This Week in D-I Women’s Hockey: Dec. 18, 2007

Sacred Moments

Lauren Fontaine picked up the puck at the center ice spot, picked up steam as she hit the Boston University blue line, then (so it seemed, anyway) calmly picked the upper right corner behind Terrier goaltender Melissa Haber.

And anyone who happened to be inside Walter Brown Arena last Saturday, picked the right time to witness a key moment in the history of Sacred Heart hockey.

Maybe even the most important moment.

In any event, Fontaine’s successful penalty shot, a seldom seen occurance on any hockey level, an absolute rarity in women’s hockey, had a galvanizing effect on the Pioneers.

The gals on the bench were screaming, jumping up and down, banging their sticks, celebrating like never before.

One might have thought that the Pioneers had just captured the Frozen Four, and not merely cut the BU lead to 5-1, midway through the second period.

“Everyone was thrilled that I put it in.” said Fontaine, a freshman from Windsor, Ont. “It did give our team some life. It brought our team together.”

Rallying points have been scarce for the Pioneers, the nation’s only D-1 independent.

So have wins.

Oh, Sacred Heart has no problems beating up on Division-III opponents, the likes of which make up half it’s schedule.

The D-I portion is another story, with nary a happy ending.

In five seasons as an independent, the Pioneers are still looking to card their regular season win over a Division-1 foe.

Sacred Heart is 0-7 in D-I play this year, while being outscored 53-7. Defeats handed them by Maine and Union, are the only wins those two schools have recorded all year.

So with no conference (a situation they hope to resolve), no on-campus rink, and no wins, you might gather that times are tough for SHU, and they are. But not as tough as you’d think.

In fact, morale among the Pioneers has never been higher.

“We still have heart,” said Fontaine. “We still love the game. Everyone of us still wants to keep going.”

It is the opportunity to offer playing time at a D-I school that provides SHU’s veteran coach Tom O’Malley a fighting chance in the ever competitive recruiting wars.

It’s a battle that O’Malley has waged before, having guided programs both Boston College and Wayne State through their birth pains.

“There are kids who are strictly going to go with the top-echelon teams,” O’Malley said, “and might not give Sacred Heart a look. But I think when they hear that they can come in and immediately become impact players, that becomes an avenue that they want to take. Some of them might have made another team, but maybe they wouldn’t be playing as much as they are, here. I think they‘re happy that they‘re going to a good school and playing D-I hockey.”

Which is what enticed Fontaine to give Sacred Heart a whirl.

“Playing D-I hockey is a dream of a lifetime for me,” she said.

Fontaine’s dream took an unexpected twist when O’Malley chose her to take the penalty shot, after her teammate, senior Katie McLaughlin was hauled down while rushing toward the BU net.

“Literally, I was in shock,” she said. “I thought ‘oh, wow’. I’m playing in this big game, everyone was looking at me, and everything was on my shoulders. I was kind of panicking. Kind of freaking out, at first. But I just breathed, and said to myself, ‘hey, Lauren, you can do this’.”

Said O’Malley, “The referee (Patrick Silva) gave me the option of a penalty shot or a penalty. I didn’t even take a second to think about it. I said ‘we’ll take the shot, Lauren hop out there’. She’s been hot, and she’s a pure sniper. I can only imagine what was going through her mind, as far as pressure. But she kept her head. She came down and she sniped it. It was an NHL goal.”

Fontaine’s shot zipped in under the crossbar, hit the back of the net, and bounded out again.

“I still don’t entirely remember how I scored,” she said, “because it was so fast. I just kind of went down there, saw an open corner, and just picked it. It ended up going in. And the whole team just attacked me.”

It would be the stuff of fairy tales to say that Fontaine’s goal served to rally the Pioneers to victory.

Instead, they went on to lose by a lopsided 11-1 count.

But the uplifting effect had been felt.

“The one thing about the BU game,” said O’Malley, “is that we never stopped fighting. We fought the whole game. Yeah, they were a very good team, and they capitalized on all the mistakes we made. I think we’ll be ready for our next matchup with them.”

For Fontaine, the impact was a little more personal.

“It was a really cool experience,” she said. “It was a big goal that I potted. I’ll probably remember it for the rest of my career.”

She won‘t be the only one.