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

It may be a small sign, but a significant one nonetheless, of how far women’s college hockey has come.

That two teams who are far behind the sport’s elite, namely Maine and Vermont, can hook up to produce a dandy of a hockey game.

Over the ages, we’ve seen some doozies, from the five-overtime Providence College/New Hampshire marathon to just about any clash any two of the three-headed WCHA hydra that is Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Minne-Duluth. But you tend to expect that from the top teams in the country.

So the 3-2 shootout between two Hockey East also-rans (okay, the WHEA‘s two cellar dwellers), captured by Vermont and staged in (of all places) Lewiston, Maine, showed itself to be a pleasant surprise.

“From a fans’ perspective, I think it was a pretty fun game to watch,” said Maine coach Dan Lichterman, whose team was on the short end of the score. “There were a lot of scoring chances. For both sides. Then it goes to the shootout, which one of the reasons as coaches we wanted that was for the fans. It was a good game. I think both these teams are getting better.”

As hockey exhibitions go, this one had just about everything. Both sides authored impressive scoring plays, scintillating saves, and a riveting shootout that went two rounds beyond the specified three. All this from a pair of teams that had combined for just one WHEA win in 10 tries.

“We haven’t been in one of these (shootouts) yet,” said Catamounts defenseman Teddy Fortin, who hails from Brunswick, Maine, about an hour away from Lewiston. “I was a little nervous when he (Bothwell) called my name. But we pulled it off.”

The ending was a 180 turn from the beginning, which saw Maine’s Taryn Peacock lash in two goals in a shade under three minutes. The second of those tallies was an eye-popper, and came when she rerouted Amy Stech’s pass from the left wall under the cross bar, past Vermont goalie Kristen Olychuck.

That was followed by a rousing response by the Catamounts, who exploited a string of Maine infractions to the tune of two goals. Peggy Wakeham’s stuffer with 7:13 gone in the third knotted the affair, 2-2.

Both teams were in unfamiliar territory. The Black Bears had rarely squandered any two-goal leads, primarily because they haven’t had many. And for goal challenged Vermont, trailing by two at any point has usually proved fatal.

“A year ago, if we got two goals down, we’d get down in the dumps,” said Fortin, “and it was hard for us to get out of that hole. This year, we have locker room intensity. Everyone brought themselves up. We started working our butts off for the entire game. It was a good feeling to come from behind.”

By contrast, Lichterman said that his team had only itself to blame for coughing up what was a winnable game.

“We stuck to our game plan for about 10 minutes and then we didn’t play a simple game,” he said. “We tried to be a fancy team instead of a station-to-station team. We had a chance to put them away early, but we turned the puck over too many times. We didn’t play smart.”

Even so, the Black Bears did enough things right to feel good about themselves.
Near the top of the list was one outrageous save pulled off by goalie Genevieve Turgeon to rob Vermont’s Kyleigh Palmer that would have given the Cats a third period lead.

Meanwhile, Vermont coach Tim Bothwell felt that pulling out a win, no matter who the opponent is, is one more brick in the road to respectability.

“It’s very significant,” he said. “For us, we have to build one little step at a time. For us, this was our fourth road win this year. We’d never won four games on the road before. That’s a little step for us to take, and we’re very happy about that. We know we’ve still got a ways to go, but we like the direction we’re headed in.”

The contest was held at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, a loud and venerable old barn that houses the Lewiston Maineiacs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Situated about two hours south of Maine’s campus in Orono, the game was played here on a stormy Tuesday night before a crowd of about 300 that sounded far larger. It’s part of Maine’s effort to broaden the appeal of its women’s hockey program to other corners of the state.

“I think having this event in Lewiston was a great showcase for women’s college hockey,” said Lichterman, “and how good the players are. Hopefully, this won’t be the only women’s college hockey game they see.”

Maine’s teams — primarily football, basketball, and men’s hockey — usually play a few games each year in Portland, the state’s largest city. The idea to bring women’s puck to Lewiston grew out of a youth clinic that featured Lichterman and some of the Black Bears.

“That’s one of the things we wanted to do in bringing the game here,” he said. “Bring it to the fans instead of making them come to Orono or Burlington. I think on the whole, it was a good day for college hockey. I just wish it was a different outcome for the Black Bears.”