So how will Dartmouth stop Minnesota’s top line and power play unit? Dartmouth coach Mark Hudak said he would try to keep his freshmen off the ice against them, although he feels pretty good about how his team’s veteran pair of lines matches up.
Said Hudak: “Our kids know their kids, their kids know our kids. There’s nothing really I have to say to them. They know where their strengths are. They know what they need to do when they’re on the ice. I think at this time of the year the significance of the head coach diminishes a bit. The kids will take care of what the kids will take care of.”
A similar question — how will St. Lawrence stop Nicole Corriero?
Said St. Lawrence coach Paul Flanagan: “You spend too much time worrying about Nicole. There are a lot of other weapons right on her line. But we have to be aware of her particularly down low, where she’s got a great knack around the net. This time of year you just have to play good defense. You have to be sound fundamentally.”
Staying so focused is easier said than done, however.
“Once you start playing Harvard, you play them so much, it starts to become a mental game,” said Saints captain Rebecca Russell. “I’m very excited and a little nervous as well.”
There were times when it looked as if neither St. Lawrence nor Harvard would reach this point.
Harvard’s last defeat back in December was on the same Whittemore Center ice surface that hosts the Frozen Four. The Crimson was 7-6-1 then and has gone 18-0-2 since.
“After that last New Hampshire game, we were sitting in the locker room, and I don’t think I was expecting a return to the Frozen Four,” Corriero said. “That just goes to show anything can happen. You’ve got to take it step-by-step, game-by-game.”
St. Lawrence seemed in danger of faltering in the ECACHL Quarterfinals against Brown, but a decision to start junior Jess Moffat over freshman Meaghan Guckian paid off. Moffat has posted a 96 percent save percentage in her last four games.
“Our backs were against the wall — we had to win and make a decision to give her the opportunity and hope the team would rally around her,” Flanagan said. “It changed the dynamics a little bit.”
Quarters: A Look Back
Although the same four teams are in the Frozen Four, it was a lot of tougher for them to get there. St. Lawrence needed one overtime to advance past UMD. Harvard needed three to get by Mercyhurst.
“After playing those two games to get here last Saturday, it really makes me appreciate being in the tournament to begin with,” said Corriero. The two games, of course, refer to the 112 minutes of action in the Crimson’s 5-4 win over Mercyhurst, which included a comeback from a 3-1 first period deficit.
Harvard coach Katey Stone says the Crimson still has plenty of energy left for this weekend despite the three overtimes.
“We didn’t practice too much, we had a couple days off,” Stone said. “It was a testament to their conditioning, how well they maintained that high level against Mercyhurst for so long…. Throughout the week we haven’t gone very long at practice but they’ve gone very hard and very intensely. I think we’re in good shape.”
St. Lawrence faced an entirely different experience as the road underdog against UMD.
“They love their hockey in Minnesota. The place was packed. We had four fans there,” Russell said.
“Remember when Rocky went to Russia?” Flanagan added. “Maybe it helped we had four fans there. We went up early and our confidence level went up by leaps and bounds. It made us feel that we deserved to be there.”
All coaches were pleased with the growth they saw in women’s hockey through the quarterfinals.
“The atmospheres in the rinks last weekend was crazy,” Stone said. “Mercyhurst had tons of fans. We had tons of fans. I understand it was the same thing in Duluth and Dartmouth. To have another event like that and expose people to women’s hockey in that way is a huge thing. These kids work really hard and deserve to play in front of a great crowd with a lot of enthusiasm.”
“I think we’re 10 years behind women’s basketball. We’re getting there…. We want it to happen very fast, but it’s going to take a little time. Every year there’s a national championship it gets better and better.”
Dartmouth and Minnesota played to two wild high-scoring games back in December. Will there be a repeat?
“It’s going to be much of the same, high paced with explosive offense,” said Dartmouth co-captain Meagan Walton.
The Olympic-sized ice could also be a factor if the Olympic-caliber players can take advantage of the extra space.
“The team that has the puck has the advantage because they can make use of that extra space out there,” said Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson. “When the other team has the puck, you’ve got to work a little harder to cover that ground. There’s more territory to play defense.”
A Full Complement
A huge difference between this Frozen Four and the last is that both Dartmouth and St. Lawrence have all their players. Last season Dartmouth’s Gillian Apps and Cherie Piper and St. Lawrence’s Gina Kingsbury had to compete for the World Championships instead. Due to the lack of bodies in the last week, Dartmouth had to significantly alter its game plan. The Big Green will have no such distractions this season.