A few of the big stories this weekend — Mercyhurst certainly has proven itself among the elite now, if there was any remaining doubt. Minnesota keeps finding a way to be competitive. And how about UConn?
Minnesota 3, Wisconsin 3 — Just when it looked like the Gophers were going to fall to 0-3 in games against the nation’s top two teams, they found a way to pull it out. I’ll certainly admit to having underestimated Minnesota at times over the past six seasons, but it’s one of those programs that just keeps finding a way to get it done… Had it not been for the comeback, Wisconsin’s Meghan Duggan would have had both lasting lead goals this weekend. Not bad for a freshman.
Mercyhurst 5, Dartmouth 3, Mercyhurst 1, Dartmouth 0 — It was great to see the Lakers get a four-digit crowd for the second straight weekend. The Saturday game had more fans than either of the dueling “states of hockey.” Just how good is this Mercyhurst team? The Lakers were very much neck-and-neck with both New Hampshire and Wisconsin last season. Then the Lakers added a blue-ribbon Olympian in Meghan Agosta. Players like Laura Hosier and Stefanie Bourbeau who have shown flashes of brilliance in the past are starting to be more consistently brilliant as they gain experience. At this point, I would be surprised not to see this team in Lake Placid in March.
As for Dartmouth, Mercyhurst was a tough draw for an opening weekend, but the team certainly learned more from playing the Lakers this weekend then by not playing them at all — and likely there were not too many empty weekends on either team’s schedule. Thankfully, with eight-team tournament in place since 2005, teams can schedule tough games early on without worrying as much about the NCAA consequences.
Funny thing is that most people whose women’s hockey exposure consists of the 2006 Olympics would be surprised by Dartmouth’s No. 7 ranking and 0-2 start given the standout Olympic performances by Cherie Piper, Gillian Apps, and Sarah Parsons. The reality though is that Piper and Apps have been top players but not consistently dominant players in college hockey. And Parsons as a young U.S. Olympian isn’t necessarily going to have a bigger impact than top Canadian recruits (and talk about a snake-bitten career opener, breaking her skate in the first period). While the Olympians in college hockey are certainly among the top players, they cannot be expected to stand out as freshmen like Jennifer Botterill and Angela Ruggiero in 1999 or Julie Chu, Natalie Darwitz, and Krissy Wendell in 2003. Dartmouth still has plenty of talent this year, and the return of Katie Weatherston, who has been Dartmouth’s most consistently productive player throughout her career, would help out a lot.
UConn 8, Maine 3, UConn 1, Providence 0Ã‚Â — I admit these scores surprised me a bit. The Huskies were the hot team at the end of 2004-05, and Jaclyn Hawkins was the USCHO Rookie of the Year. While expectations last season were tempered by graduation, UConn was still disappointing given the talent on the roster. Now the Huskies are 5-1, and Jaclyn Hawkins is putting up huge numbers. Hockey East opponents beware. I don’t forsee the Huskies in the hunt for an NCAA at-large berth this season (the current top eight plus a few more are just really, really good), but a good UConn team could certainly play spoiler in the Hockey East Tournament come March.
St. Lawrence 5, Clarkson 1 — This win completed a sweep of Clarkson by the Saints, their first ever. While the Saints’ sweep is not shocking, I expected Clarkson to make this a tougher fight. On the other hand, maybe St. Lawrence is just that good. While the Saints were a title contender last year, they did not get four points against the ECACHL’s other top teams in the polls — Clarkson, Harvard, and Princeton (they did sweep Brown, who finished third in the standings). This weekend was impressive.