This Week in D-I Women’s Hockey: Dec. 6, 2007

No Pet Cemetery Here

Not that they ever really went anywhere, but you can say this about the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs.

They’re back.

You’d certainly have to say so after last week’s Bulldog sweep of two-time champs Wisconsin … in Madison, no less.

Sensational Russian freshman Iya Gravrilova was front-and-center (make that left wing), scoring the game winner in Friday’s 3-1 win, then coming back with two goals on Saturday.

The first of those, with 25 seconds left in regulation, sent the game to overtime, where Gavrilova scored again, 15 seconds in.

“We were supposed to win that game,” said Gavrilova, whose command of English is impressive, considering she has only been in North America for a few months. “Coach brought us together and told us ‘we can score this goal’. And that motivated the whole team.”

The twin wins vaulted UMD to the top of the WCHA charts. It also allowed the ’Dogs to hang onto the Nation’s No. 3 ranking, while dropping Wisconsin from fourth to seventh.

According to Gravilova, the ‘Dogs were merely reaping the rewards of an intense week of “skull and skate”.

“We were preparing seven days before,” she said. “Watching their games. But (as for) motivation? Sometimes you don’t need motivation.”

Duluth, of course, has been among the Nation’s Elite since Miller set up shop in the Iron Range nine years ago.

Three NCAA titles will attest to that.

Still, UMD hit something of a speed bump during the weekend of Oct. 26-27, when it was ambushed by Minnesota, suffering 3-1 and 5-1 losses.

Ranked No. 1 by USCHO at the time, the ‘Dogs sagged to fifth the following week.

But it wasn’t just their place in the national pecking order that took a hit.

The team psyche was also a bit tender, although according to Gravilova, not for long.

“Of course we were down,” she said. “But the next day, we met with Coach and she said we had to focus on the next game. The games (against Minnesota) were over. It was now in the past. This was more important. We should prepare for next game.”

Prepared indeed. North Dakota had the misfortune of being next on the UMD dance card, and was handed a 9-2 thumping for its time and trouble.

That set the Bulldogs off on its current run of seven wins in eight starts, with those pesky Gophers (again!!) providing the only loss.

Gravilova feels that the ‘Dogs are playing their best hockey of the season.

“Yes, I think so,” she said. “I think we’re playing better than at the start of the season. Our forecheck and back check is so much better. We prepare a lot of that in practice. Now we have good ’D’ zone, and we have a lot of offensive talent.”

Of course, that cornucopia of offensive abundance includes Gravilova, who is currently the highest scoring freshman (7g, 13a) in the country.

Miller has had tremendous success over the years with the Europeans she’s brought to Duluth.

Some might say that only the Europeans can feel at home in the forbidding Northern Minnesota winters.

Whatever, the case. The 19-year-old Siberian says she fits in just nicely in her new home.

“I’m really glad to have come here,” said Gravilova, who is an exercise science major. “It should be great (playing) hockey in America. And I love to be here. I have a lot of new friends, and great coaches like Julie Chu, Caroline Ouellette, and Shannon, of course. And I like my teammates.”

Perhaps some of her future teammates will be fellow Russians, whose presence in US womens’ hockey has been scarce.

Even UMD, with a host of Finns, Swedes, and Swiss on its alumni rolls, has seen just one Russian before Gravilova, namely the Moscovite Kristina Petrovskaia.

Gravilova feels that she could be at the leading edge of a Russian talent wave.

“Yes,” she said. “I’ve been talking to my friends from Russia, and they want to play here too. I think its like I’m here first, and then maybe more will want to come. I think so.”

If nothing else, she can use the “balmy” Duluth climate as a selling point.

“I think it’s the same (as Russia),” she said. “Or maybe sometimes warmer.”


Goaltenders are notoriously pessimistic.

The glass could be filled just shy of the brim and they’ll tell you about the fluid that spilled over the edge.

Pull off 41 spine-tingling saves while keeping your overmatched team in a game it should have been blown out of, and all you’ll talk about is the last shot of the day, the one that beat you.

So it wasn’t a surprise to hear a downcast Boston University netminder Allyse Wilcox lay the blame at her own crease after allowing the goal that allowed No. 1 New Hampshire to squeak by with a 3-2 overtime win, on Saturday.

“It was a tough loss.” said the junior from Grand Blanc, Mich. “I just wish I could have helped my team out a little more.”

It’s hard to imagine what more she could have done, even as Jennifer Hitchcock buried the game winner with a mere 2.8 seconds left in overtime.

It came after a Terrier turnover at the blue line allowed Hitchcock to roll in unimpeded, and keep BU from taking its first ever point (in 13 meetings) away from the Wildcats.

“I felt pretty good, throughout the game,” said Wilcox. “I was hoping for a win, or at least a point out of them.”

Instead, Wilcox had to settle for being named the game’s first star, as well as Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week.

Even so, Wilcox feels that the young Terrier program — which will host the Frozen Four in 2009 — is on an upswing.

“Definitely,” she said. “We’ve improved, amazingly, over the past couple of years. Even our freshmen coming in have helped out a lot. I can definitely see BU going somewhere.”

With that, optimism saves the day.

The last save of the day.