This Week in D-I Women’s Hockey: October 30, 2009

Don’t look now, but …

What’s up with the CHA, anyway?

Syracuse is suddenly respectable. Wayne State is, as we all know, still unpredictable. And Mercyhurst, is, well, still the top-ranked team in the land.

Let’s start with the Orange.

The second-year program appears to be making great strides under head coach Paul Flanagan. Syracuse is fresh off its most impressive weekend in its brief history, having swept RPI (finalists in the ECAC tourney last year) in two games … on enemy ice, no less.

The kicker (which as you’ll see was a poor choice of words) was the five-minute major (and game disqualification) assessed to RPI’s Allysen Weidner for kicking an opponent, which opened the gates to three power-play goals by the Orange.

Syracuse had started the year 0-4-1, but three of the losses were one-goalers to Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. As it is, Flanagan, the architect of the Tournament teams at St. Lawrence, seems to have built his Orange into CHA contenders well ahead of schedule.

Meanwhile, WSU – which has been Mercyhurst’s prime rival for CHA supremacy – has been tough to get a handle on. Perhaps the Warriors are still trying to figure themselves out after losing their top four scorers (Melissa Boal, Lindsay DiPietro, Sam Poyton, and Natalie Payne) to graduation.

Twice they have skated to scoreless ties in regulation, although in their latest start last Saturday at Colgate, they did get Veronique Laramee-Paquette’s game winner in overtime.

Then there is Mercyhurst, which upped its mark to 6-0-0 with a pair of 4-1 wins at Cornell. That was good enough in the eyes of USCHO’s pollsters to retain its No. 1 ranking. The Lakers, who have outscored their foes 24-5, are in for their toughest test to date, when No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth rolls into Erie for a pair.

With Niagara seemingly back on the rise and Robert Morris capable of surprises, it will be mighty interesting to see what happens when the CHA foes start beating up on each other in a week’s time.

A Bulldog’s fight

Last winter in this space, we told you about the gallant off-ice battle waged by Yale forward Mandi Schwartz, who was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia.

Schwartz was forced to leave the Bulldogs and school to undergo a rigorous series of treatments back in her native Saskatchewan, which included bone marrow transplants.

At the time, the outlook for Schwartz’s recovery was uncertain.

Finally, there is good news. Make that great news.

According to Yale coach Hilary Witt, Schwartz is in remission and will be able to return to New Haven to resume her senior year.

“She’s doing great,” said Witt. “She’s looking forward to getting back, and getting herself physically healthy. Hopefully, she’ll be stepping back on the ice as an Eli again someday.”

In response to Schwartz’s situation, Yale held several fundraisers and bone marrow drives. An initiative held in April resulted in the testing of over 700 potential donors, which is believed to be a record for an event of that kind.

“When something like that happens,” said Witt, “it takes the wind right out of you. It was one of the most awful experiences as a coach you can go through. To have one of your players have to live with that, and fight for their life. As a team, we rallied around her, emotionally, very well. I was very proud of them.”

Whether Schwartz, who had played in 73 straight contests for Yale before being stricken, can fully complete her comeback by playing again remains to be seen.
Still, miracles do happen, and according to Witt, Schwartz is gearing up for the day she can wear the Blue and White again.

“It’s her ultimate goal,” Witt said, “to get back and skate on this team, again. Obviously, we would welcome that with open arms. (But) as her coach, and someone who cares about her, I just want her to be healthy for the rest of her life. It’s an added bonus if she can play hockey again.”

Yale, which battled Providence to a 2-2 tie in last Friday’s season opener, will dive into ECAC play with a tough North Country trip to face No. 7 St. Lawrence and No. 3 Clarkson (whose 6-2 thumping of No. 4 New Hampshire came a shock to many, including this guy).

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