This Week in D-I Women’s Hockey: Nov. 29, 2007

Rise and Shine

It was college hockey’s equivalent of “the long nightmare”.

That 33 game losing streak, the longest ever shouldered by a Division-I women’s team, one that saw 387 sunrises and two Thanksgivings come and go without Union College being able to celebrate victory.

It’s over. Finis.

The Dutchwomen shed that onerous string on Tuesday, with a 7-1 win (syn. victory, triumph, prevailing) over Sacred Heart in Bridgeport.

A happy bus ride back to Schenectady.

At last.

“It’s a great feeling,” said Union junior co-captain Gabi Wintner. “When you win, you win as a team. When you lose, you lose as a team.”

It’s that last part that Wintner and her mates plenty of experience dealing with, much too much for their liking.

Their last win (in fact each of their their last five wins) had come at the expense of Sacred Heart, a program having its own troubles finding its footing.

It came on Nov. 4, 2006, and was followed by a 22 skein of defeats (21 of them by three goals or more) to finish the season, as well as the three year tenure of former head man Tim Gerrish.

During the off-season, Union made what could turn out to be an inspired hire.

Claudia Asano, who played on some superb Harvard teams in the late ’90s and served a five-year apprenticeship under Crimson coach Katey Stone, was brought aboard to get the Dutchwomen skating in the right direction.

And while the wins didn’t come right away, a winning attitude did.

“She’s brought a lot of great things to our program,” said Wintner. “It’s really taken a turn for the better. I think that we’ve become a more disciplined team. We’re getting there step by step.”

Even if those steps are taken at a toddler’s pace, it still forward motion, helped along by that first win.

“We need to put a lot of work in to get this team better,” said Asano, who brought along former Harvard goalie Ali Boe to serve as her top assistant. “The kids are (only) used to what they’ve played for. Sometimes, it was (as) individuals because they didn’t win games. We’ve sort of had to address a lot of team concepts. Slowly, we’ll get there. I get more frustrated with myself because I want it more quickly. But we’re getting there. We’re doing things a lot better than we did at the beginning of the year. Those are things you have to look at and be proud of, and not how many games you win.”

So long as you get that first one.

“Our ultimate goal is to win a league game,” Asano said.

To wit, in five seasons the Dutchwomen have carded just one win over an ECACHL foe, that coming against Cornell back in 2004.

They have a few near misses this year, including a pair of one goal losses to Brown and Yale on consecutive nights.

And dead ahead are ranked league powerhouses Dartmouth (No. 8) and Harvard (No. 2), followed by an underrated Princeton squad, all of them at home.

And Asano, being only human, has especially strong feelings about facing the Crimson for the first time since she departed Cambridge.

“It’s going to be interesting,” she said, a bit understatedly. “I’ve thought about it a lot. I’ve imagined it. It’s where I went, and where I draw a lot of pride from. But I also know that I’ve built something here that I’m proud of. Still, it will be a lot easier that it’s up here.”

Running the Gauntlet

Another squad looking down the barrel of a loaded stretch of schedule is Niagara.

The Purple Eagles, missing several regulars, took a respectable 6-2-0 mark to New Hampshire last weekend, then took a pair of serious whackings from the No. 1 Wildcats, 6-2 and 11-1.

This weekend, they’ll host No. 7 Mercyhurst, twice.

Talk about an acid test, although Niagara coach Margot Page prefers not to think about it that way.

“Every game for us is a battle,” Page said. “We don’t look at it as ‘oh, my gosh, we’re going in to New Hampshire, now we have to play Mercyhurst. We can’t go in thinking lightly about any opponent. Every game for us, is a must for us. We can’t have a night off and hope for points. Are they tougher teams? Probably. But we have to play the same, no matter what. We are still looking for a game of good, physical hockey, and I don’t think we’ve played that yet.”

A Constant At Last

As for New Hampshire, they accomplished something no one (including themselves) had managed to do in nearly two months.

Hang on to the top ranking.

The nation’s No. 1 spot has been handed around like a bad cold from week to week, with UNH having gained it, lost it, then retrieved it again just before Thanksgiving.

With their twin routs of Niagara, there was no question of maintaining their lofty perch, even though, admittedly, such things don’t mean a heck of a lot at this time of year.

What means more to them is simply playing for the moment.

“I think with Princeton,” said sophomore top line wing Kelly Paton, “it wasn’t that we didn’t play well. We just got outplayed. As a team, we’re just looking to keep moving our feet. Winning the one on one battle, and not being outplayed. If we were to (have lost) against Niagara, it would be another bump in the road. But it wouldn’t (have been) the loss that bothered us, but getting outworked. We’ve got to get better if we want to win that National Championship.”

All in a Day’s Work

Kudos to Bemidji net minder Emily Brookshaw, who singlehandedly battled Wisconsin (then No. 2) to a scoreless draw on Saturday. Brookshaw, who hails from Webster, Wisc., turned away 50 Wisconsin shots, 20 of them in the third period, to frustrate the Badgers.

In the process, Brookshaw seized the school’s career saves mark (2,405 and climbing).

Wisconsin had won the previous 20 meetings with the Beavers, including a 7-0 laugher on Friday.