Sunday, 21 March 2010

Epic Women's Final

To say that the final of the 2010 NCAA Women's Frozen Four today was a great game might be the understatement of the year. Today's game could rival the Canada-USA matchups that the women are used to seeing, and it was an absolute delight to see both Cornell and the University of Minnesota-Duluth laying it all on the line for collegiate hockey's biggest prize. While there has to be a loser at the end of the game, neither of these teams lost today if they were looking to attract fans to the women's game. But we'll get to the game in a second.

In case you may have missed it, the top-eight women's collegiate teams squared off on March 12 and 13 for the right to be called the nation's best team. The top-four teams were ranked, and the remaining teams were selected from the best teams around the country.

Elite Eight

Fourth-ranked Harvard drew Cornell in the first round on March 12, and the two teams met at the Bright Hockey Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Cornell jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period as Catherine White and Karlee Overguard scored markers for the Big Red. The Cornell onslaught continued in the second period as Laura Fortino, Melanie Jue, and Chelsea Karpenko paced the Big Red to a 5-0 lead midway through the period. Harvard got one back on the powerplay as Randi Griffin notched a goal, but Cornell quickly restored the five-goal lead when Kendice Ogilvie found the back of the net to make it 6-1. Leanna Coskren made it 6-2 in the third period, but Cornell advanced with a dominating performance, upsetting the fourth-seed in the tournament.

Top-ranked Mercyhurst drew Boston University in their opening game on March 13. Mercyhurst had the home-ice advantage as the game was played at the Mercyhurst Ice Center in Erie, Pennsylvania. Cassea Schols and Bailey Bram got the home squad out to a 2-0 lead after one period. Vicki Bendus added another early in the third period to give Merchyhurst the 3-0 lead before Tara Watchorn got Boston University on the board with a powerplay goal. However, Bailey Bram added her second of the game as insurance, and Mercyhurst advanced on a 4-1 victory.

Second-ranked University of Minnesota-Duluth faced off against New Hampshire in their opening game, and, like Merchyhurst, had a home-ice advantage as this game took place at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center in Duluth, Minnesota. Jocelyne Larocque opened the scoring for the Bulldogs early in the first period, and UMD had the 1-0 lead. UNH's Micaela Long capitalized on a defensive zone turnover by UMD, and her goal tied the game 1-1. Rookie Jessica Wong scored the game-winner on the powerplay early in the third period, and the Bulldogs would advance on the 2-1 victory.

Third-ranked University of Minnesota matched up with Clarkson, and had home-ice advantage as they took to the ice at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Brittany Francis scored the only goal of the first period, but her marker gave the Golden Gophers the early lead. Emily West made it a two-goal lead late in the second period, and it appeared the Gophers might be in the driver seat. However, Melissa Waldie and Juana Baribeau scored third period goals for Clarkson, and this game was headed for overtime. With 3:09 to play in the overtime period, Emily West scored her second of the game for the game-winner, and Minnesota advanced to the Frozen Four weekend.

Frozen Four

Ridder Arena in Minneapolis, Minnesota played host to all of the Frozen Four games, and the state of Minnesota had two teams left in the tournament. However, one of those teams would be eliminated after Friday's games, so the pride of Minnesota was on the line.

We'll start with top-ranked Mercyhurst who drew Cornell after the Big Red upset the Harvard Crimson in the opening round. Cornell played aggressively to open the first period, and were rewarded with the only goal of the frame when Laura Fortino buried a shorthanded rebound goal after teammate Karlee Overguard was stopped on a breakaway.

Mercyhurst's Kylie Rossler tied the game midway through the second period after a goal-mouth scramble that saw the puck cross the line. Meghan Corbett put Mercyhurst ahead when she ripped a loose puck into the back of the net just three minutes later, and they had a 2-1 lead.

Karlee Overguard evened the score for Cornell when she fired a rebound home on the Big Red's first shot of the period at 7:06. Neither team could notch another in regulation time, so it was off to overtime to determine a winner.

At 13:14 of overtime, what seemed like the impossible happened. Catherine White poked home a loose puck on a rebound off of Amber Overguard's initial shot. While the ladies celebrated, the officials went to a review to determine whether or not the puck had actually crossed the line. Minutes later, the celebration was official as White's goal stood, and Cornell advanced to the Frozen Four Final.

The all-Minnesota semi-final was a battle of bitter conference rivals. The second-ranked University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs faced off against the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers with a trip to the final on the line.

UMD opened the scoring when Laura Fridfinnson wrapped the puck around the net and found some space. The 1-0 lead would last throughout the period, but it appeared this game may take on a very physical look as both teams didn't give an inch on the ice.

Emmanuelle Blais made it a 2-0 UMD lead at 12:55 of the second period as she deflected a Laura Fridfinnson shot past goaltender Noora Raty. Sarah Erickson cut the deficit to one goal when the Golden Gopher used a low slapshot to get the puck past Jennifer Harss after beating the defencemen. UMD led 2-1.

However, Blais and Fridfinnson teamed up to restore the two-goal lead with less than a minute left. Fridfinnson intercepted a pass near center ice and broke into the Gophers' zone. She left a drop pass for Blais in the slot, and she made no mistake as she went high on Raty's left side that the goalie couldn't stop. With Blais' second of the game, UMD was back on top by a 3-1 score.

Minnesota's Emily West scored with 54.3 seconds remaining in the third period to cut the lead to 3-2, but it was too little, too late for the Gophers. The UMD Bulldogs laid claim as the best team in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and they advanced to Sunday's final to face the upstart Cornell Big Red.

Frozen Four Final

The University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, the second-ranked team in NCAA women's hockey this season, played the Cornell Big Red for college hockey's top prize. Cornell had been underdogs in each of their previous games, and this game would be no different. UMD was looking to capture its fifth NCAA Championship in ten years.

Melanie Jue opened the scoring for Cornell with about six minutes to play in the second period. Her redirection of Lauriane Rougeau's slapshot from the point found its way through Jennifer Harss to give the Big Red a 1-0 lead.

UMD evened the game just 18 seconds into the third period on the powerplay. Emmanuelle Blais's initial shot was blocked by Rougeau, but Blais picked up the loose puck and fired a rocket past goaltender Amanda Mazzotta to tie the game at 1-1.

UMD took their first lead of the final with 5:18 remaining when Julie Rasmussen pinched in from the point and took a cross-ice feed from Saara Tuominen. Rasmussen's one-timer found the back of the net, and it appeared the Bulldogs were in control of the game.

However, Cornell's never-say-die approach paid off again for them. With 3:30 remaining, Cornell tied the game. Laura Fortino's shot from the high slot rang off the post, and the puck ended up loose in the crease. A scrum ensued, and Melanie Jue found the loose puck just outside the crease. Her backhander couldn't be stopped by Harss during the scramble, and the game was tied at 2-2.

The first overtime period solved nothing, despite both teams having excellent chances. The second overtime period was inconclusive as well, but both teams saw glorious opportunities in the fifth period. However, the golden goal would be scored in the sixth period of hockey.

At the end of a powerplay in the third overtime period, Tara Gray fired a slapshot from the point as the penalized Cornell player raced back into the play. Two UMD players were standing on the doorstep as the blast made its way towards the net, and rookie Jessica Wong got a stick on the blast to redirect the puck past Mazzotta with 33.6 seconds remaining!

With the victory, the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs are your 2010 NCAA Women's Hockey Champions! Congratulations to the Bulldogs on their fifth national title in the last decade, and to Emmanuelle Blais who was named as the tournament's MVP! Blais, a senior, finishes her NCAA career with 73 goals and 72 assists in 145 career games, and the Lasalle, Quebec native will undoubtedly look to crack Canada's roster in the future!

Another player who will be looking to crack Canada's roster in future years will be this year's Patty Kazmaier Award winner. Mercyhurst's Vicki Bendus, a native of Wasaga Beach, Ontario, was selected as the top woman in college hockey this season, beating out New Hampshire's Kelly Paton and Minnesota's Noora Raty. Bendus tied for the scoring lead in Division-I women's hockey with 65 points, scoring 28 goals and adding 37 assists. Congratulations to Vicki Bendus on a great season!

With that being said, the NCAA Men's Frozen Four Tournament is gearing up as we're only 18 days away. This year's Frozen Four event takes place in Detroit, Michigan, and the interactive bracket is here. The University of Miami-Ohio is the top-ranked team, the University of Denver is ranked second, the University of Wisconsin is ranked third, and Boston College rounds out the top-four teams. There are a number of excellent teams in this tournament, and my darkhorse pick looks like the University of North Dakota Sioux.

However, as seen in the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games, and the Women's NCAA Tournament above, anyone can beat anyone else in a single-elimination tournament, so the Frozen Four could be wide open as to who will win it all. It should be good, though, and I'm looking forward to a phenomenal event!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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