Wednesday Women: Analyzing the upsets

Candace: Well Arlan, last weekend was quite the weekend for the underdog, as you addressed in your column. Of all the upsets, what stands out most for you? For me, I’d have to say the most surprising was Syracuse tying Mercyhurst.

Arlan: I can see that, given the history, and Mercyhurst owning a perfect all-time mark versus the Orange coming into that game. However, that was just a tie, and it seems that favored teams display more desperation when behind than they do when the game is even. Different teams surprised me for different reasons. St. Lawrence had the most surprising week as a whole, but the Saints hadn’t been that far away, so I guess it makes sense that they’d be able to take advantage of teams missing key players. Even though Bemidji had lost to Minnesota State before, I didn’t expect them to lose again at home. Any time that St. Cloud State wins, it is a surprise. They hadn’t beaten a team as good as Ohio State in almost three years, and it was surprising that they did so after blowing a 3-0 lead. But if I had to pick just one, I think I’d go with Princeton’s win over Harvard. The Crimson looked like they had found something and were rolling along after the comeback victory at Dartmouth. Now, Harvard is back in that large pack of teams that don’t pose much of a threat to Cornell after surrendering rather meekly to the Tigers.

What surprised you more, that Mercyhurst wasn’t on its game, or that Syracuse was able to take advantage?

Candace: A little of both to tell you the truth, but probably the former the most. Even without the Bram sisters, Mercyhurst had Christine Bestland, Kelley Steadman, and Molly Byrne. Considering they torched the Orange for eight goals in game one, the fact the Lakers could only score one in game two was really surprising. Mercyhurst outshot the Orange 34-15, so at least part of the win must have been the play of Kallie Billadeau, but even if she stood on her head, only getting one goal with all those offensive standouts is surprising.

You mentioned St. Lawrence taking four points against the two top squads in Hockey East, and I don’t think either of us saw that coming, but St. Lawrence has been kind of on the cusp a lot this year. Harvard however, losing to Princeton, was so surprising that I did a double take when I saw the box score. Usually when a team is upset, a hot goalie is at least part of the issue, but Harvard got outshot in the game 26-20. What do you think is going on with the Crimson?

Arlan: Harvard isn’t a very deep team, it played Tuesday, Friday and Saturday last week, and it was without Canadian U-22 player Sarah Edney, so perhaps the energy level coming out of the break wasn’t quite where it needed to be. Princeton has produced some good defensive outings, holding Cornell to three goals and Ohio State to three goals over two games the previous week. Perhaps in my mind I was giving the Crimson a bit too much credit. More and more it is looking like there are three teams at the top, and the next grouping of teams are vulnerable against a wide variety of competition. Harvard had its hands full the next day with Quinnipiac and needed third-period heroics with goals by Lyndsey Fry and Marissa Gedman to salvage a point, so I’d say that it belongs in the very good grouping, not the elite grouping, and perhaps when all of the sorting is done, the Crimson will be looking up at the Bobcats. The state of the game is definitely not what it was a few years ago where an observer could rank the teams before the season and a very high percentage of them would play to form.

Lost a bit among the upsets, Dartmouth got the best of Quinnipiac in Hamden by a 3-2 score, a game that you correctly predicted. Do you have the strength of the Big Green figured out, or is it just timing and knowing when they’ll play like a contender and when they’ll come back to the pack?

Candace: Honestly I think it may have been timing. I sort of figured that Quinnipiac might come out a little tight after playing some easier squads during its win streak. I think Dartmouth has the weapons to be dangerous against almost everyone. Maybe the Big Green are finally going to start generating a little consistency in the second half. They play Rensselaer and Union this weekend, so it does give them an opportunity to build on last weekend. Looking at Dartmouth’s season to date, they’ve had trouble scoring at times, and aside from the OT loss to New Hampshire, have done well if they can score more than two goals a game. If they can start getting a little more scoring from their second and third lines, it will go a long way to building consistency.

Last week, we both picked Maine to top Boston University, especially since the Terriers were without Isabel Ménard. However, we didn’t know at that time that Marie-Philip Poulin was returning to the lineup. Poulin assisted on the game-winner. With Ménard back from international competition and four games coming up against weaker teams, it seems like the schedule is in favor of the Terriers making a second half push. Or am I reading too much into Poulin’s return?

Arlan: The Terriers were also without Tara Watchorn last weekend, and when I’ve watched them, she’s been one of their steadier performers. You are right that having Poulin back can definitely make a difference. The questions remains, how much of an impact can she make and how soon? Is she healthy, is she in game shape, how much rust has accumulated? We’ll have to wait and see. BU got a goal and an assist in the win from both Jenn Wakefield and Kayla Tutino, who is its leading goal scorer with 12. Contributions will need to continue to come from those and other players until Poulin is able to do her usual damage, because one close win over an up-and-down team like Maine doesn’t necessarily indicate that all problems are over. The Terriers’ losses during the first half make them very vulnerable. If they start playing like a top team, they need to severely limit the number of points that they lose from here on out, or they won’t have a shot at an at-large berth. Even if BU makes the NCAA field, the odds are high that it will open with a road game against one of the sport’s heavyweights. That could make for a very interesting first-round matchup, particularly should they draw a Cornell team with a revenge motive.

Even though Providence still shows up in the conference mix in the standings, the Friars haven’t demonstrated any consistent level of play against the top teams, so I’m expecting the Hockey East regular-season crown to go to Northeastern or BC, despite the slight nonconference bobble by each last week. That makes their meeting next Tuesday huge. Who do you see coming out on top in that one? Will it be more of the same with the Eagles taking a third straight meeting, or will the Huskies take another step on their ascension?

Candace: Are you trying to get me to tip my hand in our picks race early? Hmmm. Honestly, I think it will be a third straight Eagles win. Kendall Coyne has done exceptionally well for Northeastern, but Alex Carpenter is playing really well for BC, and her experience at the international level last week should help her get even better. I watched some of Northeastern’s game against Clarkson last week, and they looked dangerous and speedy, but then the Huskies came out flat against St. Lawrence when they had all the momentum and motivation on their side. BC is just a deeper team, and with a Beanpot game against those same Huskies a couple of weeks after Tuesday’s game, I think Katie King will have her charges firing on all cylinders. Northeastern wasn’t close in the two losses to BC earlier in the year, and even though Coyne keeps getting better, I don’t think Northeastern as a whole is quite at that next level yet. I think it will be closer than the last two games, but still expect BC to come out on top.

Let’s move out to your neck of the woods now. Saturday night’s loss to Minnesota marked the first time in nearly two years that Wisconsin had been shutout. What did you see in that game from the nation’s top two squads?

Arlan: Good goaltending. Alex Rigsby and Noora Räty combined to stop 83 of 84 shots Saturday by two top-five offenses. Rigsby played great all weekend. The Gophers were missing a pair of forwards from their top two lines, Emily West and Sarah Davis, so their offense wasn’t quite at full strength. Minnesota does have good depth in terms of players able to step in and skate in a game at this pace, and several of their younger players played well, but at this point, they aren’t big scorers. All four of Minnesota’s goals on the weekend originated with outside shots by defensemen, with Jen Schoullis getting one goal on a deflection. That is a dimension that Minnesota has that some of the other top teams lack, in that their blue line can generate a lot of punch, particularly Megan Bozek and Anne Schleper. Defenseman Kelly Seeler has been battling injuries for several weeks and has been in and out of the lineup; an injury knocked her out of Friday’s game, and it was doubtful that she’d play on Saturday, yet she did and scored the only goal.

I spoke to Hilary Knight after Saturday’s game, and she made a statement to the effect that Wisconsin did not show up for the second game. I don’t think that their effort was as bad as that, although they were dominated in the first period. Knight obviously doesn’t have a lot of experience getting shutout at UW, as it is nearly three years ago that a Wisconsin team with her on the ice was held without a goal, that coming in a 4-0 loss in Duluth while I believe Mark Johnson was away coaching the United States U-18 team. The Badgers were playing short-handed as well in Minneapolis. Their highest-scoring rookie, Blayre Turnbull, was out, and defensemen Brittany Haverstock and Saige Pacholok were playing for Canada’s U-22 team. While neither provides much offense, I’m sure that the Badgers missed them in their own zone and the transition game. Räty was able to limit Wisconsin and all of its firepower to three goals in 125 minutes, and I’m sure Minnesota would be willing to live with that rate of production.

This week, both teams go on the road to face formidable opponents that have been sitting back preparing for these games, as they were idle last weekend. Wisconsin is in Grand Forks, and while North Dakota no longer has a nickname, they no doubt have been waiting for this rematch since October. Meanwhile, the Gophers head to Duluth to renew their rivalry with UMD. One doesn’t see the same number of high-caliber games in a short period of time in the other conferences these days. In the WCHA, there is no time to regroup. Which of the top two teams do you feel is more vulnerable this weekend?

Candace: You’ll probably disagree with me, but I have to go with Minnesota. Coming off an emotional series with Wisconsin and then going into the opposing barn of one of their greatest rivals? I would be very surprised if that series didn’t end in a split. Even though the Bulldogs have been up and down all season, I think that Shannon Miller knows how to get her team up for a series with Minnesota. Back in November, Duluth lost two close games in Ridder, so I think home ice is good for at least a win.

With North Dakota and Wisconsin, I think the Badgers have a good chance to sweep; I think North Dakota’s defense is more vulnerable than Wisconsin’s, especially with Haverstock and Pacholok  back in action. I also see a potentially interesting weekend for another “Red” team, as Cornell has games against Quinnipiac and Princeton. Any chance the Tigers could pull another upset?

Arlan: Sure. However, it’s not a very good chance. The Big Red are playing three games this week, so between that and the demands of traveling to Europe and playing a tournament, Cornell could be worn out by Saturday. I don’t feel that the Tigers are equipped to win a scoring contest against Cornell like Dartmouth and Mercyhurst did, so they’ll probably need to win 2-1 or 1-0. That’s a tall order with the talent level in Ithaca. Quinnipiac likely has a better shot, but I still don’t have a handle on what we’re likely to see any time out from the Bobcats. With the signs of life shown by Princeton and St. Lawrence, Cornell’s upcoming schedule looks stronger than it did at one point.

I was impressed by the Saints when I watched them Friday for the first time. They passed well, and exhibited a lot of poise with the puck. Kudos to them for losing leads against both BC and Northeastern, but digging deep and going on to win each time.

Other than the remaining game with Cornell, Mercyhurst will be seeing only CHA competition the rest of the way, starting with a home-and-home this weekend with Niagara. Robert Morris has drifted back toward the middle of late, and that’s where the Purple Eagles have been for much of the season. Do you think any of them will be able to take points from the Lakers, or will the Syracuse tie be it?

Candace: If I were a betting woman, I would say no, it won’t happen. With Bailey Bram back and complimenting Bestland, Byrne and Steadman, there’s just too much firepower for the other CHA squads to tamp down. I’d give both Niagara and Robert Morris an outside shot at nabbing a tie, but while those squads have been playing bottom-tier teams from the other leagues, Mercyhurst has run a gauntlet against some of the best women’s D-I teams in the country. That gives them a leg up in addition to the Lakers’ potent offense. Also, frankly, I think the Lakers will be pretty angry about the Syracuse game for the rest of the year, and won’t let themselves come out flat the rest of the way.