This Week in D-I Women’s Hockey: Feb. 28, 2008

The call came regarding Denver, Thursday, and it the message it contained left Laura Fast feeling “Mile High” in St. Cloud.

Fast, a senior captain at SCSU, was one of a select group of exceedingly talented women to get those calls, inviting them to take part in the NCAA’s Frozen Four Skills Challenge, to be staged Apr. 11 at the Pepsi Center as part of this year’s Fro4Festivities.

She said it was about the furthest thing from her mind, as she and her Huskies mates commenced prepping for the coming WCHA first round playoff set with Ohio State.

“I’m kind of shocked,” Fast said, by phone, moments after finishing her dry land work out session, her voice still betraying a quiver, “but I’m very excited. I think it’s a privilege, and I’m very excited.”

To be precise, Fast didn’t take the call herself. Instead she was the last on her block (as it were) to find out, having gotten word of her selection from an SCSU assistant.

“Actually,” she said, “I was just walking down the hall in our rink. And one of my coaches just said ‘hey, skills comp!’. I said ‘what?’, and then he told me that I made it. So it was kind of shock. It was a just out-of-the-blue kind of thing.”

The scene was likely repeated 15 more times around the country, as the invitations began to filter out, saying, “Please, please come and be part of this groovy thing, and oh, by the way, strut your stuff before more people than you‘ve ever seen in your whole life.“.

Okay, maybe that wasn’t the exact wording.

But you get the idea.

“Now that you put it that way,” said Fast, “it’s kind of nerve wracking. I think it’s just exciting to see that kind of caliber of hockey, and to be around it is just going to be really neat. And to be a part of.”

While Fast appreciates being having been asked to join the party, she also takes to heart the issue of representing the womens’ game in such a high profile venue.

“I think it’s a great accomplishment,” she said, “for women in general to be a part of a great thing. NCAA hockey is just huge for men, and it’s becoming a lot larger for women. To have the women’s aspect be known is just great for all women in the sport.”

The players will be divided into two squads, East and West, with each including two goaltenders.

Skating for the East will be Hayley Moore (Brown), Jaclyn Hawkins (Connecticut), Martine Garland and her New Hampshire teammate Jennifer Hitchcock, Marykate Oakley (Princeton) and St. Lawrence’s Sabrina Harbec. Fellow Saint Meghan Guckian and Sacred Heart’s Sarah Perry will be the goalies.

Joining Fast on the West side will be Ohio State’s Tessa Bonhomme, Courtney DeHoey (Lake Forest), Karine Demeule (Minnesota Duluth), Bobbi Ross (Minnesota), and Shannon Moulson, (Niagara), along with netminders Laura Hosier (Mercyhurst) and Britni Kehler (Minne State, Mankato).

All of the above are from D-I institutions except for DeHoey, who plays for Carisa Zaban at Lake Forest. Zaban, in her days at UNH, was one of the most dynamic players your faithful correspondent has ever seen (either gender), and would have been a tap-in choice for inclusion had this “Skills Thing” been around a decade ago.

(Didn’t mean to bleed over into D-III colleague Derek Dunning’s territory, but it had to be said.)

As for how one practices for such a showcase, Fast was completely candid.

“I have no idea,” she said.

Fast had a better notion as to making preparation for the best-of-three set with Ohio State, which the Huskies will host.

St. Cloud comes into the WCHA playoffs on a four-game skid.

But considering that all four losses were dealt out by heavyweights Minnesota and Duluth, Fast said the Huskies’ psyche is in fine shape as they brace for the Buckeyes.

“It’s just an exciting time of year to play,” said Fast. “Playoff hockey is great hockey. Our team is just raring to go. We just want to start playoffs, and get through to the end.”

St. Cloud went 2-1-1 against OSU during the season.

“I’m just glad we have the series at home,” said Fast. “Our rink’s a lot bigger than theirs. We’re hoping to make them work more.”

Then again, one Buckeye who thrives on ice time is Bonhomme, the standout blue liner, who besides being ticketed for the Fro4Fest, was also among eight Patty Kazmaier Award finalists (her second such nod) named during the past week.

Bonhomme performed yeoman’s duty against the Huskies, plucking three grapes and two apples (hockey slang, use it or lose it) in the four games. She also launched 21 shots in those tilts while grading out at plus-three.

Fast knows firsthand what a handful Bonhomme can be.

“She’s a great player,” Fast said. “She works really hard. She’s one of their leaders, and you’ve got to battle those kind of players. Respect them, but not give them too much room to do what they can with their skills. She sees the ice really well, and if you give her room, she’ll skate with it. I think not giving her time to (work) is really going to be a factor for us.”