This Week in D-I Women’s Hockey: Feb. 27, 2009

A note to anyone reading this. This is the annual column where the word “I” will be used. Sparingly to be sure, but used none the less.

I’m an old married guy (20-plus years of connubial bliss) and never experienced the pleasures (or is that pressures) of speed dating.

Yet I feel as though I learned all that can be known about the subject one day last fall during the ECAC’s preseason coaches’ conference call, set up by the league’s PR maven, Ed Krajewski.

You know the drill, each of the women’s league’s 12 head coaches comes on for about five minutes to answer questions about the upcoming season (among other topics).

Except this year, your faithful correspondent (okay, I) was the only media member on the call.

Which means I had each of the ECAC’s dozen coaches all to myself, rapid fire style, one after another, for five minutes.

Ding. Time’s up.

“Next up is…”

On and on we went. Ed was settin’ ‘em up, and I was layin’ ‘em down. Alphabetically, beginning with Union’s Claudia Asano, right through Yale’s Hilary Witt. Keeping the questions coming, and the conversation going. Just like speed dating, or so I’m led to believe.

At any rate, that talk marathon was one of the highlights of the season for me.
It also produced some good insight into some of the primo players of the ECAC. (Prepare for the segue).

Among them was Harvard coach Katey Stone’s take on her incomparable forward, Sarah Vaillancourt.

This week Vaillancourt added her second straight Ivy League POY award to a trophy case that already includes one Patty Kazmaier Award and surely must have room for another. Asked whether Vaillancourt had more potential to be tapped into, Stone said she felt there was.

“I think she’s got more,” she said. “She’s a tremendous talent right now. She’s incredibly intense, and that’s probably the reason why she’s so good. But, the older you get, your eyes get a little bigger, and you see things a little bit differently. She’s got plenty of room to grow, and she’s already a better player this year than she was last year.”

The ECAC’s “other Sarah”, Sarah Parsons of Dartmouth, came up in conversation with her coach Mark Hudak. Hudak noted Parsons’ ability to singlehandedly take over a game, making her teammates better while making the opposition beg for mercy.

“She’s one of those players who can make a difference in that game. And not just offensively, but defensively.”

Hudak said that Parsons brought a finely trained eye for detail to each Big Green game.

“I think back to last year,” he said. “It was a pretty tight game. There were battles all over the ice. I Think Sarah had six blocked shots. One of those ended turning into a 2-on-1 which we scored on, which I believe was the game-winner. She didn’t get an assist, and she didn’t get the goal. But what she did in the defensive end made a huge difference for us.”

Maybe my favorite snippet came in my exchange with Brown’s Digit Murphy, whom I used to cover quite a bit when I strung lots of college games for the Providence Journal.

We talked about sophomore defenseman Stephanie Stortini, who, yes, is the sister of Edmonton Oilers’ tough guy Zack Stortini. The first thing I wondered was whether the Stortini Sibs play in the same roughhouse manner.

“The funny thing is,” she said, “we have these team pictures of the kids down the hallway (at Meehan Auditorium). And Stortini’s got boxing gloves on. That‘s indicative of the family tree.”

You see what the all the other hockey scribes missed out on?

Thursday saw the awarding of next year’s Womens Frozen Four to the University of Minnesota, while, for the first time ever, Erie, Pa., will stage the event in 2011, to be hosted by Mercyhurst College.

The interesting thing there is that the action will take place in Tullio Arena, home of the OHL’s Erie Otters, and a building which is distinctive for two reasons.

The first is that the press box is completely enclosed, which for an indoor facility is an oddity. Sort of like an airplane control tower. And the second is that the north wall of the arena runs parallel to the outfield fence at Jerry Uht Park, the home of the Double-A Erie SeaWolves. I’ve been to one hockey game at Tullio, but have covered several games at the adjacent ball park.
I’ve seen many a ball yanked off the Tullio façade, although I have yet to see one of its windows shatter.

As well, the Tullio basement serves as the both the home and visitors clubhouses, which means one has to walk across the outfield and through the fence to get there.

It is one of the more interesting sports venue set ups in North America, and should prove to be a fine site for the WFF.

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