This Week in Women’s Hockey: Oct. 30, 2003

While last week went a long way in proving Hockey East’s parity, this weekend will better prove whether Hockey East has the star power to make the Frozen Four when the No. 5 Friars play at No. 2 Dartmouth for the Big Green’s season opener. The match stands out among the eastern battles, while No. 7 St. Lawrence’s weekend pair at No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth will serve as the first big ECAC-WCHA contests of the year.

Envious of the Green

In a game with obvious Frozen Four implications (Dartmouth was the last team in the NCAAs and Providence was likely the last team out a year ago), Providence comes in more game-ready, at a time when Dartmouth’s players have just started to get sick of playing each other.

Mark Hudak, making his Big Green head coaching debut Friday night, doesn’t mind playing the tough game to start the season.

“I think I’d rather be playing a good tough opponent like Providence than someone who’s not as strong,” Hudak said. “One of the benefits of opening against an opponent like Providence is that it should show us some of the areas we need to work and at the same time shows us where some of our strengths are.”

“The kids are looking forward to it more than I am. I think that’s a result of them being sick of playing and wanting to get going. I think as a coach, you’re always [thinking], ‘Oh, I don’t know if we’re ready to go yet.’ But we’re looking forward to it.”

Providence coach Bob Deraney has always felt the Friars had the better run of play against Dartmouth in two November meetings a year ago, and that made Providence’s tournament exclusion last year all the more frustrating. Though the Friars won their second Dartmouth meeting 5-2, they did not get the job done in the first meeting, losing 3-2 despite outshooting the Green 44-28.

Providence had best be careful not to head down the same path this season. The Friars have just three goals in 88 shots in their last two games against St. Lawrence’s Rachel Barrie and Northeastern’s Chanda Gunn.

“Constructively, we’ve got to analyze it,” Deraney said. “We’ve got to learn to be better goal scorers.”

In particular, Deraney will look for the Friars to elevate the puck more on shots and be more tenacious on rebounds.

“They’re dangerous,” Hudak said of Providence. “It’s only a matter of a time before they put the puck in the net.”

The Friars have an advantage in that they are coming off two games against two of the nation’s best goaltenders. Now they face a team without a proven regular collegiate starter.

Hudak still had not decided a starter as of Wednesday. Sophomore Stephanie Cochran, who started the 7-2 Dartmouth ECAC final win last year, is the most well-known, but she has competition coming from sophomore Katherine Lane and freshman Christine Capuano. Hudak characterized Lane and Cochran as being similar in their style of play and experience. Capuano has gifts apart from the other two but less experience.

“Steph relies on her positional play, taking away the angles she does a real nice job with that first save,” Hudak said. “Kate Lane is very similar to that in relying on her position. Capuano is much more of a athletic goaltender. She’s willing to move around a bit more and make the athletic saves. I think that’s a result of inexperience and she’s going to have to work on the positional stuff.”

Special teams should factor mightily in this game, as Providence and Dartmouth were two of the nation’s top three teams in penalty minutes last season.

Providence has just three goals in 21 attempts on the power play so far, but the Friars scored their only goal against Northeastern on the power play, and they looked dangerous with Kelli Halcisak and Meredith Roth at the points. Their penalty kill has been almost perfect.

On the other side, Dartmouth struggled on special teams in a scrimmage against Harvard last Wednesday, but Hudak said that was to be expected given that the team had only been practicing for a few days.

“Going into last week’s game we really hadn’t practiced at all special teams,” Hudak said. “Last couple days we’ve done a little bit more and we’re looking a little bit better, but again we’re playing against ourselves, so it’s hard to say until we get into a game.”

With both teams having plenty of room for improvement, it’s good news that Friday night won’t be the only Dartmouth-Providence meeting. The second meeting won’t be until mid-January, meaning that this year’s season series will provide a much clearer assessment of who deserves to go the Frozen Four than the two November matches a year ago.

True to Their Word

For two years Hockey East coaches promised a league where any team could beat any other team on any given night. It didn’t happen in the inaugural season, when Providence and New Hampshire went 23-0-1 against the second tier of UConn, BC, Northeastern and Maine, but now the coaches’ words seem to be ringing true.

With UConn tying New Hampshire and Northeastern tying Providence each by 1-1-1 scores this past week, last year’s second tier already has twice as many points against last year’s frontrunners than in all of last year. Both UConn’s Kaitlyn Shain and Northeastern’s Gunn had 40-plus save games to steal a point.

“A lot of people thought we’d run away with it, but everyone’s gotten better,” Deraney said Providence tied its season opener.

The biggest mover in the first week was Northeastern, who snapped a four game losing streak against the Friars with a tie. The Huskies were picked last in the league following up their fifth-place finish and tumultuous season off the ice a year ago, but they appear to be on the right track despite having just three junior and seniors.

“I was surprised,” said Woog of the preseason poll. “But you know what, I don’t mind if that’s what the coaches in this league think of us. That’s a fine way to start. We’ve got a young team, and we’ve got to prove we’re worthy to play in this league.”

Connecticut, despite having Shain ranking No. 1 in the nation in save percentage, is just 1-2-3 to start the season. The Huskies have impressed in tying ranked teams in New Hampshire and Mercyhurst early in the season, but they still haven’t found a way to score goals. Coach Heather Linstad hoped for the Huskies to break out now that she’s had four years of recruiting, but so far it hasn’t happened.

“Really for us to be successful we need that junior class to break out of their shell and get things done,” she said.

One reason Linstad thinks this season might turn out better is fewer distractions off the ice. A year ago defenseman Laura Stosky left the team at midseason, and top-scoring forward Kim Berry was in and out of the lineup all year. Berry is now in the NWHL.

“I think first half of the season when we didn’t have Kim, we were a better team,” Linstad said. “I think there were distractions and now we’re more solid as a team and that’s what we definitely want in our future.”

Maine coach Rick Filighera is looking to get better production from more than just Karen Aarts and Meagan Droog. The two players were two of the nation’s top scorers two years ago, but their pace slackened last season.

To strengthen the team, Filighera brought in five first-year players of 21 years of age, many of them from Quebec. He feels the team will be up to speed quickly because the incoming players are about the same age as his outgoing players.

Filighera looks for his team to get scoring from all lines. He thinks Aarts and Droog will have even bigger seasons this year with less pressure to do all the scoring.

Freshman Sonia Corriveau drew the bulk of Filighera’s praise among the newcomers in the preseason.

“Sonia Corriveau has looked very good practice,” Filighera. “She’s definitely going to be a sniper around the net. She has no fear going in front of the net.”

She proved true to his word. Corriveau scored the game-winner on the power play in Maine’s first win of the season against Colgate last weekend.

Boston College, Hockey East’s cellar team a year ago, has not been tested much so far, but the Eagles did win their season opener against Quinnipiac. Coaches had enough faith in new coach Tom Mutch to pick the Eagles fourth in the league this year.

Saints on a Mission

St. Lawrence’s Frozen Four chances rest more heavily on the fall than any other team in college hockey, because the Saints play Providence, No. 9 Mercyhurst, Duluth, and No. 8 New Hampshire all before Nov. 7. They don’t play any other ranked teams again until series against No. 3 Harvard and Dartmouth in February. That makes this weekend against Duluth of utmost importance already. It will be a tough challenge, as the Saints are winless in six all-time meetings at Duluth.

So far, the Saints have looked mortal. Last weekend they became the first ranked team to lose to Mercyhurst since Brown in 2002 last weekend. Barrie’s save percentage of 92 percent is good but not great, and the power play has converted on just 1 of 25 opportunities. Senior Canadian national team forward Gina Kingsbury was one bright spot of the weekend, however. She broke out to score three points in the 4-2 win over Mercyhurst that followed up the 3-1 defeat the day before.

The Saints power play struggles do not bode well going into Duluth, as the Bulldogs have given up just five goals at even strength all season this year. And Duluth should be even better on special teams now that the team is practicing in morning hours when all players can attend.