After months of hard work, triumph and disappointment and an exponential increase in fan base size, the women’s hockey team will end its season this weekend as the final four teams left in the NCAA tournament go head-to-head in the semifinal and championship games. Cornell (31-2-1, 20-1-1 ECAC Hockey) is scheduled to face off against Boston University (26-6-4, 15-3-3 Hockey East) on tonight at 8 p.m. at Tullio Arena in Erie, Pa. This will be the first time that the two teams have faced-off since tying, 2-2, in overtime in Boston, Mass., during the 1982-1983 season, back in the era when B.U. was only a club team — the Boston program eventually gained varsity status during the 2005-06 season.
“We’ve never played [B.U.] before, so it’s very different … Even last year leading into the Frozen Four until the final game it was teams that we’ve played before. So, it’s a new experience but I mean it’s another hockey game at the same time,” said junior goaltender Amanda Mazzotta. “The coaches have seen the game tape and we’ve been working on certain things in practice, but I think ultimately it’s going to come down to us playing our game and just being focused and ready. You know — having fun. It’s a once in a life experience and we’ve been lucky enough to do [it] twice.”
This year marks the second year in a row that Cornell has played in the NCAA Frozen Four — finishing second last year in an extremely close triple-overtime loss to Minnesota-Duluth, a game that lasted a record four hours and twenty minutes.
“I don’t really think that going to the Frozen Four ever becomes an old habit, but … I guess the one nice thing about having been there before like last year, you really don’t know what to expect and what it is going to be like,” said head coach Doug Derraugh ’91. “Now at least for the majority of our players — except for the freshmen — they know what to expect and are maybe not as wide-eyed.”
Many returning upperclassmen know the drill for this tournament — every shot counts and every goal could be the game-winner. Returning to the lineup this year are sophomore defensemen Laura Fortino and Lauriane Rougeau — a duo regarded as one of the best defensive pairings in the league. Also making a second appearance in the semifinals are twin sisters and senior forwards Amber and Karlee Overguard, junior forwards Kendice Ogilvie and Chelsea Karpenko and Mazzotta. It was in the final last year against Minnesota-Duluth that Mazzotta set the record for most saves in a NCAA championship game, 61.
Though the team lost valuable players this season due to graduation— including Melanie Jue ’10 who scored both of the team’s goals in last year’s Frozen Four final game — the program has continued to improve and strengthen overall.
“I think the big challenge early on was convincing people that we could do it — that we were going to be able to build a strong program here because the team had been fluctuating I guess for the last number of years,” Derraugh said regarding the state of the program prior to when he took over as head coach. “You tell players and you tell recruits that you are going to get there and until you actually do get there, you sometimes wonder if they believe it or not.”
The women’s hockey program has gotten more popular in the past few weeks as the Red has progressed in the post season. Lynah Rink was no longer sprinkled with fans coming out to support the women play, instead the benches were lined with members of the Faithful sporting signs and cheers more common to men’s hockey games.
“The feeling I get stepping out on the ice this year has been unbelievable. Just knowing how far we’ve come as a team and as people really, and how well we’ve been doing — it’s just amazing,” said senior forward Hayley Hughes. “And we were talking about the fans before, I just get chills going on the ice and hearing the same cheers we hear at the men’s game now. So, it’s been really exciting.”
The first game of the NCAA tournament was held at Lynah Rink, where the team roughed up rival Dartmouth, 7-1, in a rematch of the ECAC championship game. According to Mazzotta, the Red was inspired to come out on top by the over 2,000 fans in attendance.
“It’s been awesome — we’ve been so happy and appreciative of all the fans that have been coming out,” Mazzotta said. “There’s nothing like playing in front of 2,000 people who are cheering for you.”
The large fan support in Lynah has been good preparation for what is to come for the team this weekend as it plays in front of an even larger crowd in Erie, Pa. After two consecutive weeks playing the same Dartmouth squad, the Red looks forward to a new challenge.
“It was a good feeling to win that game [against Dartmouth] for sure. I think that the momentum will definitely carry into the Frozen Four,” Hughes said. “But, again we know that it’s a different opponent and we have to be prepared to play Boston specifically. I think either way we’ve been doing the same things in practice and just getting really pumped up for the game.”
Hughes has been a very strong player for Cornell this season — posting her career best in points this year. The forward notched 17 goals and 18 assists, totaling 35 points in her senior season.
“[Hughes has] always been a very reliable player, a very smart player — somebody who can be counted on in all situations and I think this year probably being given a little more power-play time, which helps always, and got off to a good start right from the very beginning offensively,” Derraugh said. “I mean she’s always contributed on the offensive side — she’s always been a reliable penalty killer. She can play power plays, she can play any kind of role and those kind of players are very special to have on a hockey team, especially one like ours.”
The semifinal matchup against Boston University will be tough completion for the Red, but Derraugh feels given the performance over the last few weeks and the dedication and determination that the team has shown all season, the game should be exciting and fast-paced.
“[Boston University, Wisconsin and Boston College] … they play much like us I think in that their [defenses] like to get up in the offense,” Derraugh said. “They’ve got some really [impressive] forwards that like to beat you in many ways — they’re strong from top to bottom.”
The winner of Friday’s national semifinal will go on to compete against the victor of the other semifinal between Wisconsin and Boston College. The two teams will face-off in the 2011 National Championship game on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Tullio Arena in Erie, Pa.
Original Author: Lauren Ritter