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

It’s not often that a spirited, high-octane hockey tilt leaves everybody feeling groovy (if not warm and fuzzy).

That’s one thing that made Sunday’s exhibition featuring the U.S. National Team and a squad of WHEA All-Stars, staged at UNH, stand out: there were no bad guys. Only good guys.

Which gave the vocal Whittemore Center turnout fodder for non-stop cheering.

“At first, we didn’t know who they were cheering for,” said Maine forward Amy Stech. “I felt like we should have been the bad guys. We’re supposed to lose those games. Luckily, Team USA did all right.”

It didn’t hurt that the All-Stars boasted a trio of ‘Cats – Micaela Long, Kelly Paton, and Courtney Birchard – in their midst. Or that Kacey Bellamy, UNH Class of ’09 and one of the greatest of all the Wildcats, was anchoring the Nationals blue line.

“It was great,” said Bellamy, who had to make the unaccustomed trip to the visitors’ dressing room. “I came in and it felt like I never left. I miss the place … I really do. But you’ve got to move on, and what we’re doing in Minnesota is great, too. It was different, but it was okay.”

As for the game itself, three numbers jumped out. The first was 1-0, which was the slim lead held by the Nationals after one period.

“It was pretty interesting,” said Bellamy. “They really gave us a game, (which) I didn’t think they would. I don’t know if it was us coming out slow, or what. But the Hockey East All-Stars really impressed me. It was interesting playing against my old teammates.”

Not that the All-Stars were dreaming about an upset at that point. But they weren’t getting hammered, either.

“I was just thinking that we should get more (than two) shots on net,” said Boston College bench boss Katie King, who directed the All-Stars. “We had some opportunities in the first where we could have taken a few more shots. We passed them up to make a better play.”

The second salient number was the 41 worn by Northeastern goalie Florence Schelling, a nom apropos because that’s what the Nationals did to her in her 30 minute stint.

Yet she left with just one goal allowed for 19 shots leveled at her. Still, the Swiss sophomore was unruffled by the bombardment. She was too busy to notice, and besides, she was enjoying herself, in a weird, goalie kind of way.

“We had absolutely nothing to lose,” said Schelling. “We came out, and had fun playing.”

Finally there was the impressive turnout, numbering 1,805, and is among the largest Eastern crowds ever to witness women’s hockey. Which, even if unintended, is an important happy consequence of the Qwest Tour. Any opportunity to turn some fertile earth at the grass roots level – through games, clinics, and meet and greets – is worth making use of.

“I think it’s extemely important,” said U.S. Coach Mark Johnson. “Obviously, we’re looking for competition. But in the big picture, we’re trying to create interest in women’s hockey. Whether it’s the job, or part of our responsibility, in an Olympic year when we tour around, to be able to expose our top level players, and help (fans) realize how good these young ladies are in this sport. As we go through the tour, you see a lot of young ladies coming to the rink for the first time, with a smile on their face.”

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