December 1, 2011

W. HOCKEY | Cornell Awaits Two-Game Set At Mercyhurst

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After earning a pair of convincing wins over then-No. 5 Boston University last weekend, the Cornell women’s hockey team will hit the road this weekend for a two-game series against the perennially powerful Mercyhurst. The puck drops tonight at 7 p.m. at Mercyhurst Rink in Erie, Penn., where the Lakers will play host to the Red. Following tonight’s match up, the teams will return to Mercyhurst Rink tomorrow at 2 p.m. to complete the second installment of the weekend.

The No. 3 Red (9-1-0, 6-1-0 ECAC Hockey) has been unstoppable as of late and is currently on a five-game winning streak , outscoring its opponents 25-7 over that stretch. This weekend’s games will be a great test for the Red, as the No. 6 Lakers (10-2-0) have been on fire recently, not losing a single regular season game since they suffered an overtime road loss at the hands of Minnesota State at Mankato on Oct. 7, 3-2, nearly a full week before the Red even took to the ice for it’s first preseason game.

“[Mercyhurst] is one of the best teams in the country,” said Cornell head coach Doug Derraugh ’91. “They play aggressive, they come after you, they’ve got great team speed and they’re also very physical. They’ve got some of the best forwards in the country — players like [sophomore forward Christine] Bestland and [senior forward Bailey] Bram — they can beat you in a lot of ways … there are no real weak points, we’re really going to have to be on our toes and make sure that we approach it the same way we did last weekend.”

Mercyhurst is indeed a daunting opponent. With only two losses by one goal apiece on the season  — one of which was to Quinnipiac on Oct. 1 — the Lakers are one of the elite teams in NCAA Women’s Hockey, earning a berth in the NCAA tournament in each of the last seven years and dominating Cornell throughout the 15-game all-time series (12-2-1). However, the Red holds the recent advantage in the matchup, blanking the Lakers last year, 3-0, and even squeaking out an overtime win in the 2010 NCAA Frozen Four. Mercyhurst’s top line, consisting of Bestland, Bram and freshman forward Shelby Bram, scored three of the Lakers’ four goals in their most recent outing against St. Lawrence. Bram leads the nation in points per game.

While the Red has been impressive as of late, the team is not satisfied with where it stands right now, and insists that there is more it can do in order to earn big wins over the course of the rest of the season.

“I feel like lots of areas of our game have been good,” Derraugh said. “But I wouldn’t say that there’s any particular area that’s been great. We’ve been putting up some goals offensively, but I still feel like we’re tweaking our lines, we’re looking at some different forechecking combinations and power-play combinations. I still feel like there’s a lot of room for improvement. We’ll continue to work hard and try to get better.”

“I think our goal is to focus on defense and really take pride in our own end,” added senior forward and captain Chelsea Karpenko when asked what the team needed to improve upon. “I think we found out that when we do that the offense will take care of itself.”

The Red currently averages 6.2 goals per game and plays to a 33.9-percent power play efficiency, both of which are the highest marks in women’s college hockey. Sophomore forward Brianne Jenner and senior forward and captain Rebecca Johnston are both averaging 2.5 points per game (tied for third in the nation) and freshman forward Jillian Saulnier leads the country with an average of 1.5 goals per game. In net, sophomore Lauren Slebodnick and senior Amanda Mazzotta have provided strong performances between the pipes, with Slebodnick boasting a 1.25 goals-against average and Mazzotta recently winning ECAC Hockey Goalie of the Week honors after her dominating effort last weekend against the Terriers. The Red enters the weekend action against the Lakers with confidence, according to Karpenko, after knocking off then-No. 10 Harvard and then-No. 5 Boston University in recent weeks.

“Mercyhurst is going to be no different [than Boston University],” Karpenko said. “They’re another tough opponent.”

Original Author: Zach Waller