This Week in D-I Women’s Hockey: Nov. 8, 2007

“Heavy is the head that wears the crown…”

Sure, let’s start out by ripping off Shakespeare.

Then again, if the Bard of Avon had been watching the recent Division-I doings as they pertained to the Nation’s No. 1 ranking, he might well have summed matters up thusly.

It has, after all, been a tough time to be seated in the top spot.

In successive weeks, the bulls-eye shifted from Wisconsin to Minnesota-Duluth then back again, thanks to upsets pulled off first by St. Cloud, then Minnesota.

The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks, indeed.

Now New Hampshire is taking it’s turn at the top, and it, too (et, tu?) nearly fluffed its lines during the first act, Wednesday’s tilt against No. 10 Boston College.

The Wildcats eventually captured the contest by a hefty 4-1 margin, but not before spending 40 minutes fruitlessly deploying the outrageous fortune of slings and arrows (shots were 19-3 at one point) in its arsenal at BC goalie Molly Schaus.

“I wondered about [the ranking‘s effect] in the first period,” said UNH coach Brian McCloskey. “We generated, but we weren’t really sharp. I felt if we kept working that way, we would score. I think our team generates a lot of chances. The key is to keep them hungry, and not frustrated when the puck’s not going in.”

Junior sniper Sam Faber said that as far as they were concerned, they weren’t consciously trying to live up to their newly minted status. They were merely trying to beat Boston College.

“I don’t think we thought about being No. 1,” she said. “We knew they (BC) were going to come out as hard as they did because we were No. 1. We just really had to play our game.”

And as any old bard will tell you, “the play’s the thing.”

RPI building a better mousetrap

One of the biggest surprises seen in the first month of the season has been the swift start registered by RPI.

The Engineers from Rensselaer have sprinted to an impressive 6-2-1 start in just their third season as a Division-I program.

This after struggling to a 12-22-1 mark last year, their first as an ECACHL member.

According to senior defenseman Kelly Barbera, the club isn’t doing anything different this year than before.

Just doing it better.

“Last year we got off to a slow start,” said Barbera. “So this year, we concentrated on starting off the season right, and getting a winning record right from the start. It definitely builds our confidence a lot, going into league play.”

The Engineers have been keeping their confidence up, and their goals against down, with goalies Ashley Mayr and Sonja van der Bliek combining to record a puny 1.20 GAA.

“We definitely think we’ll be very competitive this year,” said Barbera. “We don’t have any amazing superstars. But we all work very hard. We all have a common goal of making the playoffs again. Every practice, we’re working hard.”

Barbera said that she is heartened by the progress made in her team’s play, as well as her own.

“Personally, I’ve become quicker with my decisions,” she said. “That’s definitely been a big change. At first I was playing in Division-III, and all of a sudden I’m playing Division-I. You have to make every decision faster. I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Barbera was a freshman when RPI played its last D-III season, and she’s just one of four seniors who remain from that club.

She said that that little group, which also includes fellow blue liner Ellen McNamara and forwards Julie Aho and Brooke Thompson, feel like pioneers of a sort.

“We feel so lucky to be a part of this team,” she said. “We definitely prided ourselves in stepping up to the new level. Having that freshman year in D-III helped keep us well grounded. We realize how amazing it is to be able to play Division-I hockey. We realize more than anyone else in the league, what an accomplishment it is.”

Still, she said, the work has just begun.

She cited RPI’s two defeats, both of which came in overtime to ranked teams BC and Connecticut.

“We’re never happy with a loss,” she said. “And losing overtime games like that made us push ourselves that much harder in practice. But going to overtime with top ranked teams, we can’t really be upset about it. But we definitely want to turn those overtime losses into wins. I think we learned a lot about that last year, when we lost a lot of games by one goal.”

Just call her Miss Zero

One couldn’t help notice the impressive shutout string woven by North Dakota net minder Brittany Kirkham, who stopped all shots during a span of 201:23.

That was nearly double the previous women’s mark of 112:01 registered by Margaret-Ann Hinkley in 2004, and is second only to Gerald Schultz’s run of 249:41 way back in 1954 among all NoDak net minders.