We’re in the midst of Four Nations Cup week, the time every year when the best women’s hockey talents from Canada, U.S., Sweden and Finland depart to play for their national teams, leaving several college programs shorthanded.
Some affected colleges were able to schedule around the Cup (No. 1 Minnesota, No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth). Others happen to be playing the last place teams or last place picks of their conference (No. 2 Dartmouth, No. 3 Harvard, and No. 7 Wisconsin).
Then there’s No. 5 St. Lawrence, minus captain Gina Kingsbury, playing the full complement from No. 9 New Hampshire. It’s not the best situation for the Saints, but it’s good news for the rest of college hockey to have at least one duel of top 10 teams scheduled this weekend.
Despite the reduced U.S. college schedule, there’s still plenty of action this week. Harvard and Brown are finally starting their seasons, and the ECAC and CHA are scratching their slate of conference play — a whole 28 days since Minnesota State opened the year by taking out Minnesota-Duluth, for those keeping score. Early returns are already in from Cup host Sweden, and the impact of current and former college players there is always a source of excitement. Harvard and No. 6 Providence meet up in the first post-Cup game on Tuesday.
All this, and the most heart-warming story is happening off the ice.
Paging All Donors
When Niagara coach Margot Page discovered that former player Jennifer Goulet required treatment for thyroid cancer, she needed to be more than just a bystander.
The Purple Eagles set an ambitious fundraising goal of $1,500, the cost of Goulet’s treatment. They hosted a charity hockey game matching current players against alumni to kick off the fund on Oct. 25, and they have been collecting donations ever since.
The diversity of the donation sources has been beyond what Page ever anticipated.
— Niagara coach Margot Page, on the response to the fundraiser for ailing former player Jennifer Goulet.
“It’s been amazing how much response there has been,” Page said. “We thought it was just going to from our local area, but then you look at the hockey world, and how much camaraderie there is.”
Page estimated on Sunday that the team had raised approximately half of the goal. Even being on the road in Boston didn’t stop the donations from coming. During the weekend’s games, Northeastern offered to make a contribution, and the referees on the ice asked Page how they could help.
“[Jennifer’s] amazed that people she doesn’t even know are donating,” Page said. “That just shows how close people in the hockey world are and how caring they are.”
Goulet has already had surgery for her ailment, and she will be undergoing further treatment over the next couple weeks, according to Page.
Goulet, who turned 24 on Monday, recorded 47 points for her career. She was a key contributor to the Niagara team that advanced to the 2002 Frozen Four. The most visible effort of her career came when she tallied a goal and an assist in the consolation match against Minnesota. Her points lifted the Purple Eagles to a tie with the top-seeded Gophers and concluded Niagara’s dream season on an upbeat note.
Check donations made payable to the Jennifer Goulet Fund are being accepted at the following mailing address:
Attn: Niagara head coach Margot Page
Niagara University, NY 14109
As usual, the box scores at the Four Nations Cup have read like a who’s-who of U.S. women’s college hockey, regardless of what nation the players are representing. Through two days of competition, those who have played U.S. college hockey this calendar year have accounted for 50 percent of goals scored and 76 percent of assists. That doesn’t even count Boston College assistant coach Katie King, who leads everyone with three goals, or recent Brown graduate Pam Dreyer, who has been the tournament’s top goaltender so far.
Minnesota-Duluth leads the nation with six players representing three different nations at the Cup, and Minnesota is right behind with three U.S. players. Dartmouth and Harvard sent two players each, while Wisconsin and St. Lawrence each sent one.
Teams have been impacted unequally by the national team programs every year, and so far this year’s tough luck leader is St. Lawrence. The Saints have already been shorthanded. Coming off the program’s dramatic first-ever victory at UMD on Saturday, Kingsbury missed Sunday’s rematch because she had to fly out to Toronto. She was forced to miss the game because there were no flights available from Duluth to Toronto between the game on Sunday and Canadian team’s departure.
On the other side of the ice, UMD’s Canadian national team representative Caroline Ouellette was still playing college hockey, as were the Bulldogs’ five other national team players. Ouellette had made arrangements to travel overseas with the U.S. team and Duluth teammates Julianne Vasichek and Jenny Potter.
“We made an assumption that what’s good for Gina is good for the rest of the Canadian national team,” said Saints coach Paul Flanagan. “Well, we found out about a week before that Caroline Ouellette was going to travel on Monday, along with Jenny Potter, which was rather convenient for UMD.”
That convenience included Ouellette’s four assists in a 5-0 thrashing. She twice sent in freshman linemate Jessica Koizumi alone in on net. Kingsbury was long gone instead.
“We did speak with Canada and tried to look at an alternative travel with Gina but it didn’t work out,” Flanagan said. “I’m not going to be critical of anyone or blame anyone else. It’s our athlete’s responsibility to ask the questions and to make plans because it is something separate from the university.”
St. Lawrence was missing more than Kingsbury in the rematch. First-line freshman Chelsea Grills was also too hobbled to play. Then they fell behind 3-0 in the third period and started marching to the penalty box. Flanagan declined to say that Kingsbury would have turned around the result, and he gave Duluth plenty of credit for coming back strong as expected.
“With our senior leader Gina out of the mix, it changes the dynamics of our team,” Flanagan said. “We rely on her a lot. She can play some nights half the game. That’s what you see a lot in women’s college hockey.”
As an example, Flanagan noted that Potter and Ouellette’s line accounted for half of Duluth’s shots on Sunday.
“Let’s take them out of the mix and it could make a difference. I’m not staying they still wouldn’t have beaten us 5-0, but it changes the psychology and mentality of the whole game,” he said.
One team that can sympathize with St. Lawrence’s plight is Dartmouth, who was missing as many as four national team players for key games against Harvard and UMD a year ago. For this week’s tournament, Dartmouth’s Canadian national team representatives, Gillian Apps and Cherie Piper, will only miss games against Vermont. They also accounted for six goals in the Big Green’s season-opening win over Providence. Piper has already set up Apps for a goal in the Four Nations Cup.
“I mean it’s definitely nice that Cherie and I are fortunate enough to actually get a game under our belts before we go to Four Nations, and it’s great to be here for such a big game too,” Apps said following the victory.
Piper, on the other hand, felt that the opponents they would be missing were irrelevant because of the strength of her teammates.
“You don’t really focus on [the missed games], because no matter what you’re gone,” she said. “I just find that our team is so positive about it. You can leave and come back and they’re just happy with the fact you had the opportunity to play with your country, and people are going to pick up the slack, and they’re going to work their butts off every chance they get to compete.”
Piper also insisted that her impending departure to Sweden had no impact on her two goal, two assist game that night. Dartmouth coach Mark Hudak had his own theory for the two stepping up their game to the next level.
“It’s funny, you look at kids their freshman year like Piper coming off of winning an Olympic gold medal, but there’s still an adjustment in getting back to school, and those things can affect you,” he said. “They’re a little more comfortable here now, they understand how everything works here, so when they come to the rink, they can leave that other stuff behind and they can play hockey the way they know how to play hockey.”
That means a lot more consistency can be expected of Apps and Piper this season, and many more challenges for Dartmouth’s opponents.
No Place Like the Road
St. Lawrence’s bad fortune goes beyond the Four Nations departure. The team’s schedule worked out so that it plays seven of its first eight games against Top 10 teams and eight of its first 10 games on the road.
Flanagan felt the travel schedule was so bad that he found himself apologizing to his team for it. What he liked though was that one his players responded by saying, “Coach, we’re Division I athletes. We expect this.”
“I was really talking to them about making sure they never miss a class, and that they can’t do last minute planning,” Flanagan said. “They’re accepting their role as athletes and students. They’ve impressed me.”
The Saints have stepped to the challenge on the ice with a 3-2-1 record that includes a tie with Providence, a split with No. 8 Mercyhurst and an emotional split against Duluth, the team that defeated them in the 2001 NCAA final.
St. Lawrence had been 0-6 all-time against UMD, and senior goaltender Rachel Barrie had been around for all those games. When the Saints went up 3-0 and Barrie held off a late rally for a 3-2 victory, she was overcome with emotion.
“She had never beaten them and it meant a lot to her personally, and she realized how much it means for our club right now,” Flanagan said. “It was twofold for her.”
The Saints’ most visible weakness has been on the power play, where they’re just 2-of-32 for the season. In the team’s 3-1 loss to Mercyhurst the week before playing Duluth, Flanagan said the Saints were just moving around the puck on the power play but not getting anything on net. Only in the third period of the rematch, when the Saints scored twice to claim a 4-2 victory, did the team find its game.
Now Flanagan’s hoping for a pair of free-skating games on the big ice sheet of the Whittemore Center at UNH. The Saints are uncharacteristically third in the nation in penalty minutes this season. That doesn’t play to their strengths.
“Hopefully it’s a good skating, free-wheeling game, getting away from a lot of the physical stuff that we’ve encountered the last two weeks,” Flanagan said. “Hopefully we get a good ref that let’s them play and let’s them wheel, and I just think the big ice lends itself to more of a wide-open game.”
As for the matchups, St. Lawrence is shorthanded with injuries and Kingsbury’s absence, but Flanagan hopes the difference is in net with the First Team ECAC goaltender Barrie. New Hampshire has had to replace recently graduated All-American netminder Jen Huggon.
“We’ve got a good combination of veterans and younger kids, but you have some untested kids early in the season, and you never know sometimes,” he said. “We’d like to think Rachel brings a lot of experience in net, but we’re pretty young in a lot of areas.”
Getting Off the Ground
Speaking of Mercyhurst’s success, College Hockey America’s league slate gets started this weekend with Mercyhurst at Findlay and Niagara at Wayne State.
Mercyhurst’s victory over St. Lawrence was the first in the program’s history and one of the biggest nonconference wins in the four-team conference’s two-year history. The Lakers beat Brown on route to the Bears’ 2002 NCAA run, but they had not beaten a ranked opponent recently despite several close calls.
“It was a great weekend of hockey, either game could have either way,” said Mercyhurst coach Mike Sisti. “We felt that we couldn’t afford to go emptyhanded out of that weekend. We would have liked to get two, but we were definitely happy to get the one.”
Page feels anyone in their conference will be capable of pulling an upset this season.
“I think you’re just going to see that more down the road,” Page said. “Obviously it’s something that’s going to take some time but I think you’ll see surprises with all four teams.”
The CHA will expand to five teams for sure next year with Quinnipiac joining. Page and Sisti both seemed confident that the league would work to find a sixth in order to get an automatic bid for the expanded eight-team NCAA tournament next season.
“That’s going be great for women’s hockey, because you can work the whole season and develop your players for the conference tournament and hopefully that’s what’s going to lead to the national tournament,” Page said.
Page can sympathize with that feeling. Her team, which made the Frozen Four in 2002 a year prior to the CHA women’s league’s formation, is a developing stage right now with the most freshmen on its roster since the program was created. The team is off to just a 1-2-1 start against Northeastern and fledgling Clarkson, but Page says the Purple Eagles have gelled off the ice and it’s only a matter of time before it happens on the ice.
Mercyhurst is in better position to win right now. Despite the team’s losses to graduation and youth a year ago, the team has still been strong defensively and in net with Desi Clark. Teresa Marchese-Del Monte, the conference preseason player of the year and a transfer from top rival Niagara, has already scored four goals and provided the kind of scoring punch the Lakers had once lacked. She accounted for two of the goals in the St. Lawrence victory.
“Being younger than other programs that have been around 20 to 30 years, I think we’re closing the gap by chipping away at things at each year,” Sisti said. “We’re just trying to improve week to week. That’ll be our challenge again this year.”
Injury Bug Strikes Again
The college hockey world sent its sympathy to Minnesota captain Kelsey Bills when she suffered a fracture in her leg the week before last. Add to that list Minnesota-Duluth’s Larissa Luther, who will be out until at least January just after she had started to develop a synergy with Potter and Ouellette on the first line. It’s a tough string of luck for Luther, who also missed much of the first half of last year for academic reasons.
Also facing tough luck was Northeastern senior goaltender Chanda Gunn, who was run over by a Niagara player in Saturday’s 2-2 tie. She was still visibly hobbled after Sunday’s game. The injury came at an unfortunate time since Gunn was set to play for the U.S. at the Four Nations Cup. Her status was unknown as of last Sunday.
Northeastern was not fazed a bit by the loss of their senior leader, however, in a 3-0 victory over Niagara the next day. Katy Augustyn produced a shutout for the Huskies in net, while freshman Amy Goodney provided a crucial deflection at the crease to put Northeastern ahead. Goodney also added the empty-net clincher in the end.
Coach Joy Woog was beaming once again.
“We played a great team game today,” Woog said. “Everybody backchecked. Everybody forechecked. We won the one-on-one battles. We run the races to open pucks. We just had a great team game. As long as this team shows up, we’re going to be fine in any game we play this year.”
New Beginnings Next Week
Another team out of action this weekend is Providence. Coach Bob Deraney thinks it comes at a good time. Results have been disappointing so far with a tie against Northeastern and the 7-2 defeat at Dartmouth.
“You need to have passion, desire, and determination to play this game, and we’ve been lacking it, personally,” Deraney said after the Dartmouth defeat. “I think maybe this’ll be a wakeup call for our kids and maybe it won’t be. I don’t know where we go from here.”
After facing a Dartmouth team that was eager to get on the ice and play its first games, Providence will be facing a Harvard team eager to play its first games as a full squad once U.S. national players Julie Chu and Angela Ruggiero return. This weekend Harvard provides a difficult ECAC welcoming to new D-I team Union, who has already lost games by wide margins to traditional weaker D-I schools Quinnipiac and Boston College. That makes Providence Harvard’s first real challenge.
The Friars have 11 full days to prepare for the Harvard match. Deraney thinks that is a blessing given the circumstances.
“To be honest with you, you always want to get back on the saddle and play again, because I don’t want them to forget this feeling,” Deraney said. “But when they have so much time off, it can be a double-edged sword. But we did get banged up [against Dartmouth], so the rest will do us good because it will allow our kids to get healthy. I think we can really do some soul-searching.”