A three goal deficit and final score of 4-1 brought the Cornell women’s hockey team’s season to an end last season, forcing the squad to make an early exit in the national tournament and sending none other than Boston University to the national championship game. Since that loss, the Red has compiled 29 victories, including two regular season wins over the Terriers. However, none of that may matter now, as the Terriers return to Lynah for the third time this season — this time for the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The puck drops Saturday at 2 p.m. for this much-anticipated match-up, with a place in the Frozen Four on the line.
The No. 3 Red (29-4-0, 20-2-0 ECAC Hockey) is coming off a tough loss to No. 7 St. Lawrence, where Cornell had its hopes of winning the ECAC Tournament Championship dashed. The No. 5 Terriers (23-13-1, 14-7-0 Hockey East) enter the game having won all of their last seven games, including a thrilling 2-1 double-overtime victory over Providence College in the Hockey East Championship Game in Hyannis, Mass. last weekend.
“B.U. really struggled the first half of their season,” said head coach Doug Derraugh ’91. “They had a lot of injuries and a lot of people out … The second half was completely different for them — they’ve been one of the best teams in the country — more like the B.U. that we expected them to be this year. I think you’re looking at two of the hottest teams in the country.”
The Terriers started off the season on a good note, earning victories over Cornell’s ECAC rivals Union and St. Lawrence, before suffering a pair of losses to No. 1 Wisconsin. The team then split a series with Boston College and earned three more well-deserved Hockey East victories — before hitting a four-game slide that started at Lynah and marked the beginning of a 10-game period in which the Terriers would suffer eight losses. The team got back on track after a 6-2 win over Vermont on Jan. 21 at Walter Brown Arena, and was able to maintain that course right up until the end of the season. Its only loss since the Vermont victory was a 4-3 overtime defeat in the championship game of the Women’s Beanpot to the No. 9 Northeastern Huskies.
“They’re going to be a better team,” said senior forward Chelsea Karpenko. “They’re going to be hungry to win. They’re coming off a big victory … and they’re going to want revenge. We beat them twice last time they were here.”
The Terriers were among the women’s hockey elite the last time they made the trek to Lynah, with the games surrounded by fan hype. However, B.U. proved no match for the Red, as Cornell skated away with a pair of clean victories, 3-1, 7-1, on Nov. 25 and 26, respectively. The Terriers are led by senior captain and forward Jenn Wakefield, who has made quite the splash on Commonwealth Avenue since transferring from the University of New Hampshire. Wakefield has thus far nabbed 54 points on the season, including 28 goals. Between the pipes, BU boasts strong goaltending from sophomore netminder Kerrin Sperry, who was named Hockey East Goaltending Champion last year and who boasts a 2.39 goals against average this season.
While the Red enters the game against B.U. on a disappointing loss, the squad maintains that that defeat will in no way affect its play this weekend, according to Derraugh.
“We learn from every game, win or loss,” he said. “In general I thought we played a pretty good game and I give St. Lawrence credit, they came up with the win. I was pleased with the effort … It was just one of those games, [where] their goaltender got into a rhythm.”
“It was nothing to hang our heads about,” Karpenko said.
The puck drops Saturday afternoon, making the third consecutive time that Cornell has made the NCAA Tournament. The Red made an exit in the semifinals last year and lost the national championship game to Minnesota-Duluth in triple overtime the year before that. Just as in the last two seasons, Cornell has a real shot at taking the title this year, with the team in full-stride and firing on all cylinders right now.
While the team as a whole is responsible for the squad’s success, big performances have come from senior forward and ECAC Player of the Year Rebecca Johnston, freshman forward and ECAC Rookie of the Yeah Jillian Saulnier, junior defender and ECAC Best Defensive Defenseman Lauriane Rougeau and Karpenko, who was named ECAC Best Defensive Forward. Johnston and junior defender Laura Fortino were also named Top-10 finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award, the most prestigious individual award in women’s college hockey.
Whoever wins the contest between Cornell and B.U. will have a chance to be the first team to snatch the national championship trophy from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, who has claimed it every season since its inception.
Original Author: Zach Waller