Women’s hockey sweeps Providence

by Tim Nichols

Fans of high-scoring hockey need not attend.
One of the more defensive women’s hockey teams in the country came in for a weekend series at Mariucci Arena, as No. 2 Gophers (25-2-2) hosted No. 6 Providence (17-10-2).
The series lived up to its billing as the Friars slowed down the high-powered Gophers offense before falling 1-0 and 5-1.
“We played real well,” Providence coach Tom Sheehan said. “After the third period of yesterday’s game, I thought we played great until the last six minutes of the third period today when we ran out of legs, but that will happen when you’ve played three games in three nights.”
It already has been a very tumultuous season for the Friars. Their original head coach, Jackie Barto, left midway through the season to head up the new women’s hockey program at Ohio State. Sheehan was named interim coach the day before Providence’s Jan. 1 game against St. Lawrence.
But the Friars’ one constant has been goaltender Sara DeCosta.
The sophomore from Warwick, R.I., is a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier award — awarded to the nation’s top women’s hockey player — and also earned a gold medal as a member of the 1998 U.S. Olympic team.
She was also the only reason the Friars were in the games at all.
“She knows how I play and how I shoot,” Gophers’ leading scorer Jenny Schmidgall, one of DeCosta’s teammates on the Olympic squad, said after Friday’s 1-0 win. “She just picked off my shots.”
Schmidgall exacted a bit of revenge, however.
Little more than five minutes into the game Sunday, Schmidgall used a Providence defender as a screen and burned DeCosta with a wicked slapshot from the slot.
Minnesota learned from their mistakes on Saturday, and instead of shooting the puck with no one in front, the Gophers relied on rebounds, screens and deflections to beat what many consider one of the finest goaltenders in the country.
“I don’t think she has a weak spot,” Gophers’ goaltender Erica Killewald said. “You can rarely score on her with straight-on shots.”
Sophomore defender Courtney Kennedy proved that theory correct on Sunday, scoring two goals off a deflection and a rebound put-back.
If it seemed like there was a little extra spring in Kennedy’s skates, it might be because whenever there was an east coast opponent on the ice, the Colby College transfer sees a little more incentive to win.
“I don’t think the east respects us as much as we should,” Kennedy said. “Being from the East, I know something about it. They have the big names, like New Hampshire. But we tied them 0-0 this year.”
The Gophers women’s hockey program is in it’s second year, while many schools in the New England area have had established programs for more than 20 years.
Another factor might be that women’s college hockey in the Midwest is not yet up to the East’s standards. Minnesota State, Augsburg, St. Cloud State and Bemidji State will take a while to earn respectability in the eyes of their peers and the media.
But if Minnesota can win the AWCHA national championship, the Gophers will garner more respect than they can handle. But according to Gophers’ coach Laura Halldorson, even one win in the semifinal round of the AWCHA would be fine.
“Last year, we didn’t play well and lost both,” Halldorson said. “Winning one game would be very important for us. Teams are a lot better this year than they were a year ago.”