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Shannon Miller said she has never been involved in a scoreless game before. And I can’t remember the last time I saw one. But beyond that, the best women’s game of the WCHA season might well have been Sunday afternoon’s 0-0 tie between UMD and Boston University.
The two had never played before, with UMD holding a position of high prominence in women’s hockey since the WCHA started a dozen years ago, and Boston University working slowly but surely up from the ranks of also-ran to contender.
The teams were nearly as good Saturday afternoon, when both teams had their chances, but the game ended up in a 2-2 deadlock. Jenelle Kohanchuk scoed on a fast-breaking 2-on1 rush to put BU up 1-0 midway through the first period, and it stayed that way until the third period when Bridgette Lacquette fired a shot that deflected in off a defenseman for a 1-1 tie.
“It went off my defenseman’s foot,” said BU goaltender Kerrin Sperry. “There were a lot of shots I couldn’t see; that one I could see.”
Lacquette, a sophomore defenseman who often appears reluctant to pass, made a strong rush up the left side with 3:40 remaining, pulled up as if to shoot, then passed across the slot where Zoe Hickely lifted her eighth goal over goaltender Kerrin Sperry.
“I saw Zoe coming off the bench, and we hit the blue line about the same time,” said Lacquette. “Their girl on defense committed to me, so I passed it over to Zoe.”
At the finish, BU had to show its true character. Trailing 2-1, the Terriers appeared to score, but after a lengthy review, the officials waved off the goal with 2:51 to play. But with 2:09 to go, they came right back on attack and Kathryn Miller fired a shot form the blue line that somehow got through traffic and went in for the 2-2 tie. UMD outshot BU 30-23.
BU coach Brian Durocher -- a former BU goaltender himself, back when he alternated with future Olympian Jim Craig -- appreciated both the game and the goal. “It was a real good game for both of us,” he said. “In the first period, they had the edge and we were fortunate to come out of it with a 1-0 lead. We killed off a 5-minute penalty in the seocnd period, then they got a couple in the third. That second one was a beautiful pass, and Hickel made a nice shot, getting it up and over Kerrin. Duluth is as good a skating team as we’ve seen.”
Durocher is calm and never seems flustered, and, after coaching men’s teams, he’s brought the Terriers women’s program along with the same steady hand. “We were sixth, then fifth, then fourth, third and second in Hockey East,” he said. “We hope we can keep improving by one tier. I told our players that these teams like Duluth and Minnesota and Wisconsin have dominated the NCAA tournaments, and any team that thinks it’s going to win the NCAA will have to go through teams like this.”
in the second game, both teams again played all-out, but Sperry and UMD freshman Kayla Black were outstanding. It was, frankly, as good as a hockey game can be with no goals -- great skating, passing, forechecking, defensive play, and goaltending. The Bulldogs had the edge in pressure, outshooting the Terriers 39-19, but both teams had half a dozen good scoring chances. UMD had a 12-4 edge in shots in the third period, but the shot chart also shows that the Bulldogs blocked 17 BU shots, to 4 BU blocks at the other end.
“These were the best two games we’ve played all season,” said Miller. “Absolutely. We want to play the best Eastern teams we can find.”
If Durocher has total respect for UMD, the voters on the women’s college polls don’t. BU came into the weekend 11-3-1 and ranked No. 7 in the country, while UMD was unranked. After the two hard-fought ties, BU is now 11-3-3 and moved up to sixth in the national rankings, while UMD is still unranked, having improved since a dreadful start to 7-8-3.
“We’ve been knocking on the door, but we’ve had to win in our tournament to get into the NCAA,” said Durocher, “but this year we want to earn our way into the NCAA tournament.We gave up only two goals in two games against an outstanding team that is going to be heard from. Their greatest asset is they defend well, and they can skate.”
You think the WCHA men’s hockey race is tight, but nothing could be more convincing than last weekend. Three points separates the top six teams after 12 games, and one slim point separates eighth through 11th.
The UMD Bulldogs and Bemidji State had a couple of great battles, with UMD holding off the Beavers for a 4-2 victory before Bemidji State returned the favor for a 2-1 decision in the rematch at AMSOIL Arena.
That means the teams split, with UMD scoring five goals and Bemidji State four. Close, but that was the theme all around the rest of the league:
* Wisconsin and Michigan Tech battled to a 1-1 tie, then turned around and fought to a 3-3 tie in the second game, for an 0-0-2 series and a 4-4 goal-differential.
* Nebraska Omaha squeaked past St. Cloud State 6-5, then the Huskies beat Omaha 2-1 in the rematch, making it a 1-1 split with a goal-differential of 7-7.
* North Dakota and Denver fought to a 2-2 deadlock, then the Team Formerly Known as Fighting Sioux beat Denver 6-3, to go 1-0-1 with a goal-difference of 8-5.
* Minnesota beat Colorado College 4-2, then the teams tied 4-4, for a goal differential of 8-6.
* Minnesota State University-Mankato pinned Alaska-Anchorage 3-1, then swept the Seawolves with a 3-0 rematch for a 6-1 goal difference, largest of the weekend.
A quick look at the standings show Denver first at 7-3-2 for 16 points, Minnesota at 6-3-3 for 15, then St. Cloud State and MSU-Mankato 7-5, both with 14 points; Nebraska-Omaha 6-3-1 and North Dakota 5-2-3, both with 13 points; Colorado College 5-4-1 for 11 points, followed by a three-way tie for eighth with 9 points among UMD and Michigan Tech, both at 3-6-3, and Wisconsin at 2-5-5; then Bemidji State 3-7-2 for 8, and Alaska-Anchorage 1-6-3 for 5.
That’s a close cluster, and as we near the Christmas holiday break, the biggest first-half surprises are probably St. Cloud State and MSU-Mankato. But this weekend could shake things up a bit, with UMD going after that elusive sweep at Alaska-Anchorage. Winning both games on the same weekend has been an obvious challenge for the Bulldogs, who are an impressive 5-2-1 in first games, and a woeful 0-6-2 in rematches.
Bemidji State, which bounced back from being swept by MSU-Mankato to split with the Bulldogs, will try to sustain the impressive weekend at home against Denver, while Colorado College is at St. Cloud, and MSU-Mankato at Omaha for a huge series, and North Dakota travels to Michigan Tech.
UMD’s first game against Bemidji will not appear on any highlight collections. Jake Hendrickson scored twice to lead the Bulldogs, scrapping for a loose puck behind the net and then shooting for a carom off goalie Mathieu Dugas’s skate to score from behind the net. Cory Ward tied it for Bemidji on a similar attack, which looked harmless until the puck popped out front and Ward beat goaltender Matt McNeely. At 1:21 of the second period, Hendrickson scored again, and this one was the prettiest goal of the weekend, as he took a sideways drop pass from Keegan Flaherty and veered around the defense on the left, before cutting to the net. When Dugas gave him a couple inches on the short side, Hendrickson pulled up and lifted his shot up and in on the short side. If 1:21 was the magic number, exactly 1:21 later, the puck took a crazy bounce off the end boards on defenseman Matt Prapavessis and when it bounced out front, Joe Basaraba put it in.
An apparent Bemidji goal was waved off for having never been in, but the Beavers scored with 2:59 to go when Brance Orban scored on a rebound, only to have Flaherty put the game out of reach with an empty-net tally.
The next night, coach Tom Serratore decided to give Andrew Walsh another look in goal, after sitting out six games, and with both teams intensifying their effort, Walsh came up with 33 saves to secure a 2-1 victory, despite the Beavers being outshot 34-19. It was scoreless when Markus Gerbrandt beat Aaron Crandall with a wraparound early in the second period. Jordan George scored a power-play goal to make it 2-0 after two, and it stayed that way until UMD coach Scott Sandelin pulled Crandall with over 2 and a half minutes remaining. Walsh was at his most acrobatic then, making numerous shots against constant pressure. He lost his shutout when Caleb Herbert scored on a power-play rebound with 51 seconds remaining. That final flurry lifted UMD to a 12-2 shooting edge in the third period, even though the Bulldogs had to kill a 5-minute penalty to Derik Johnson early in the period.
“We’re a desperate team right now,” said Serratore. “And there’s nothing like a hard-fought victory. Both teams defended very well.”
Walsh said he and Dugas have a friendly rivalry. “We both can play well,” Walsh said. “I knew UMD would come out strong, and whenever that happens, as a goalie you want to stop them. They’re a good team and they brought it every shift. But we forechecked well.”
Sandelin said there was a reason the Beavers forechecked well. “They forechecked better because we turned the puck over,” he said. “We’ve been winning on Friday nights, but we just haven’t closed it out to win on a Saturday yet.”
SEC ADDS HEISMAN
If it isn’t apparent how much the Southeast Conference runs the ratings book in NCAA football, when Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy, it should have convinced any remaining skeptics. Manziel is the first freshman to ever win the award as the best player in college football. He was playing well all season, but his Texas A&M outfit was operating in the background during its first season in the SEC. And then, two weeks before the season ended, Manziel led an explosive charge by the Aggies to knock off No.1 Alabama.
Then the hype began. We had never heard of the kid they call Johnny Football until the big upset, and everyone at ESPN gushed about how his performance was so great, he might even be a candidate for the Heisman. That was repeated over and over during the last two weeks of the season, and, sure enough, beating Alabama was enough to turn Manziel from a very talented young quarterback into the first freshman Heisman Trophy winner in history.Now the voters get to have their cake and eat it too, because they could vote Alabama back up to No. 2, where they can take a shot at Notre Dame for the national championship.
We’ll get another chance to see Johnny Football in the Cotton Bowl, when Texas A&M faces Oklahoma.Inline image 2Inline image 3Inline image 1