raiders still have long way to go before they will be competitive with the Big Green. Dartmouth has never come close to losing to Colgate.
Though the Dartmouth-Colgate meeting was a blowout, it was memorable, but for some of the wrong reasons. The two teams combined to tally 64 penalty minutes, including game disqualifications to Dartmouth’s Cherie Piper and Colgate’s Allison Paiano which cost each player a one-game suspension.
Among the milestones under assault in this game: Correne Bredin, a recent addition to the Canadian national team, has tied Coach Judy Parish Oberting’s record for career goals as a defenseman with 41. Carly Haggard is four points away from moving into third on Dartmouth’s all-time scoring list.
One other note on this game: Dartmouth, a team squarely on the bubble in the NCAA selection process right now, could be the biggest loser in the ECAC’s decision to switch to a best-of-three playoff series two years ago if it fails to win the ECAC tournament and its closest competitors — Wisconsin and New Hampshire — have better success in theirs.
The issue is that by NCAA’s selection criteria, Dartmouth would be better off only having to beat the Raiders once rather than having to sweep them in a two-game series. This is because the NCAA selection criteria uses the Rating Percentage Index (RPI), a ranking system that can actually penalize a team for playing an additional game and defeating a weak opponent. While mathematical methods that correct for this obvious inconsistency have been known for decades — KRACH is one such system — the NCAA women’s hockey committee has mimicked the men’s in using RPI.
Granted, Dartmouth is still largely in control of its own destiny in the Frozen Four hunt, and if the Big Green don’t make it, the team itself deserves most of the blame. But then again, if it turns out the Big Green’s tournament fate comes down to the questionable mathematical properties of the RPI — and that’s a definite possibility — then the ECAC would have every right to be furious about the NCAA’s criteria.
No. 8 Cornell (4-19-2, 2-12-2) at No. 1 Harvard (26-1-1, 15-0-1)
Game Times: Fri. 7 p.m., Sat. 7 p.m., Sun 7 p.m.
Regular Season Meetings: Harvard 8-0, Harvard 7-1
Live Broadcast: www.whrb.org
Cornell and Harvard played just last Friday and the result wasn’t close despite a spirited effort from the Big Red. There’s little reason to expect a different result this time around.
The most interesting moment from last weekend’s game came when Harvard freshman defenseman Jennifer Skinner scored her first career goal, while her twin sister Andrea happened to the ice for the Big Red.
“The best part of the weekend was seeing [Andrea],” Jennifer Skinner said to the Harvard Crimson. “There’s no real competitive spirit between us, except for maybe when we were three years old and we each wanted the last lollipop.”
Like any Harvard game as of late, there are more milestones approaching. Harvard captain Jennifer Botterill is three goals away from tying Tammy Shewchuk ’00-’01 for the school’s all-time scoring record and five points away from tying Michigan State’s Tom Ross for the all-time Division I hockey scoring record, men’s or women’s.
There’s some good karma for Harvard in that its ECAC quarterfinal foe is Cornell. The Big Red was the opponent that led of the Crimson’s playoff schedule during Harvard’s 1999 national championship season. It’s just one of many parallels from the 1999 season — both teams lost their fourth games of the season, both teams had a tie in February (the 1999 team’s Beanpot overtime win over Northeastern counted as a tie in the ECAC standings), and both teams won the ECAC regular season title. Harvard would be more than happy to see two other parallels come to fruition — winning a second ECAC championship and a second national championship.