Wednesday Women: Bring on the Frozen Four

Louise Warren (BU - 28), Marie-Philip Poulin (BU - 29) and Kaleigh Fratkin (BU - 13) celebrate Poulin's goal which made it 3-0 early in the second period and stood as the game-winner. (2012 Melissa Wade)

Candace: It’s down to four teams after this past weekend. Three seeds advanced, and there was one upset, as Mercyhurst beat Cornell in OT. Before we get to the games themselves, I want to address something I saw in the highlight video on YouTube here: Right after Kelly Terry gets the goal and she is celebrating, freshman defenseman Sam LaShomb viciously cross-checks her in the back, knocking her to the ice. It happens at about the 59-second mark, and again in an on ice view at 1:09. You pointed out on the USCHO Forum that it’s not the first time LaShomb has engaged in cheap shots after the whistle, as she hooks Maryanne Menefee around the neck after Bozek’s goal about 7 seconds in here:

It would appear that LaShomb should face some sort of sanction and/or suspension from either the WCHA or the NCAA. That cross check on Terry was clearly after the play, and Terry was completely vulnerable. Did you see that happen when you were at the game? You’ve seen several games between North Dakota and Minnesota this year; is that typical of LaShomb?

Arlan: For the postseason, I have one of those vantage points where one goal is directly beneath me and the other net is 200 feet away, and the play in question took place at the far end. So all I saw was a Minnesota player on the ice behind a celebration, and then Baylee Gillanders skating over to Terry and helping her up. So while a wild celebration is taking place a few feet away and the rest of the North Dakota players are attempting to come to grips with such a sudden end to a season in which they invested so much effort, Terry was standing bent over with Gillanders’ arm around her not celebrating at all. It was an odd final image to a very memorable game.

We see worse acts all of the time in all sorts of men’s sporting events. Female athletes, for whatever reason, typically do a better job of channeling their emotions. Maybe that is because it is true of our society as a whole — I don’t remember too many school shootings where the perpetrator was a girl or woman. I have seen past cases where LaShomb became involved with celebrating players, but not to this degree. I don’t know if the league will take action, but I’d hope that she would turn this into a positive on her own. You and I speak with athletes after games frequently. Most can accomplish the comments after a victory fairly well, but those who show poise after a loss — that’s impressive. I interviewed Jessie Vetter after a Frozen Four win and after a Frozen Four loss. She was the same, and from her demeanor, it would have been hard to say whether or team had won or lost. I look at how Mandi Schwartz dealt with far worse than losing a game in such a positive manner, and I think that there are life lessons there for all of us.

Overall, what I’ll take away from that game was how hard North Dakota competed throughout. I thought UND players did a great job of not giving up on plays, even when they appeared to be beaten. I thought that was the difference between Saturday and their previous games with Minnesota. They went toe to toe with the Gophers and maybe bent a few rules, but that’s playoff hockey. I’ll try to avoid letting one bad decision by one player color what was otherwise a great performance.

Candace: Agreed that North Dakota played exceptionally well. Meghan Dufault continues to be a one-woman wrecking crew against Minnesota, assisting on the first goal and scoring with a bullet on a pass by Michelle Karvinen. Judging by the shots on goal, it was a balanced game too, not one where it was solely a goaltender keeping a team in the game. With Shelby Amsley-Benzi, North Dakota has apparently found a goaltender who can stand toe-to-toe with the WCHA’s best, and that bodes well for its future.

Last week, we pondered whether Mercyhurst could take advantage of Cornell’s tendency to need late-game heroics to bail itself out, and they did, though Cornell definitely made a run for it. After the Lakers took a lead on a goal by Caroline Kuczak at 18:47, Jillian Saulnier answered back with an extra-attacker goal at 19:04. However, the Lakers regrouped, and scored early in the overtime to advance to the Frozen Four. Freshman Jenna Dingeldein, who got the game-winner, has emerged as an offensive force for the Lakers. What do you take away from the Lakers’ upset, and what does it mean for Cornell?

Arlan: Certain teams seem to always be playing in overtime at the tourney, and Mercyhurst and Cornell would definitely make that list. The Lakers have gone beyond 60 minutes five times now out of a dozen national tournament games, including both meetings with Cornell. In addition to those two, Cornell has the pair of triple-overtime games on its resume, so the Big Red have gone to OT in half of their eight NCAA contests.

Considering your Cornell question first, win or lose this was going to be the end of an era at Cornell. Rebecca Johnston put the Big Red on the map nationally, but I think that Laura Fortino and Lauriane Rougeau also contributed greatly to the identity of the team. I’d imagine that Brianne Jenner will be gone next year for the Olympics, so the face of Cornell will be vastly different, although they certainly won’t be alone in that regard in the national picture. Doug Derraugh has added a lot of young talent in the last couple of recruiting classes, so his team will be fine, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll be able to run their string of ECAC regular season titles to five.

I wonder if an underdog role might not better suit the Lakers. When they had the Meghan Agosta teams and were more highly ranked, they may have had more talent, but I don’t know if those teams were always as defensively committed. When a team has an abundance of offensive talent and can score at will, some of the lessons on the other end go unlearned. This edition of Mercyhurst can just focus on the next game and not get ahead of itself and be worrying about a national championship before Sunday.

I’m looking forward to seeing the Lakers live, something I haven’t done in over two years. Christine Bestland is such a smooth skater that she is fun to watch. Plus, they have so many people that I’ve never seen, with 15 freshmen and sophomores and four transfers from either Niagara or Wayne State. You mentioned Dingeldein, and Emily Janiga has been right there with her for rookie scoring all year. I’m sure that the Terriers will be favored, but playing Boston University on neutral ice can’t be any more of a challenge than facing the Big Red in Ithaca. Once that puck dropped, being a favorite didn’t help Cornell. Plus, if Minnesota wins the early game, it’s possible that the local fans may cheer for a rematch from 2009 — different players, but same coach and colors for Mercyhurst.

As far as a possible revenge angle between Mercyhurst and BU, either team could make a case as they traded quarterfinal knockouts, but the Lakers have the fresher motive dating back to two years ago. The Terriers have been such a steady team; do you think they present a bigger obstacle than Cornell did for Mercyhurst?

Candace: It’s difficult to say really. Mercyhurst may have been able to play a little freer against Cornell because the Big Red had crushed them pretty badly at the end of January, and no one expected Mercyhurst to win. Against BU, while the Terriers are by seed the favorite, I think more people feel Mercyhurst can win.

The Terriers are interesting in that they don’t have one single player who is a dominating offensive force the way the other three teams in the Frozen Four do, but they have several players who are all very good offensively, and in some ways the Terriers attack is more balanced as a result. Isabel Menard, Sarah Lefort, Jenelle Kohanchuk, and Marie-Philip Poulin all have more than 40 points, and Louise Warren isn’t too far behind with 33 points.

It’s interesting to look at the Terriers’ record as well, because outside of the two disappointing losses in the Beanpot, the Terriers haven’t lost since early November, and only the two ties against Minnesota-Duluth in early December mar that streak of perfection. Since the game against Connecticut where they gave up five goals, the Terriers have clamped down defensively.

You have to give the edge to Stephanie Ciampa of the Lakers in net, but I do sometimes wonder how much of her stats is because Mercyhurst gets four games against Lindenwood and four against Penn State. She’s a good goaltender, but I think Kerrin Sperry of the Terriers might be a little underrated in that department too.

Let’s turn to the other Boston team now. I finally get that match-up I wanted all year between Boston College and Minnesota, although I admittedly wanted it in the final. In our column last week, you predicted the exact score between BC and Harvard. The Eagles definitely have speed. Do you think the win over Harvard was more about Harvard playing badly, especially since the first two goals given up by Emerance Maschmeyer were soft, or do the Eagles have their swagger back in time for a game with Minnesota?

Arlan: One can say that BU has better balance, but on the other hand, the Terriers have five players with more than 30 points while Mercyhurst has seven players that do. That may also be schedule-related as well, but I love statistics, because they can usually be shaped to make just about any point. The bottom line is that all of these teams can score. The top three offenses are represented, and BU at No. 6 with 3.77 goals per game isn’t far from No. 4 Cornell that finished with 3.85.

It was tough to gather too much about BC from Saturday’s game. I was trying to watch the two early games side by side, although I had a bigger window for the game at Cornell and had more volume on that audio, because the audio from BC wasn’t all that useful. As such, I didn’t follow the game as closely as I’d have liked, but Katie King Crowley juggled her lines and started Alex Carpenter and Haley Skarupa on different units, so I suspect she was trying to find some more scoring punch.

The Eagles don’t strike me so much as a team that swaggers as much as it flies. That seems to be a constant no matter when I see them, but the finishing touch can desert them at times. Once they reached three goals on Saturday, I don’t know that they really needed any more, so soft goals may not have been a factor. I think that BC can score, even against Minnesota. If they can draw penalties against the Gophers, the Eagles’ power play, like that of North Dakota, can give Minnesota fits. If the whistles go the other way, then BC is in big trouble, because its penalty kill ranks near the middle.

My guess is that we’ll see a fairly clean game between BC and Minnesota. Neither squad will want to see much of the other team’s power play, so they’ll stay away from the shenanigans. The only way that changes is if the officials call absolutely everything, which is sometimes the case when I see ECAC games. I hope not, because the Eagles and Gophers should put on a show if allowed to play. BC’s best chance is if its speed proves to be more than what Minnesota has seen lately and it can force mistakes. North Dakota had some success in that regard. The risk with forcing tempo too much is that the hosts want a fast game as well. I don’t see a 2-1 final here. Am I wrong; will both coaches fear the other offense and attempt to slow things down?

Candace: Possibly, but I really don’t think either squad fears a shootout either. It’s a cliché that defense wins championships, but there are different ways to have that work. An offense that can generate lots of goals and control the play is just as effective as a hot goaltender who has to make 60 saves. I would think that both coaches though respect the other squad’s power play, so I would imagine you are right that they will make it a point to get their players to avoid taking penalties. As long as things don’t get too out of control, I think the refs will allow the teams to skate. Given the speed on both teams, I would imagine it will be a high-tempo, back and forth game.

I think it’s important for Minnesota to keep BC from grabbing a lead. It’s hard to know how much that triple OT game took out of the Gophers. Playing North Dakota six times in a year is tough, and the last two were very close. The Gophers essentially played two games last Saturday, and with the perfect season on the line, it’s possible that winning against a rival like that took a lot out of them emotionally. BC, on the other hand, has to feel like it redeemed its season by making a third consecutive Frozen Four, especially after falling short in the Beanpot, Hockey East regular season, and Hockey East Tournament. I could, of course, be overthinking things too, and the Gophers have the added advantage of being at home in the friendly confines of Ridder, with a no doubt very partisan crowd supporting them. Watching the highlights against North Dakota, the arena looked full, and if the crowd is that large for this weekend, it could help them recharge the emotional batteries. You were at the game against North Dakota last Saturday; do you think the win against North Dakota leaves Minnesota poised to be upset, or will they be recharged?

Arlan: I’m sure that the double-length game had some impact at the time, but I don’t see it mattering much by Friday. I watched Minnesota defenseman Rachel Ramsey’s former high school team last month win a game on a Thursday night, win a six-overtime game the next night that finished up after 1:00 a.m., and then win the championship on Saturday night. If a high-school team can perform playing all of those minutes in the space of three days, I don’t see it being any excuse for college-age women who should be better conditioned. When Minnesota’s seniors were freshmen, they played into the third overtime in the second game of a WCHA quarterfinal versus Minnesota State, went to double overtime the next weekend against Ohio State, and had to play Minnesota-Duluth early the next day, and then went to overtime against Clarkson in the NCAA quarterfinal. These players are accustomed to playing 120 minutes every weekend anyway. Plus, unlike the rest of the field, the Gophers don’t have to travel.

As for the perfect season, I don’t think that matters one bit to them at this point. They want the trophy, and so does everyone else. So from an emotional aspect, Saturday is more positive than negative. They’ve looked into the abyss and survived to play another day. If they get into difficulty on Friday, they’ve been in trouble with their season on the line and found a way through it, so they have that to draw upon.

The announced attendance on Saturday night was 2,750, and seating capacity on the main level is 3,100, but it felt full. North Dakota had a good number of fans, so there was energy both ways. The Frozen Four is already announced as a sellout, but I expect some more tickets to become available if the teams from the East return any of their allotment. I believe that the Gophers were scheduled into the early game to make it at least feasible for fans to attend the women’s game and then head over to St. Paul to watch the Minnesota men’s team in the WCHA Tournament. It’s possible that there will be some no shows from people who can’t make Friday but bought the package to ensure having a ticket for Sunday if needed. In any case, I do expect a partisan crowd.

However, the biggest advantage I think that they have versus Boston College is Noora Räty. She had one of the shakiest outings of her career two years ago against BC, so I’m sure she welcomes one more opportunity to play the Eagles. Whenever she has felt like she had something to prove while at Minnesota, she has delivered. She likes the pressure and thrives on it. Perhaps the Eagles are good enough to beat Räty at her very best, but I think that is what is going to be required of them.

Depending on who the Olympic teams select or leave on college teams, BC could very well be the favorite next year. From that standpoint, perhaps they represent the future. For the present, as good as the Eagles are, I think it is still the Gophers.

Candace: I agree with that assessment. Räty has just been so strong, really in many ways a level above any goaltender BC has played all year. That’s not to knock some of the outstanding goalies BC has played and beaten, such as Sperry, Maschmeyer, and Erica Howe. But really, Räty is just on another plane, and perhaps matched only by Alex Rigsby of Wisconsin. At the same time, I’m not sure Minnesota has played a team that is as fast as Boston College, so I’m expecting fireworks, and most likely a one-goal game.

What’s your take on how the other semifinal will play out. You went into detail on Mercyhurst and the skating of Christine Bestland the play of Ciampa, but haven’t really gone over what you think of the Terriers. Do you see BU making its second national championship game in three years, or do you see Mercyhurst getting back to the final for the first time since 2009. Interestingly enough, both Boston University and Mercyhurst lost to Wisconsin in their only appearance in the title game. I also find it somewhat ironic that when Mercyhurst played Wisconsin in 2009, it was at Agganis Arena on the BU campus. Frankly, extra sessions wouldn’t surprise me in that game.

This will be our last WW column of the year. Once again, I want to thank you for providing your insights each week into the game we love so much. Hopefully, our readers enjoy this column as much as we do.

Arlan: BC is fast, but I don’t know that they are much faster than teams like Minnesota-Duluth and St. Lawrence that Minnesota did play. The other thing to consider is when you practice against people like Kessel and Terry every day, you’ve definitely seen speed.

I struggle mightily with BU. I just saw them that one game in Duluth, and they didn’t score. Not even once. You mentioned the Terriers not having a dominating offensive force, and that is an odd comment to make about a team that has Poulin, but the numbers bear it out. She should be dominating; when the puck is on her stick, the electricity in the arena crackles. She has a strong line with Lefort and Kohanchuk, and in any given game, they can explode. But because I’ve seen them be held in check and the season numbers aren’t what I’d expect, I’m left to wonder if a Mike Sisti can figure out a way to limit them and hold Menard’s line down at the same time. My head says no, because while Mercyhurst has beaten the likes of Clarkson, BC, and Cornell, it took two tries to do so on each occasion. This time, the Lakers only get one shot.

I’ve learned not to put too much stock in what my head thinks, especially because my gut says Mercyhurst. It doesn’t make sense, but Ciampa seems to be having a charmed season in a year when dreams are possible. Just like all of the ECAC teams lost in the quarters, I see the Hockey East teams falling in the semifinals. Lakers 2, Terriers 1.

This column is a great gig — watch hockey and then talk about it. I only have to read the comments under content on the men’s side for a couple of minutes to realize that our readers are very easy on us. Thanks to them for reading, all of the players, coaches, and media communications contacts for their assistance all season, and to you, Candace, for fleecing me of another six pack. As the saying goes, a fool and his money are soon parted.

Candace: The beer was tasty Arlan! Thanks again, and have fun at the Frozen Four in Minneapolis. We look forward to reading your coverage of the event.