Saturday, 5 April 2008

NCAA Frozen Women

I apologize for not posting this information yesterday, but I was interrupted by a few things and got sidetracked. Sometimes, it happens, so I apologize. However, today will make up for it as we have the in-depth recap of the Women's NCAA Frozen Four Championship. The men's tournament is being played this weekend in Denver, Colorado, and I'll talk about that tomorrow on here. The women's tournament, however, was played in Duluth, Minnesota on March 20 and 22. Ok, enough chatter! Let's check out the action before graduation hits!

The Women's Frozen Four took place at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center in Duluth, Minnesota, and featured teams from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Harvard University, the University of New Hampshire, and the University of Wisconsin. The four teams battled their way through the regional qualifying tournaments, and squared off in the semi-finals on Thursday, March 20.

The two-time defending NCAA champion and fourth-seeded 29-6-4 University of Wisconsin Badgers squared off against the number-one ranked 32-2 Harvard University Crimson. A power-play goal by Jenny Brine 4:42 into the opening period put Harvard up 1-0 over the Badgers. Brine scored her 20th goal of the season off a deflected Kati Vaughn shot. Junior Erika Lawler scored 18 seconds into the second on a fabulous individual effort. Picking up the puck in the right corner, Lawler cut to the net and slipped a low backhander underneath Harvard goalie Christina Kessler for her 12th goal of the season to even the game. Two minutes later, sophomore Jasmine Giles scored her fifth goal of the season on a one-timer from Tia Hanson.

The Badgers scored their third and fourth goals from senior Jinelle Zaugg at 6:56 of the second period and 3:15 of the third period, respectively. Those two markers gave her 24 goals on the season for the Badgers, allowed Zaugg to improve on her school record career goal total to 89 and moved within three points of third place on Wisconsin’s career points list with 156. Erika Lawler assisted on the first goal, while sophomore Meghan Duggan had a couple of assists in the game. Goalie Jessie Vetter made 33 saves in the 4-1 victory.

In the other semi-final game, the second-ranked 33-4-1 University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs took on the third-ranked 33-4-1 University of New Hampshire Wildcats. Jenn Wakefield opened the scoring for the Wildcats in the first period, but was answered by goals from Laura Fridfinnson and Sara O’Toole of the Bulldogs. Leah Craig scored a power-play goal for New Hampshire in the second period to knot the game at two goals apiece. The winner was scored midway through the third period by Laura Fridfinnson to give the UMD Bulldogs a 3-2 win over the UNH Wildcats.

The real story in this game was Bulldogs' goaltender Kim Martin. Martin stopped 41 shots as UMD was outshot by UNH 43-15 overall. UMD went more than 30 minutes in this game without a shot on net! Martin is the starting goaltender for the Swedish team at the Women's World Championship, and helped the Swedes to a silver medal at the Torino Olympics. She has generally been a standout goaltender for some time, but this will only cement her legacy as one of the greatest Swedish hockey players of all-time.

In the final, the Bulldogs shut down the Badgers en route to a 4-0 victory to secure their fourth national championship and first since 2003. Kim Martin recorded the shutout with a 28-save performance to help UMD to the title, only the second shutout in NCAA Frozen Four history. UMD has built somewhat of a dynasty by winning four titles in eight years of NCAA Women's Hockey.

The opening goal was marred with controversy as Haley Irwin found a loose puck in front of the UW net and flipped it past Badgers' goaltender Jessie Vetter during a delayed penalty. A whistle was heard around the same time as when the puck went into the net. Let's go to the videotape:

I didn't hear a whistle. Goal stands. 1-0 Bulldogs.

Freshman defenseman Jocelyne Larocque and junior forward Sara O'Toole drew the assists on Irwin's goal at 19:22 of the first period.

Emmanuelle Blais made it 2-0 for UMD on the powerplay as she converted a loose puck during a scramble in front of the UW net midway through the second period. Sophomore defenseman Jaime Rassmussen fired the puck on net from the point. Freshman forward Laura Fridfinnson had two cracks at the puck, but Vetter made both saves before Blais fired the puck home from the crowd in front of the net at at 11:48.

Sara O'Toole scored a shorthanded goal late in the second period to make it 3-0. O'Toole stripped the puck from the Badgers' defenceman, and broke in alone on Vetter. After O’Toole withstood some contact at the line, she fired the puck over Vetter's left shoulder to give the Bulldogs a three-goal lead at 18:24 of the second period. It was UMD's 11th short-handed goal of the season.

UNH head coach Mark Johnson, son of Hall-of-Fame coach and Stanley Cup-winning coach Bob Johnson, pulled Vetter for an extra attacker in the final minutes as his team attempted to break the shutout. Duluth native and junior forward Tawni Mattila nearly scored an empty-netter as she fired the puck from the net, but it was deflected behind the net by a Badgers' stick. Let's go to the video again:

Gift-wrapped for Karine Demeule. Game. Set. Match.

Demeule scored her 16th goal of the season, her last with the Bulldogs, to give UMD a 4-0 at the 17:15 mark of the third period. As time expired, jubilation set in for the Bulldogs. All that was left was the ceremonial "mugging of the goaltender":

"It’s unbelievable, it’s like a dream," said lone senior Demeule to UMD reporters, after securing herself a piece of Bulldog title immortality. "A lot of players wish for this. I got to win a national championship at home. It’s perfect. It’s like a dream."

For her stellar efforts in between the pipes, goaltender Kim Martin was named the 2008 NCAA Frozen Four MVP in leading the Bulldogs to another title. She is the third MVP from UMD, joining fellow Swede Maria Rooth, who won in 2001, and former Canadian National Team player Caroline Ouellette, who won in 2003. Forwards Fridfinnson and O’Toole, defensmen Myriam Trepanier and Heidi Pelttari, and goaltender Kim Martin were also named to the 2008 Frozen Four All-Star team.

"Today we pulled together almost a perfect hockey game for 60 minutes," said UMD head coach Shannon Miller, who is now 4-1 in the title game over her career. "We have such a young team. Every single time there was a hurdle in front of us, we cleared it. Every time there was a wall, we went around it. And when you watch your team do that, you know you can win a national championship."

Congratulations goes out to the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs for their NCAA Women's Hockey dominance! They may just be the Detroit Red Wings of collegiate women's hockey!

Until tomorrow, keep your sticks on the ice!

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