Women’s World Championships, Day Three: USA, Canada earn byes, quarterfinal match-ups set

With round-robin play now complete, the teams that have made it through to the playoff rounds are now set, as is the match-up in the relegation round. Of note, the United States clinched first in Group A, and Sweden and Switzerland move on out of Group B. But first, a recap of the final preliminary round games.

United States 9, Russia 2

Team USA ends round-robin action with a perfect 3-0-0-0 record, and capped it off with a rout over the Russians today. Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson led the team with a hat trick and four points.

The United States opened up a 3-0 lead with goals from Lamoureux-Davidson, Hilary Knight, and Meghan Duggan, but Russia cut that to just a one-goal deficit before the halfway mark of the game. Olga Sosina and Lyudmila Belyakova scored barely two minutes apart to make it a 3-2 game, but the U.S. ran away with it after that.

Lamoureux-Davidson and Hannah Brandt scored before the end of the frame to build the lead to 5-2. Lamoureux-Davidson completed her hat trick with a goal about four minutes into the third, and Alex Carpenter and Brianna Decker also added goals before Knight scored her second of the day to finish it off.

The U.S. outshot Russia 49-5. Knight and defenseman Anne Schleper both recorded three-point games, while four other players had multi-point efforts.

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Women’s World Championship, Day One: Japan upsets Sweden, USA takes down Canada

Japan, Switzerland, the United States, and Finland all picked up wins on the first day of action at the 2015 IIHF Women’s World Championship.

Japan 4, Sweden 3 (SO)

Japan earned perhaps its biggest result ever, forcing the Swedes to a shootout and taking the extra point there. Japan and Sweden met in the opening game of last February’s Winter Olympics, and the Swedes earned a hard-fought 1-0 win then. This was another close one that saw the Japanese stick with it all the way through.

Erika Grahm put Sweden up early, just 4:30 into the contest, but Japan responded with just over a minute left in the first period, with a goal from Miho Shishiuchi. At the halfway mark of the game, Grahm scored again to give Sweden another lead, but the Japanese would find a way back in the third.

With only five minutes gone in the final period of regulation, Ami Nakamura netted the tying goal. Less than two minutes later, Chiho Osawa gave the Japanese a 3-2 lead, which was a shock for many.

Grahm’s hat-trick goal knotted things up for the Swedes with about 10 minutes left in regulation, and neither team could pull ahead again throughout the rest of regulation and the five-minute overtime period.

In the shootout, goaltender Nana Fujimoto stopped both Swedish shooters she faced, and Osawa and Hanae Kubo each made their shots to give Japan the victory in the shootout.

Fujimoto finished the game with 31 saves, while Sara Grahn had 17 at the other end.

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News Wrap: Thoughts on the NWHL, Poulin named captain

Some huge women’s hockey news broke yesterday, as the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) announced its arrival. The four-team league, which will pay its players, is set to debut in 2015-16 with clubs in New York, Buffalo, Connecticut, and Boston. Puck Daddy’s Jen Neale has the scoop, and a full break-down of the league’s logistics.

We’re going to have to wait and see if the league will be able to a) sustain itself and b) grow. It’s encouraging that there is a plan in place, but caution is necessary here. After all, there’s a reason why a paying league doesn’t already exist in North America. Can I say with certainty that it’s going to work? No, but I really hope it does.

As much as I love covering this sport, it can sometimes be too easy to get down about it when you look ahead and realize how much work there is still left to do. I’m sure this feeling is shared by many others working in women’s hockey and women’s sports in general. This week has been especially tough in that regard, as USA Hockey confirmed that there will be no live stream available in the U.S. for the upcoming World Championships. As both a fan and a writer, it’s extremely frustrating to not be able to watch the biggest women’s hockey tournament of the year.

Stuff like that is discouraging, and it’s nothing new or rare, so sometimes I have to wonder if things are ever going to change. But the NWHL announcement signaled a bit more than just the foundation of a new league. At the heart of it, the news screams one thing: Dani Rylan, and the people working with her at the NWHL, believe strongly enough in this sport to attempt this. I’m sure a lot of people think they’re crazy, and maybe they are; but maybe they’ll be successful. Maybe this will work. We at least have to try, and keep trying, and this was a nice reminder of that.

Other News:

  • The Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) released a statement on the NWHL announcement, saying that it “is taking all necessary steps and measures to protect its interests.”
  • Marie-Philip Poulin was named captain of Canada’s squad that will compete at the World Championships. Brianne Jenner, Rebecca Johnston, Lauriane Rougeau, and Natalie Spooner will assist her.

Suggested Reading:

Guide to the 2015 Women’s World Championships

The top division of the 2015 IIHF Women’s World Championships begins play tomorrow, March 28, in Malmo, Sweden. The tournament will conclude with bronze and gold medal games a week after, on April 4. If you’re looking for some quick info to fill you in on the World Championships and how it works, we’ve got you covered.

Tournament Format

The tournament uses a tiered system, with eight teams divided into two groups. The top four teams will compete in Group A, while the next four teams make up Group B. All four teams in Group A automatically advance following the preliminary around. The top two teams will receive byes to the semifinal round. The third-seeded team in Group A will meet the second-seeded team in Group B, and the fourth-seeded team in Group A will meet the first-seeded team in Group B.

The bottom two teams in Group B will play a best-of-three series following the preliminary round to decide relegation. The winner of the series will remain in the top division for the 2016 Women’s World Championships. The losing team will be relegated to Division I A in 2016. The winner of the 2015 Division I A Women’s World Championships will then move up to the top division in 2016 instead.

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Different Outcome, Same Story for National Champion Minnesota

It was just last year that Minnesota head coach Brad Frost sat beside two red-eyed seniors following the NCAA Championship game and discussed the culture of a program that, unlike the two seasons prior, could not be embodied in a title-winning performance.

To understand the culture that Frost has created here, it’s certainly important to take a step back and look at the Gophers’ on-ice accomplishments, especially over the past four years. Four-straight NCAA title game appearances. Three conference regular-season championships, three conference postseason titles. An undefeated season.

That kind of success is what we think of when we think of Minnesota lately. And that’s why, a year ago, when Frost spoke about having a good attitude, and playing for the person next to you, and fulfilling core values like toughness, discipline, gratefulness, and devotion, some might have said, “Of course.” Of course a team that fell short of the expectation of a national championship would default to talking about effort, and values, and success meaning more than just stringing together wins.

What is more remarkable is that now, one year later, after capturing the team’s third national championship in four years, Frost is talking about the same things.

“I’ve said it a hundred times and I’ll say again that it’s our culture, our values, the process and all those things,” Frost said. “I thought last year we exuded our values after the championship loss more than we’ve ever done before. It’s easy to embody those values when you’re winning, but to lose last year and still see our players still be so grateful for the opportunity to play here just makes this year that much sweeter.”

Minnesota took home its sixth national championship in program history on Sunday, defeating the Harvard Crimson, 4-1.

The Crimson this year shared some similarities with the Clarkson team last year that upset the Gophers in the title game, 5-4. For one, goaltending was the backbone of both teams. And the Golden Knights relied on a staunch defense to win their first NCAA Championship, which is a big reason why Harvard was so successful this season.

But, like Clarkson last season, the Crimson were sort of an upstart team just by getting to this point. There were some early-season bumps in the road. A trip to the national championship game seemed out of reach then, but they put it together after that and asserted themselves as an all-around good team for most of the year.

“We had to find our way back in November when we played Boston College and got spanked,” Harvard head coach Katey Stone said. “From that point on, we became a much better hockey team. We became better teammates, and if it weren’t for the leadership, who knows how our season would have been. It probably would have ended a long time ago. It’s a special group of kids and every one of them has done as expected.”

So, yes, it’s fair to say that coming into the championship match-up, Harvard looked like it could be another Clarkson for a few different reasons. But Frost will talk all day about this thing called “the process”, and that was maybe the difference this time around–at least when it came to the mindset.

“I honestly think going into this game was completely different from how we went into the game last year,” Minnesota senior captain Rachael Bona said. “I think last year we came in too confident thinking, ‘We’re playing a team from out east who has never won a national championship,’ and all that stuff. You could see today that all those sophomores who lost last year wanted it that much more and the freshmen who hadn’t won it yet had heard us talking about winning and losing it, and I think that definitely played in. I honestly thought before the game that we were the most ready we’ve ever been.”

One other striking difference from last year: the play of Amanda Leveille in net. It’s hard to blame a loss like that on any one player, even one as important as the goaltender, but Leveille was noticeably improved in this game, and made an impact right from the get-go.

“Tonight, you could tell she was confident,” Frost said. “She made a couple big saves early, which allowed us to settle in quicker. I think we settled in quicker tonight than we did on Friday. She came up very big for us and I’m happy for her.”

It looked like the Crimson were going to keep the game locked in a scoreless tie going into the first intermission, before the Gophers started to press one last time in the final minute. Megan Wolfe picked up a loose puck, circled around at the point and walked in, firing a wrister to beat Emerance Maschmeyer for just her third goal of the season and send a wave of maroon and gold rolling to its feet.

“Late period goals are no fun, number one,” Harvard head coach Katey Stone said. “These are the kinds of games where things happen like that and so you have an unsung hero. Someone steps up who has a point or two on the season and they make it happen.”

Even giving up a goal like that, and even walking into a packed, screaming building as the visitor, Harvard still proved itself to be a worthy contender. The Crimson made it hard for Minnesota to get comfortable with such a seemingly minuscule lead, holding the Gophers to just the one goal while pressing for the equalizer themselves.

“They are a very fast team and in my opinion, probably one of the fastest that we have played all year,” Minnesota senior captain and defenseman Rachel Ramsey said. “We knew that they were going to play as a team and as a full unit and they managed to do that. They were fantastic in the neutral zone and when they got the puck in our defensive zone, they were relentless.”

As the end of the game drew closer, Minnesota needed another goal to breathe a little easier, and it got one. Dani Cameranesi threaded a pass through the defense to find Hannah Brandt breaking in front, and she backhanded it up over Maschmeyer to double the lead almost halfway through the third period.

When plays need to be made, it’s players like Brandt who make them. But her making perhaps the biggest play of the game was fitting for another reason.

“When you get a bunch of great people on a team, then the organization creates a culture that’s pretty darn special and these kids are never about themselves,” Frost had said at the press conference on Saturday before the game. “I think Hannah is a perfect example of the type of person we recruit. Somebody that could care less about all the fame and the glory, and is more concerned about being a great teammate and a great daughter and a great sister. You put those ingredients together and it makes it pretty special.”

With the deficit now doubled, and the clock ticking down on its season, Harvard was not done yet. Defenseman Sarah Edney rushed the puck all the way up and threw it on net from a bad angle, finally getting one past Leveille.

“Getting that goal was huge for us and Coach always says, ‘The harder you work, the luckier you get,'” senior captain Kalley Armstrong said. “Going into the third, we wanted to work as hard as we could. That’s all we asked of each other and we were just hoping to get a couple of bounces going our way. We were just trying to go out there as hard as we could.”

The Gophers came right back and scored themselves, however. Senior Meghan Lorence got on the board to stretch the lead to two again. Bona added an empty-netter for the 4-1 final.

“It’s tough because we just kept coming at them and we got our life back then [with Edney’s goal] and I think you have to take some chances to win a national championship, and things got a little risky for us,” Stone said. “But we have been kind of a high-risk, high-reward team all year. You’re going to have luck, you’re going to have bounces, and today it didn’t go our way because of the pressure they put on us. They had a great game plan and stuck to it.”

The horn sounding signaled not just the end of a hockey game but something much more than that for the program at Minnesota–something that has some wondering if the term “dynasty” applies here.

“I don’t know if the team or the players are ever the ones who want to say that, ‘Yes, this is a dynasty,’ but I will say that I think what we have done is incredibly special,” Ramsey said. “I don’t know if it will be done again and we will leave it up to you guys to call it a dynasty or not.”

But as Frost will repeatedly say, despite all the championships and on-ice success over the past four years, it is simply not about the wins.

“We have great administration, a great coaching staff and we have unbelievable kids,” he said. “We don’t talk a lot about winning. We talk about the process and then we end up winning three national championships in four years. It’s just kind of ironic how that works.”

The end result might vary from year to year when it comes to wins and losses, but Frost and his program are still telling a story of attitude and effort and fulfilling values. Even as the championships pile up, the story will continue to transcend that.

2015 National Championship Game: Minnesota vs. Harvard

The NCAA Division I women’s ice hockey national championship game will feature the top teams from the WCHA and the ECAC, as No. 1 seed Minnesota takes on No. 3 seed Harvard this afternoon. Minnesota (33-3-4) will be playing in its fourth-straight national title game, while the Crimson (27-5-3) are playing for the national championship for the first time since 2005. The game is set for 3 p.m. (CT) at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis, Minn. A free live stream can be found here.

How They Got Here

Minnesota 3, Wisconsin 1

The Gophers started off a little slow in this one; shots were 9-1 Wisconsin at one point in the first period. However, the Badgers failed to capitalize on that early momentum, and the game remained scoreless heading into the first intermission. Annie Pankowski gave Wisconsin a 1-0 lead just 52 seconds into the second, but a great individual shift from Hannah Brandt led to her tying it up for Minnesota before the halfway mark of the period.

Two minutes later, Maryanne Menefee gave the Gophers the lead with a tip on Megan Wolfe’s shot from the point. The Gophers then scored on the power play with under four minutes left in the second to go up by two.

Minnesota was then content to just have an efficient period defensively in the third, rather than continuing to press offensively. The Badgers outshot the Gophers, 10-3, in the final frame, but the Gophers’ D really limited Wisconsin’s quality looks, particularly on second- and third-chance opportunities.

Goaltender Amanda Leveille finished with 34 saves for Minnesota. Ann-Renée Desbiens had 20 stops at the other end for Wisconsin.

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2015 Frozen Four Preview: Boston College Eagles

The Eagles hold the #2 seed in the tournament, and have posted a 34-2-2 record overall this season. BC returns to the Frozen Four for the fourth time in the past five years, and the fifth time overall. The Eagles are looking for their first national championship in program history, and if they win, they will be the first team from Hockey East to win a national title.

NCAA Quarterfinals: Boston College 5, Clarkson 1

Another strong offensive effort this season led the Eagles past the defending national champions last Saturday. Alex Carpenter scored the first two goals of the game, and Kristyn Capizzano added one of her own as Boston College built up a 3-0 lead over the Golden Knights entering the third period. Clarkson got the next goal, but Haley Skarupa scored with less than seven minutes left in the game to extend it to a three-goal lead again, and Toni Ann Miano added an empty netter with two minutes left. Katie Burt made 20 saves in net to keep the Golden Knights off the board for the first 40 minutes of the game.

The Eagles: An Overview

Strengths/Weaknesses: Boston College has the best scoring offense in the country, at 5.11 goals per game; they’re the only team to be scoring at least five goals on average. The Eagles are the most dangerous team top to bottom; their forwards are extremely creative and have little trouble executing, and they’re led by the nation’s top-two leading scorers. Their power play is much more average than they’d like it to be, at 14th in the country (17.8%), but their penalty kill is exceptional, ticking at 90.4%. Boston College is an elite team, but both losses this year came in title games, once in the Beanpot and once in the Hockey East Tournament. If that starts to weigh on them mentally, it could leave the Eagles at a big disadvantage.

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