Shadow Of The Maple

After one day, fans in Providence for the women’s Frozen Four have not been at a loss for what to watch.

Minnesota’s Krissy Wendell led her team to a semifinal victory over Dartmouth with a hat trick and an assist, Nicole Corriero put her Harvard Crimson on the board against St. Lawrence with a backhand shot from her knees with her back to the net, and there was a pink elephant at center ice.

Fine, fine, there was no pink elephant. It was more like a red and white one with a maple leaf on its chest.

The absence of Dartmouth’s Cherie Piper and Gillian Apps and St. Lawrence’s Gina Kingsbury has been the proverbial “pink elephant” for all four teams involved in this year’s NCAA championship: everyone knows it’s there, but one gets the feeling that every coach and player at the Dunkin Donuts Center would rather avoid talking about it.

“I don’t want to get into the issue — that whole thing,” said St. Lawrence head coach Paul Flanagan of Kingsbury’s absence following the Saints’ 2-1 semifinal loss to Harvard. However, with the two teams that lost players to Team Canada set to meet in the consolation game on Sunday at 12:30 p.m., and the two unaffected teams getting ready to play for the national championship on Sunday at 4, it’s tough not to notice the correlation.

“Obviously, we’d all love to have all these kids here,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone. “I think it’s unfortunate to put athletes in this position, and I feel bad for Dartmouth and St. Lawrence — all the kids that remained just as much as the kids that have gone to Canada.”

“I wish they were here,” Minnesota forward Natalie Darwitz said of Apps, Piper, and Kingsbury.

Dartmouth and St. Lawrence, however, were in no mood to feel sorry for themselves. Rather, both teams spoke of using the absences as a rallying point.

“We all kind of turned on [Piper and Apps] when they left: ‘Screw them! We don’t need them,'” Dartmouth forward Krista Dornfried joked.

“It’s nothing against them. It’s just that people look at your team, and they see two national players, and they’re going to say, ‘That’s their team. Those are their players.’ I think it’s great to have them — I wouldn’t give them up for the world — but it’s great to show the world we can do it without them.”

Similarly, in the St. Lawrence camp, Flanagan spoke of his players using Kingsbury’s absence as extra motivation in preparing to play Harvard.

“Gina made a passionate speech after the [ECAC Championship] game on Sunday,” Flanagan said. “It was very emotional, not only for Gina, but for everyone. It was very inspirational.

“We said, ‘We aren’t going to whine because we don’t have Gina. Let’s make up for it. Let’s make her proud.'”

In that department, the Saints took care of business, losing 2-1 after the Crimson blew the Saints out in the ECAC championship, winning by a 6-1 margin.

“I couldn’t be prouder,” Flanagan said of his team.

In the end, that’s what it will come down to. On Sunday, Dartmouth and St. Lawrence will play for third place, leaving behind thoughts of what might have been. Meanwhile, Minnesota and Harvard, the nation’s top two teams, are filling fans’ hearts with dreams of what could be, as the Golden Gophers and the Crimson prepare to play for the national championship.