Simply The Best

Every college sport has its great conference rivalries. In recent years of women’s hockey, two have stood out above the rest — Dartmouth vs. Harvard and Minnesota-Duluth vs. Minnesota. Within these two matchups, you have the biggest draws in both the ECAC and WCHA, every national champion in the sport since 1999, the top four almost every week over the past two years, and one riveting game after another over the past several years.

As these great games accumulate in this young sport, the problem arises that it’s easy to lose track of them all.

As these great games accumulate in this young sport, the problem arises that it’s easy to lose track of them all — when each happened, who scored when, who beat up on who, etc. A fun, convenient, and elegant way to address this issue is by making rankings, recapping the best all-time games of each series. With both series’ openers coming up this weekend, now seems as appropriate time as ever for this task.

There are plenty of other good reasons for women’s college hockey to have these lists. To address a few of them, I’ll make a list.

1) Our society just loves lists. A list of popular lists includes ESPN Page2’s The List, David Letterman’s Top Ten Lists,’s E-List, and ESPN Page2’s List of Favorite Lists of 2003.

2) Lists — regardless of their merit or content — can produce debate, discussion, and interest where none existed before. I don’t really understand why, but if there existed lists such as “Top Ten Tips to Being a Successful NFL Head Coach” by Steve Spurrier or “Top Five Ways to Ensure Stanley Cup Success” by Jeremy Jacobs, I’d still want to read them.

3) Remind readers, that yes, there have been women’s hockey games exciting enough to draw thousands of fans and be written about for years to come. This weekend’s games will be next in a long line. Who would have thought all that 25 years ago?

Given these lists will be made, it helps to have some sort of mission and subsequent criteria in mind. That mission here is answering the following question — if you were a non-partisan observer of these games and put down money to see them, which would you have most wanted to see, looking back years later? That leads to such criteria as the quality of athletes on the ice, the atmosphere in the stands, and most importantly, historical significance and the closeness of the competition. So while Harvard’s 9-2 regular season win over Dartmouth in Nov. 2002 and Dartmouth’s 7-2 ECAC final win over Harvard in March 2003 might be high up on each winning schools’ list of memorable moments, they’re not getting anywhere near the lists as I’ve defined them.

These lists will also avoid comparing events from incomparable time periods. Dartmouth and Harvard have been playing each other since 1977, back when current Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna was coaching the Harvard team, while the Minnesota-Duluth program debuted in 1999. This means that Dartmouth-Harvard and UMD-Minnesota all-time lists would span vastly different time periods. So I’m going to cop out a bit. I’ve cut off the Dartmouth-Harvard list about 1997-98, the year that marks the first Olympics and first collegiate national championship of women’s hockey. The pre-1998 and post-1998 eras are hard to compare for a lot of reasons, so I’m not going try it, though I’ll attempt a pre-1998 soon. Also, each list will be six games long, just because.

Keep in mind, these lists are always subject to change. Please email [email protected] or wreak havoc on the message boards if you disagree. And don’t be surprised if these lists require new entrants by the end of this weekend.

The Best of Dartmouth vs. Harvard, post-1998

6) March 18, 2001 — Dartmouth 3, Harvard 1 — ECAC Championship at Thompson Arena

Rankings and Pre-game Records: No. 1 Dartmouth (25-3-1), No. 3 Harvard (23-8)

The Setting: An ECAC women’s hockey record crowd of 2,592 gathered at Thompson to see the ECAC coronation of Dartmouth, who had been No. 1 in the nation all season. The Big Green sought to avenge one of just three regular season losses (see No. 2).



The Run of Play: Because the final outcome was rarely in doubt, this game does not rank higher. Dartmouth took a 2-0 lead in the first period, and held the two-goal lead for all but 72 seconds the rest of the way. Jen Wiehn, the tournament MVP, scored two goals. All three Dartmouth goals originated from the points through traffic.

Amy Ferguson, Dartmouth’s future all-time win leader, stopped 46 shots, including 22 third period shots and first period breakaways from both of Harvard’s two all-time leading scorers in Tammy Shewchuk and Jennifer Botterill. She dished out the heat as well as taking it, throwing down Harvard co-captain Angie Francisco to the ice late in the game.

Memorable Anecdote: Shewchuk blamed the defeat, as usual, on Harvard’s inability to get the bounces. Dartmouth coach Judy Parish-Oberting noted after the game, “My players did a lot of little things to get themselves the bounces.”

The Upshot: The game suffered in significance because both teams were effectively assured berths in the Inaugural 2001 Women’s Frozen Four the next weekend. Harvard took revenge on Dartmouth NCAAs, but only in bittersweet fashion in the consolation game.

5) February 27, 1999 — Harvard 4, Dartmouth 3 (OT) — ECAC regular season at Bright Hockey Center

Rankings and Records: No. 1 Harvard (25-1), No. 6 Dartmouth (14-6-5)

The Setting: A spirited crowd of 1,023 shows up seeking Harvard’s 23rd straight victory. Dartmouth had struggled early in the season but came in fresh off a victory over eventual national runner-up UNH.

The Run of Play: In each period of regulation, Harvard scored once, and Dartmouth answered right back, which is why Harvard needed sudden death to finally win it. Canadian Olympians accounted for all four Harvard goals as Botterill netted the first two goals and Shewchuk scored the last two. Two-time U.S. Olympic medalist A.J. Mleczko gave Harvard three assists, including a set up of Shewchuk straight off the faceoff for the game-winner 2:52 into the overtime.

Memorable Anecdote: Tempers were hot towards the end of the game as Harvard’s Angela Ruggiero, then a freshman, and Wiehn exchanged shoves. Said Harvard coach Katey Stone of the physical play, “We’re the No. 1 team in the country, and if we’re still surprised about getting jabs from opponents, then we’re just babes in the woods.”

The Upshot: When the teams met again in the ECAC semifinals, Harvard didn’t let Dartmouth stick around in an 8-1 blowout, victory No. 30 of the Crimson’s national championship run. It would be the last victory over Dartmouth that Harvard would see for some time, however. The young goal scorers for Dartmouth — freshmen Correne Bredin, sophomore Liz Macri and sophomore Carrie Sekela — impacted the series for years to come.

4) February 7, 2003 — Harvard 2, Dartmouth 1 — ECAC regular season at Bright Hockey Center

Rankings and Records: No. 1 Harvard (17-1), No. 4 Dartmouth (16-5)

The Setting: Earlier that week, Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan had written that this game would be “The Best Show in Town.” A Harvard home record crowd of 1,741 answered the call despite a looming snowstorm. Dartmouth, which had struggled with injuries and national team absences all season, was looking to avenge a 9-2 defeat from November.

The Run of Play: The game seemed destined to be a high scoring affair as Harvard led 2-1 after just 14 minutes. But defensive and penalty kill units took over for the rest of the evening as each team killed off a 5-on-3 and seven penalties to preserve the score. Jessica Ruddock made 21 saves for Harvard and Ferguson stopped 35.

Harvard took the lead for good because it converted on an earlier 5-on-3. Cherie Piper, the first Olympic gold medalist to ever take the ice for an opposing team at Bright, blocked a shot from Botterill that bounced to Ruggiero in the high slot, from where she buried it past Ferguson.

Piper set up fellow Canadian national team Gillian Apps for the game’s first goal 3:44 into the game, before U.S. Olympian Julie Chu set up future Harvard co-captain Lauren McAuliffe for the Crimson’s answer just 1:24 later.

Memorable Anecdote: Ruggiero was particularly pleased with this game-winner because of a three-year old grudge against Ferguson. Ferguson, in describing a save on Ruggiero from the 2000 ECAC semifinals (see below), had said, “I knew she was going high glove on me. She’s the kind of player that needs to beat you with a pretty goal.” Ruggiero remembered that this as she beat her high blocker this time.

The Upshot: After the game, Oberting vowed continued improvement for Dartmouth, saying “I don’t think [Harvard] should be psyched to see us in the end.” Her words rung true in the ECAC championship game, as Dartmouth smoked Harvard 7-2. Both teams ultimately advanced to the Frozen Four and fell to host Minnesota-Duluth.

3) November 12, 1999 — Dartmouth 5, Harvard 4 (OT) — ECAC regular season at Bright Hockey Center

Rankings and Records: No. 1 Harvard (2-0), No. 7 Dartmouth (2-0)

The Setting: A 600-strong crowd showed to watch Harvard raise its 1999 national championship banner. And there was a game too, against Dartmouth, who most expected to be the 33rd straight opponent to fall to the Crimson. Dartmouth was just a young team looking to establish itself.

The Run of Play: After 1:23, the score was 1-0 Dartmouth. After 11 minutes, it was 2-0 Dartmouth. After a period, it was 3-1 Dartmouth. Those three first period Dartmouth goal scorers — junior Kristina Guarino, now a Dartmouth assistant coach; freshman Carly Haggard, who went on to be Dartmouth’s third all-time leading scorer; and Lydia Wheatley, co-captain of the present Dartmouth team.

After two periods, it was 4-2 Dartmouth, but the Crimson scored twice in the third period to force overtime. This was business as usual for the Harvard win streak. The Crimson had won plenty of games when it had trailed, and Harvard had won five times in overtime.

But this was a new season. Two minutes into the extra frame, there was a neutral zone turnover, a Dartmouth shot, a rebound, and suddenly Wiehn was getting mobbed behind the net by her Dartmouth teammates.

Memorable Anecdote: The Dartmouth celebration took place right underneath that freshly raised Harvard national championship banner.

The Upshot: Being an early-season game, this matchup didn’t get too many points for quality of play. Not to mention, Harvard was short of full strength without its starting goaltender and two of its top five forwards.

But this game ranks high in significance. It was crucial to Dartmouth realizing it was better than the sixth-place team the ECAC polls had predicted, and so it began Dartmouth’s rise and Harvard’s fall. The Big Green just about single-handedly ended the Crimson’s national title defense with three head-to-head victories that season and edged out Harvard for the final national tournament berth. Including this game, Dartmouth won 8 of its next 10 against the Crimson over three seasons.

2) February 17, 2001 — Harvard 3, Dartmouth 2 — ECAC regular season at Bright Hockey Center

Rankings and Records: No. 1 Dartmouth (19-1-1), No. 6 Harvard (16-7)

The Setting: In a dramatic role reversal from the year before, Dartmouth was now the consensus No. 1, and Harvard had struggled to an 8-6 start and plummeted in the rankings. The Big Green beat Harvard for a fourth straight time the previous November. A crowd of 1,066 showed at Bright hoping to see the Crimson regain the glory that had been lost since the national championship banner was raised.

The Run of Play: In an exciting end-to-end game, Shewchuk and Wiehn each tallied goals in the first period and the game remained tied until the 10th minute of the third period. Dartmouth seemed destined for a fifth straight win over Harvard, when Haggard made a brilliant move from the blue line in circling past two defenders and putting the puck in from the crease for a 2-1 lead. But as in each of the four previous losses to Dartmouth, Harvard came back from its first deficit. Kiirsten Suurkask slipped a backhand through a screen to tie the game 2-2, just minutes after Haggard’s goal.

The game-winner came from a familiar combination — Botterill from Shewchuk. The two worked a give-and-go to split the Dartmouth defense, and Botterill scorched the roof of the net to spoil an otherwise outstanding 38-save afternoon for Ferguson.

Memorable Anecdote: Midway through the second period, Ruddock lost sight of the puck as she ventured several feet out of the Harvard net. She nearly backed the puck in before Crimson defenseman Pamela Van Reesema made the smart play to shove it under her pads. “That was just for fun — I like to entertain the crowd,” Ruddock said of the incident. The crowd was far better served by Ruddock’s 25 saves of 27 shots.

The Upshot: This upset was as significant for Harvard as Dartmouth’s first upset of Harvard the season before. Not only did the Harvard victory avenge a string of previous defeats, it established Harvard as a favorite for a Frozen Four berth once again. The two rivals each ultimately fell in the Frozen Four semifinals, and split four games that season two apiece. This late season matchup ranks as the best of them for its playoff implications, its midseason atmosphere, and the closeness of the competition.

1) March 18, 2001 — Dartmouth 3, Harvard 2 (OT) — ECAC semifinals at Meehan Auditorium

Rankings and Records: No. 2 Harvard (21-4-3), No. 6 Dartmouth (19-10-0)

The Setting: There was the ominous feeling that this game might determine the fourth and final spot in the national championship tournament, and it showed in the intensity of the fans and the players. The crowd of 2,417 was special in that constituents from Harvard and Dartmouth were there in full force in addition to the Brown supporters who stuck around from the first semifinal.

The Run of Play: Goals from future national teamer Kristin King and Sekela gave Dartmouth a 2-0 lead in the second period. Shewchuk cut the Harvard deficit to 2-1 early in third period, and that score stood until the final seconds. That’s when freshman Kalen Ingram, the extra Harvard attacker off the bench, deflected a slapshot from senior Christie MacKinnon into the upper corner of the net to save Harvard’s season for the time being.

Dartmouth outshot Harvard 10-2 in the epic overtime, but Harvard still had its share of chances. The most memorable came when Dartmouth left Ruggiero open at the point, and she fired a blistering shot that Ferguson nabbed with her high glove, Five minutes later, Ruggiero drew two defenders and set up Ingram all alone, but Ferguson stepped up and forced her backhand wide.

The game winner came from a familiar combination — Guarino from Wiehn. At 14:33 of the overtime, Wiehn won a neutral zone faceoff and led Guarino into the Harvard zone. With the Crimson defense closing in, she put the puck through the legs of senior Crystal Springer. The Harvard goaltender had kept her team in the game by stopping 35 shots that day, including a clean Haggard breakaway, but this one ended with the same outcome as the other three.

Memorable Anecdote: Dartmouth laid the smack down on Harvard both on and off the ice. Sekela said after the game, “We have more depth and a better goalie. We know that they’re a one line team.” Then there was the Ferguson comment that Ruggiero still remembered three years later (see above). Because of Olympic training, the Ruggiero shot was her last in the college game for another two years.

The Upshot: Each team felt it had a convincing argument to earn an at-large tournament bid after Dartmouth lost to Brown in the ECAC final. Harvard had Dartmouth beat in every national tournament selection criteria except one — head-to-head play. Dartmouth had beaten Harvard three times. A USA Hockey committee made the call, and it went to Dartmouth. The Big Green went on to lose to Brown for a third straight time in the national semifinals. The eventual national finalists Brown and Minnesota were both winless against Harvard during the regular season.

This Dartmouth win added more to the rivalry than any other. The Harvard players were furious to lose the national berth to a team that had lost twice as many games as them. Dartmouth players were frustrated that they still were lacking in national respect despite beating Harvard three times. Those memories, stinging for years, have been passed to future generations.

At present, Harvard is winless against Dartmouth in four straight ECAC tournament meetings, including last year when Harvard took UMD to double overtime in the NCAA final. In the same four-year stretch, Dartmouth has two ECAC titles, three national championship appearances and zero national championship game appearances.

The Best of Minnesota-Duluth vs. Minnesota

6) October 21, 2001 — Minnesota 1, UMD 1 — WCHA regular season at the DECC

Rankings and Records: No. 1 UMD (3-0), No. 6 Minnesota (2-1)

The Setting: Defending-champ UMD was coming off a 7-0 victory the day before against the Gophers, who had the look of a rebuilding team with just 14 skaters dressed. The Bulldogs were a heavy favorite to repeat as NCAA and WCHA champions with almost their entire roster returning from the year before. A sparse crowd of 710 showed.

Gopher Natalie Darwitz makes her move against UMD's Julianne Vasichek (photo: Minnesota sports information).

Gopher Natalie Darwitz makes her move against UMD’s Julianne Vasichek (photo: Minnesota sports information).

The Run of Play: This game initially looked like it would be more of the same as Laurie Alexander put UMD up 1-0 in the first minute. But Minnesota’s Gwen Anderson tied it nine minutes later, and that was it for the scoring. UMD outshot Minnesota 38-18, but freshman Gopher Brenda Reinen made 37 saves to keep it close.

Memorable Anecdote: The Minnesota players would refer to this game as the turning point of the season — they realized that day they could compete with the best. This game might not have been the most exciting to watch at the time, but it turned a whole program around. Minnesota exceeded expectations across the board in 2001-02 after a disappointing 2000-01 season that ended short of the Frozen Four.

Upshot: When the teams met in January, Minnesota swept UMD, and by March, the Gophers were the WCHA regular season and postseason champions and the No. 1 Frozen Four seed. UMD got the last laugh, however, by winning the 2002 NCAA title after Brown upset the Gophers in the national semifinals.

5) March 4, 2000 — UMD 2, Minnesota 0 — WCHA championship game at Bloomington Ice Gardens

Rankings and Records: No. 3 Minnesota (30-5-1), No. 7 UMD (24-3-3)

The Setting: A standing room only crowd of 1,826 packed the Ice Gardens for the Inaugural Women’s WCHA championship game. UMD had won the first two meetings but Minnesota took three of four points in the second go-round despite a battered roster. An automatic berth to the national tournament was at stake. With selections being made in two weeks, the loser had little clue as to whether its season would be over.

The Run of Play: Goals by Navada Russell in the first period and Brittny Ralph in the third period gave UMD all the scoring it would need. Minnesota would hit nothing but posts, crossbars, and the body of Finnish goalkeeper Tuula Puputti for the full 60 minutes. The tournament MVP, Puputti made 31 saves for the shutout, including 27 in the last two periods.

Memorable Anecdote: Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson told the Star Tribune after the game, “It’s clear that they’re the best team in our league this year. I think we’re a close second.” Halldorson’s concession speech proved to be premature.

The Upshot: UMD earned the WCHA automatic bid to nationals, but the Gophers became earned an at-large berth to the same tournament. They made the most of it by winning a rematch with UMD (see below) and their only national championship to date.

4) December 3, 1999 — UMD 5, Minnesota 4 — WCHA regular season game at Mariucci Arena

Rankings and Records: No. 4 Minnesota (10-3), No. 7 UMD (10-0)

The Setting: A crowd of 1,620 showed up to witness the birth of college hockey’s next great rivalry. Minnesota, being the established program, was the favorite. But UMD, coached by former Canadian Olympic coach Shannon Miller, expected to give the Gophers a tough battle with an outstanding first-year program powered by transfers and Scandinavians.

The Run of Play: UMD scored in the first minute of each of the first two periods to grab a 2-0 lead, and Minnesota trailed 3-0 by the end of the second period. All three goals came via the combination of U.S. Olympian Jenny Schmidgall (now Potter) and Swedish Olympian Maria Rooth.

Then the wildness began in the third period — six goals were scored in the span of seven minutes. Four of the first five goals belonged to the Gophers, as they scored two in shorthanded fashion to tie the game 4-4. But on the same Duluth power play in which Minnesota had tied the game, defenseman Brittny Ralph delivered the game-winner for UMD.

Memorable Anecdote: The Bulldogs top goal scorers for the game were Schmidgall, who scored two of the first three UMD goals and assisted on the second, and Ralph, who scored the last two UMD goals. Not coincidentally, both were former players for Halldorson at Minnesota. Ralph, in particular, stepped up her game — she only had nine goals that season.

Upshot: UMD would win 1-0 the next day in a game with far fewer fireworks. The Bulldogs would win the final season series 3-2-1, the WCHA regular season and postseason crowns, but Minnesota won the one that counted most in the national tournament.

3) November 30, 2002 — UMD 4, Minnesota 3 — WCHA regular season game at Ridder Arena

Rankings and Records: No. 1 Minnesota (13-0-1), No. 3 UMD (9-1-2)

The Setting: 3,056 fans packed Ridder Arena to see the most talent ever assembled in the Minnesota-UMD rivalry. The Bulldogs were the two-time defending national champions with most of their 2002 roster returning, plus Jenny Potter back from a two-year hiatus and Canadian Olympian Caroline Ouellette. Minnesota had won the recruiting battles for freshmen U.S. Olympians Krissy Wendell and Natalie Darwitz. UMD was the preseason favorite, but the Gophers had climbed to the No. 1 spot due to their superior results against Brown and Harvard two weeks earlier.

The Run of Play: Led by two goals from Darwitz, Minnesota led 3-1 deep into the third period, but the Bulldogs scored three unanswered goals in the third period to win it, including two in the final three minutes from Rooth to complete a hat trick.

Memorable Anecdote: UMD had almost two weeks off prior to the series after a disappointing loss to Harvard and tie to Brown. This time, the Bulldogs were well prepared and had their torpedo system ready in full force, and it proved to be a big part of the comeback.

Upshot: The loss was a serious blow to the Gophers, but they still got a second chance to top UMD the next day … .

2) December 1, 2002 — UMD 6, Minnesota 5 — WCHA regular season game at Ridder Arena

Rankings and Record: No. 1 Minnesota (13-1-1), No. 3 UMD (10-1-2)

The Setting: A Sunday crowd of 2,416 filled Ridder for the rematch of the 4-3 UMD victory the day before.

The Run of Play: There’s no simple way to describe the scoring in this game. UMD took a 3-1 lead in the first period, Minnesota led 4-3 by the five-minute mark of the second, and UMD led 5-4 by the second intermission. Minnesota tied the game with 10 minutes left, but Joanne Eustace netted the game-winner for UMD with five minutes to go in the third period. UMD’s Tricia Guest, who had assited on Rooth’s third goal the day before, earned a hat trick this time around. Rooth had left the game in the first period with a separated shoulder.

Memorable Anecdote: Adding to the explosiveness of the game was Miller’s postgame accusation that Minnesota’s Kelly Stephens had run Maria Rooth from behind in causing her separated shoulder. In criticizing the officials for not calling a major penalty on Stephens, she drew the wrath of the WCHA league office. It wasn’t until months later that UMD fully stopped maintaining that Rooth had been hit from behind.

Upshot: This game shifted the balance of power in the WCHA back to UMD, and it was the first sign of how great a team UMD would be that season. The Bulldogs went on to take 4 of 5 from the Gophers in their run to the WCHA regular season and postseason championships and a third straight NCAA title.

1) March 25, 2000 — Minnesota 3, UMD 2 — AWCHA semifinal game at Matthews Arena

Rankings and Record: No. 2 UMD (25-3-3), No. 3 Minnesota (30-6-1)

The Setting: It doesn’t get much bigger than Minnesota and UMD playing in a national tournament. Three weeks following UMD’s victory in the WCHA championship, the Gophers rematched across the country at Northeastern’s Matthews Arena. The game drew a crowd of just 1,409 in the distant venue, but each squad had their bands in force, so there was plenty of spirit.

The Run of Play: Just like the first-ever Minnesota-UMD meeting, a notable combination struck first — Rooth from Schmidgall. Those pesky first minutes continued to be troublesome for Minnesota in the second period as the two set up Michelle McAteer at the 0:29 mark for a 2-0 UMD lead.

Then the Gophers finally got some luck. A shot from Gopher’s top scorer Nadine Muzerall deflected off a UMD skate at the game’s midway point to cut the deficit in half. In the third period, UMD did itself in by marching to the box four straight times, and Minnesota responded with two power play goals to win the game. Muzerall brought the game-tying blow, and Tracy Engstrom netted the clincher. UMD fell despite outshooting Minnesota, 42-27.

Memorable Anecdote: The day before the semifinal, Muzerall had been carried off the ice in a stretcher after suffering from a neck-jarring fall. She showed no ill effects in storming back for the two game-tying goals on Friday. She also scored the game-winner in the national final.

Upshot: Minnesota proceeded to defeat Brown 4-2 to win its first national championship, the last prior to the NCAA’s sponsorship of women’s hockey. The Bulldogs fell to Dartmouth in the consolation game. Three years and three NCAA titles later, UMD has yet to suffer another national championship defeat.