Saying Goodbye to UND Women’s Hockey

I guess the best way to start this is to say that I never wanted to start a piece like this at all.

Yesterday, the University of North Dakota cut its women’s hockey program. No matter how many times I read that, the immediate, gut-wrenching reaction is, How? How?

It’s inconceivable to think that a premier program that people–great people–have poured their hearts and souls into building up is just no more. That it just ends, here. Before all of that hard work and passion and heart-and-soul-pouring could ever fully be realized into the one thing that ever matters in sports: a championship.

Because it was on the way. Oh, it was on the way. Don’t for a second think that women’s hockey should be out at this school because of results, or because the program just wasn’t up to par. With 12 Olympians to its name already, with multiple appearances in conference championship games and the NCAA Tournament, this team was going places.

But it seems almost wasteful at this point to talk about what was, instead of what is, and what will be.

A thousand years ago, it seems, the returning group of UND players were on the ice, getting ready to go to those greater places, preparing for next season. That season will never come. Not here.

That is an impossible reality to live in. Just ask the players. Go on. Ask them where they want to be. Ask them where they want to play. They won’t tell you they only want to be here. They’ll tell you the only place to be is here.

How? How do you wake up in the morning and face that? How do you look toward this storm of crushing heartbreak and hurt and lift your head as it breaks you open?

This is how this team has done it: selflessly, with the people next to them in mind.

I’ve heard and seen a lot of things these last few days, in the short time I’ve been able to spend with the players and staff. Lots of tears. Lots of, “The worst part is…” (God, do you even know how many things about this situation can possibly be the worst part of it? The answer is all of them, somehow.)

But the thing I’ve heard more than any other is the people in that locker room thinking of each other first. Each and every one of them just lost what feels like everything today. And they still have nothing but concern for everyone else’s loss, too.

I am so proud, so proud, to say I have been a small part of this group, now more than ever. It has been incredibly hard to watch people’s dreams get crushed and this family ripped apart, through no fault of their own. But I talked to a player yesterday who said that even with all of this happening, even with this collapsing down around everyone now, she’d still have chosen to come to UND. She would not trade away her years here just to escape what she feels now.

That, to me, is the definition of what this program has meant to all those who have passed through it, whether as a coach, an Olympian, a student worker, or some dorky media intern like me.

The chance to work with UND women’s hockey was the greatest gift I’ll ever be granted in life. From the moment I left home halfway across the country and in the three years since, people have asked, Yeah, that sounds fun, but isn’t it hard being so far from your family?

I have never once been without family here. Never once.

It has been a privilege to get to know this group, to call myself a friend to them, to get to cheer on their successes, to also pay witness to the lows and watch them grow from it. I’ve watched them become fixtures in the Grand Forks community, as players and coaches and as people. I’ve seen them firsthand do some incredible work in the classroom, and embody what it means to be a student-athlete.

The knowledge that none of that ended on Wednesday is the only redeeming thought in all of this. UND women’s hockey will continue beyond this, even without a team on the ice at the Ralph next fall.

It continues with all of the players who will represent their countries at upcoming IIHF World Championships, including three from the 2016-17 team who were looking to bring medals back to UND.

It continues with those, however many, who will represent their countries at the Olympics in 2018–some for the second or third time.

It continues with those who have graduated this program with multiple degrees, completed research and thesis studies and otherwise left their prints on the academic landscape at UND.

It continues in a small way with me, who was fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of what this program was about and will be all the better for it. And those around me will be better for it, too.

I am forever grateful to the coaches, players, and staff who always made me feel welcome, and taught me so much about hard work and integrity. And I am genuinely sorry for UND and what this school is losing by giving up on this program.

To all of you: I know I’m not alone in the flood of emotion that has come this week. But the only thing I haven’t felt for anybody over the last few days is scared. I don’t worry about the future for any of you because it is bright, and promising, even if it might not be here. I know you will all be successful in countless ways. And I know you will change the people you meet and places you go for the better, just like you’ve changed me.

2015-16 Team-by-Team Previews: Rensselaer Engineers

2015-16 Roster | 2015-16 Schedule

Head Coach: John Burke (13th Season)
2015-16 Captains: N/A

2014-15 Season Recap

Record: 7-23-4 (5-16-1 ECAC/9th place)
ECAC Postseason: Did not qualify

RPI started off its season last year with a trip out west, and dropped games to North Dakota and Bemidji State. The Engineers continued their nonconference against Vermont, and tied the Catamounts before losing to them on the second day of the series. They earned their first win of the season against UConn on Oct. 25, and went undefeated in that series with a tie the following day. Unfortunately, a six-game losing streak followed suit; Rensselaer began ECAC play with a loss to Harvard, and then lost to Dartmouth, Quinnipiac, and Princeton, and was swept by St. Cloud State.

The Engineers snapped the losing streak by earning a split in their series against RIT, and then won their first ECAC game of the year against Brown on Dec. 5. They opened up the new year with a win over Princeton, but over their next seven games, they earned just two positive results in ties against Providence and Union. Over their last nine games of the season after that, they won just three games, against Union, Brown, and Colgate.

At the team’s end-of-year banquet, Taylor Mahoney was given the Most Valuable Player award. Amanda Kimmerle was named the team’s Rookie of the Year, while Sara Till received the Bill Cahill Memorial Coach’s Award for the second-straight year. Mariana Walsh was named the Most Improved Player, Heidi Huhtamaki was given the Bob Conway Scholar-Athlete Award, and the Willie Stanton Award went to Ali Svoboda.

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2015-16 Team-by-Team Previews: Penn State Nittany Lions

2015-16 Roster | 2015-16 Schedule

Head Coach: Josh Brandwene (4th Season)
2015-16 Captains: Jordan Pardoski (C), Shannon Yoxheimer (C), Laura Bowman (A), Sarah Wilkie (A)

2014-15 Season Recap

Record: 17-16-4 (9-9-2 CHA/3rd place)
College Hockey America Postseason: Conference semifinals; advanced to semifinal game with quarterfinal series win vs. Lindenwood, eliminated by Syracuse in the CHA semifinals

The Nittany Lions started off the 2014-15 season with two games in Minneapolis, Minn., and came away with a win over St. Cloud State after falling to the host Gophers. They then had a winless weekend against Quinnipiac and an unbeaten series against Union, and split with Princeton before beginning conference play against Syracuse. After losing to and tying the Orange, Penn State earned its first sweep of the season against nonconference foe Colgate.

In their next series against RIT, the Nittany Lions picked up their first conference win of the season, beating the Tigers 3-2 in overtime after falling to them the day before. Splits with Lindenwood and Robert Morris followed suit, and Penn State then earned perhaps its biggest results in program history to date, sweeping Mercyhurst to close out the 2014 calendar year. A sweep at the hands of Ohio State opened up 2015, but the Nittany Lions continued their strong league play with a sweep over RIT. After a loss to New Hampshire, they went 3-0-1 in their next four, beating the Wildcats, Syracuse, and Lindenwood.

It looked at that point like Penn State had a very good chance to earn a bye into the CHA Tournament semifinals, and potentially take the league crown, but they hit a rough stretch at the end. They lost their last five games of the regular season, including getting swept by Mercyhurst and Robert Morris, and finished third, setting up a quarterfinal series with Lindenwood. The Nittany Lions came away with two wins there, beating Lindenwood 1-0 and 3-1, to move on to the semifinals. Their season ended there, however, as Syracuse knocked them out, 2-0.

Forward Laura Bowman was named to the All-CHA Second Team, while goaltender Hannah Ehresmann and forward Bella Sutton earned spots on the CHA All-Rookie Team. Penn State was also named recipient of the CHA’s Team Sportsmanship Award.

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Game Day Skate: Clarkson at Harvard, Minnesota at North Dakota

AES Rankings

  1. Minnesota
  2. Boston College
  3. Wisconsin
  4. Clarkson
  5. Bemidji State
  6. North Dakota
  7. Quinnipiac
  8. Harvard
  9. Boston University
  10. Northeastern

Game Day Highlights

#4 Clarkson at #8 Harvard: The Crimson struggled in a 2-1 loss to Dartmouth last weekend to open their season. They were without last season’s leading scorer Mary Parker, as well as a top-five scorer in Lexie Laing. The defense, which was so strong last season, yielded 33 shots on goal to the Big Green. Harvard has a much tougher test this week against Clarkson, but this is also an opportunity for the team to make a statement and re-assert themselves. The Golden Knights are a perfect 9-0-0 so far, and they’re scoring an average of 4.00 goals per game, with five different players scoring at a point-per-game pace, including rookie forward Loren Gabel. Clarkson goaltender Shea Tiley carries a .951 save percentage into the weekend, and Harvard will be without starter Emerance Maschmeyer, who’s with Team Canada for the Four Nations Cup.

St. Lawrence at #8 Harvard: This weekend features a similarly big match-up for the Saints, who look like they have the pieces in place to really push for a spot in the top third of the ECAC standings this year. Forward Kennedy Marchment and defender Amanda Boulier have been the team’s catalysts, with Megan Armstrong and Kirsten Padalis helping to solidify that blue line. Younger forwards like Justine Reyes and Hannah Miller have performed well so far, but veterans Brooke Webster and Jenna Marks have been a little quiet, and I think St. Lawrence would like to see them more involved in production this weekend. The Saints have still not settled on a starter in net, however, and that’s their biggest area of concern going into this game.

#1 Minnesota at #6 North Dakota: After a 5-1 loss to the Gophers last night, UND has a few things to answer for already in this series. Minnesota put them on their heels early and jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period, and though North Dakota settled in a little more as the game went along, it’s now a matter of how they will respond tonight. We saw the way the team pushed back against St. Cloud State last weekend, scoring three goals in the final 4:28 to to come back and tie it up. Is that the type of team they’re going to be this season, and can they be that team against Minnesota? In a show of their strengths, the Gophers’ play-making abilities and offensive execution were fully on display in the series opener; they typically do a very good job of finding open space and creating quality chances from there, and that was no different last night. Three of their five goals were scored on the rush, including one breakaway, and that’s an area where the Gophers excel because their defensemen are pretty active about jumping in. If UND hopes to have more success tonight, they need to do a better job defending in transition and picking up those players coming late.

Players to Watch

Cayley Mercer, Forward, Clarkson: Mercer posted back-to-back hat tricks last weekend in the Golden Knights’ series against New Hampshire, so she comes into this weekend red hot. She’s scored in every game so far this season, and out of those nine, six have been multi-point outings.

Shara Jasper, Forward, Lindenwood: The Lions begin College Hockey America play this weekend with a home series against Penn State, and before last week’s bye week, they knocked off New Hampshire and Northeastern on the road. That was due in large part to the play of Jasper, who posted five goals and seven points in those two games.

Abbey Frazer, Defense, Harvard: The Crimson have quite a few losses to make up for on the blue line, and Frazer, who was a solid contributor last year, is one player who is undoubtedly going to have to step up this season. She could make an impact this weekend and help the Crimson’s defensive corps settle in against a high-powered Clarkson offense and an efficient one in St. Lawrence.

2015-16 Team-by-Team Previews: St. Cloud State Huskies

2015-16 Roster | 2015-16 Schedule

Head Coach: Eric Rud (2nd Season)
2015-16 Captains: Vanessa Spataro (C), Lauren Hespenheide (A), Molly Illikainen (A)

2014-15 Season Recap

Record: 8-28-1 (5-22-1-1 WCHA/7th place)
WCHA Postseason: Conference quarterfinals; swept by Wisconsin in first round of WCHA playoffs

It was a tough season for St. Cloud State, who finished second-to-last in their league, but it was also the first year under head coach Eric Rud for the program so it was a bit of a transition season well. The Huskies dropped their first two games, hosted by the University of Minnesota, to Boston University and Penn State, but earned a split against another nonconference foe in Lindenwood the following weekend. They then enjoyed an undefeated weekend against Minnesota State, beating the Mavericks and then tying them to pick up a few WCHA points.

They followed that up with an upset win over Ohio State in the next week’s series, earning a split with the Buckeyes, and then swept Rensselaer in nonconference play. It was a tough go for St. Cloud State for the rest of the 2014 calendar year, however; their next 11 games were against Minnesota Duluth, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Bemidji State, and they lost 10 in a row there before knocking off the Beavers, 3-0, on Dec. 13.

2015 wasn’t much better for the Huskies, who were then swept by Ohio State, UMD, Minnesota, Bemidji State, and UND before finally picking up another win against the Mavericks on Feb. 16. Later that week, they secured their biggest win of the year, knocking off Wisconsin, 2-1, on the road. The Badgers salvaged a 5-0 win the next day, however, and then swept St. Cloud State in the WCHA quarterfinals with a 5-1 win and a 4-1 win.

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Game Day Skate: Boston College at Cornell, Bemidji State at Wisconsin

AES Rankings

  1. Minnesota
  2. Boston College
  3. Wisconsin
  4. Clarkson
  5. North Dakota
  6. Bemidji State
  7. Harvard
  8. Quinnipiac
  9. Boston University
  10. Cornell

Game Day Highlights

#2 Boston College at Cornell: The Big Red will jump right into things as they play host to the Eagles for their first series of the season. BC’s offense is scoring at any incredibly high pace once again this year, at 5.33 goals per game. The power play is faring better, clicking at a 25% conversion rate, and the Eagles will be hoping to sustain that this weekend as well. Cornell’s got a few questions that need answering, namely about who’s going to replace their losses in production and who’s going to step up in goal, and those will be the biggest tests for the team this weekend against a dominant Boston College squad. Sophomore Katie Burt is putting up outstanding numbers again for BC, with a .944 save percentage and 1.40 goals-against average. Out of last year’s returners, the Big Red will be counting on Erin O’Connor, Taylor Woods, and Jess Brown to threaten her, but all of those players are new to primary scoring roles.

Bemidji State at #3 Wisconsin: The Beavers are coming off of a last-second overtime win against North Dakota, and have done well in WCHA play so far, sweeping Minnesota Duluth the weekend before. But the Badgers, who have been dominant so far this season in all major areas, pose a bigger challenge. They’ll make it much tougher for Bemidji State to have much control, and though the Beavers aren’t a possession-heavy team anyways, they are at heir best when they are still dictating the pace of the game. Wisconsin has the tools in its lineup to prevent BSU from having any say in that area as well. The ice will likely lean heavily in the Badgers’ favor, but they’re still going to need to solve the BSU defense and win battles for pucks in front if they’re going to come away with two wins.

Minnesota Duluth at Minnesota: The Gophers have cruised to a 6-0-0 start this year, and a 4-0-0-0 start in WCHA play. In those four games, they’ve outscored Ohio State and St. Cloud State by a combined 36-4. Last season, the Bulldogs were able to pose an early challenge to Minnesota, tying them, 3-3, on Oct. 11. It’s going to be tougher for this year’s lineup to do the same, however. One particular area where they’re going to be overmatched is on the backend. UMD does not have the same caliber group as the Gophers have with Lee Stecklein, Milica McMillen, and Sydney Baldwin. If those three are able to influence the game as much as we’ve seen so far, the Bulldogs will have little to work with.

Players to Watch

Alex Carpenter, Forward, Boston College: 2015 Patty Kazmaier Award winner Alex Carpenter picked up right where she left off last year, with nine goals and 17 points in six games so far.

G Maddie Rooney, Goaltender, Minnesota Duluth: The freshman has been getting the nod lately in net for the Bulldogs, and she played well against BSU and Minnesota State. She has a .932 save percentage and 1.50 goals-against average coming into the weekend, but the Gophers’ offense is a much bigger test than what she’s seen so far.

F Christian Higham, Forward, Cornell: Higham’s just a rookie but with Cornell’s lack of scoring depth, she should get a chance in the top-six right away to show what she can do.

2015-16 Team-by-Team Previews: Maine Black Bears

2015-16 Roster | 2015-16 Schedule

Head Coach: Richard Reichenbach (3rd Season)
2015-16 Captains: Emilie Brigham (C), Abbey Cook (C) Eve Boissonneault A), Brooklyn Langlois (A)

2014-15 Season Recap

Record: 10-20-3 (9-11-1 WHEA/4th place)
Hockey East Postseason: Conference quarterfinals; swept by Connecticut in best-of-three quarterfinal series

The Black Bears began the season with two straight wins, beating New Hampshire in conference play and then earning an overtime win against Robert Morris. They settled for the split the next day against the Colonials, and picked up a tie in their next series against Mercyhurst before getting swept by Quinnipiac. Against Boston University on Oct. 25, they split their series with a big 4-2 upset win, which sparked a three-game unbeaten streak that saw Maine tie Connecticut and shut out Northeastern, 1-0.

They dropped two more in nonconference action against Brown and then split with Providence, losing game two in overtime. The Black Bears swept Vermont but were overmatched by Boston College the following weekend, losing by a score of 8-1. Their troubles in out-of-conference play continued against Union as they were unable to earn a win against the Dutchwomen, suffering a loss and then settling for a tie. They started off January with a loss to BU and a win over the Friars, and then came away winning the season series against Northeastern with a 4-2 win on Jan. 25.

The weekend after that, Maine picked up a 3-0 shutout win over New Hampshire, but that would unfortunately prove to be their last victory of the 2015-16 season. The Black Bears dropped their last six games of the regular season, but still clinched the fourth seed and home-ice advantage for the Hockey East quarterfinals. They drew Connecticut in that series, and the Huskies officially ended Maine’s season with the sweep in the first round of the playoffs.

After an excellent junior season for the Black Bears, goaltender Meghann Treacy was named a Hockey East First Team All-Star. Head coach Richard Reichenbach was a top-three finalist for the league’s Coach of the Year award, and defender Kelsey MacSorley earned Hockey East Honorable Mention All-Star accolades as well.

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