March 8, 2011

Women's Journal: Stack, BC peaking at right time for NCAAs

Boston College's Kelli Stack against Boston University at the Beanpot (photo: John Quackenbos)

Molly Schaus was at the other end of the ice when it happened, but she said she could see it coming.

With her team’s Hockey East tournament life – maybe its NCAA tournament life, too – dangling by a thread in its semifinal against Providence Saturday, the veteran Boston College goalie said she envisioned a scenario where teammate Kelli Stack would score the game-winning goal to lift the second-seeded Eagles into the tournament final.

“You can’t hold her back the whole game,” reasoned Schaus (Natick, Mass.). “You knew she would have the overtime winner.”

There was a reason this Hockey East final four was a budding goaltender’s dream to buy a ticket to. At least three reasons, in fact. The opening semifinal saw Northeastern star Florence Schelling stop a tournament-record 44 shots to backstop the fifth-seeded Huskies’ 4-2 upset of top-seeded BU.

That record was broken a few hours later by Genevieve Lacasse, who kept Providence within range of another upset with 58 saves, taking BC to overtime in a 2-2 game.

Stack’s goal, a little under 12 minutes into sudden-death, came after she stopped the puck at the blueline, skated in against a defender and beat Lacasse between the pads.

“I just wanted to try and score as quick as I could because I knew we were getting pretty tired,” said Stack. “And then there was one defenseman to beat, so I just tried to get it on net, and I figured if I go five-hole at least it has a chance of squeaking through.”

If BU and stars like Jenn Wakefield and Marie-Philip Poulin had the early command of the headlines in Hockey East this season, the last few weeks have been all about Stack and BC.

The Eagles (23-6-6) landed their first city blow by knocking off BU in the first round of the Beanpot last month, 2-1. Stack had a goal and an assist, and her team beat Harvard a week later, 3-1, for the title.

The Eagles finished off Northeastern in Sunday’s final, 3-1, for the team’s first league title. Stack was named tournament MVP. Her goal and two assists on the weekend upped her season line to 34-22-56 and she’s one of 10 finalists – like Schaus -- for the Patty Kazmaier Award.

The tourney win likely kept BC at home for the NCAA quarterfinals. It will host Minnesota on Saturday at Conte Forum.

Looking Ahead

NCAA Division 1 women’s quarterfinals

Minnesota at No. 4 Boston College, Saturday, 1 p.m.

Classic battle of East meets West, with the goal being a trip to a location in between – Erie, Pa. – for the Frozen Four next weekend.

The Gophers (26-9-2) played second fiddle to No. 1 Wisconsin in the WCHA all season, losing 5-4 in overtime in the league tourney final, but aren’t inclined to take a back seat in this game, not after a season that saw them pump in 3.54 goals a game.

Two players to watch: Goalie Noora Raty is one of the best – and a Kazmaier finalist – with a 1.70 goals-against average and .944 save percentage. Amanda Kessel – younger sister to Toronto’s Phil and New Hampshire’s Blake – has been an impact freshman with a team-high 19-30-49 scoring line.

Minnesotaousted visiting BC in the NCAA quarterfinals two years ago, 4-3. The winner gets a date with Wisconsin (34-2-2) or Minnesota-Duluth (22-8-3).

"It's a great step for our program to be seeded fourth," BC head coach Katie King (Salem, N.H.) said. "We worked really hard this year and feel our team deserves the spot. We are very excited to have a team like Minnesota come here to play us.”

Dartmouth at No. 2 Cornell, Saturday, 2 p.m.

The Big Green (22-11-0) are in the NCAAs for the first time since 2009, and they did it with a great stretch run, going 13-3 since mid-January.

Among the wins was a 4-3 one over Cornell (30-2-1), but they’ll need to bring more offense than they did in Saturday’s rematch in the ECAC Hockey final, a 3-0 loss where they managed just 14 shots on goal.

It’ll come down to which team can play to its strengths more. Cornell, behind lockdown defender Lauriane Rougeau, leads Division 1 in defense (1.03 goals per game). Dartmouth, at 3.36 goals, is eighth in offense, with Camille Dumais, Amanda Trunzo, Kelly Foley (Boston, Mass.) and defenseman Sasha Nanji all at 30 points or higher.

They’ll need to produce Saturday to spring the upset.

Mercyhurst at No. 3 Boston University, Saturday, 3 p.m.

You couldn’t hand-pick a game with more motivation on both sides.

For the BU (25-6-4), this is a different situation than last year, when it was outclassed in a 4-1 NCAA quarterfinal loss at Mercyhurst after improbably winning the Hockey East tournament.

This year, on paper, they may hold their own in talent, even if they lack last year’s momentum. Counting the Hockey East semifinal loss to Northeastern, they’re 4-4-1 in their last nine games, a slump that coincided with an injury to Poulin, who played against BC.

“The one thing she couldn’t do this week, because of strength, was shoot the puck,” said BU coach Brian Durocher (Longmeadow, Mass.) after the loss.

It’s simple for Mercyhurst (29-5), which features perhaps the nation’s best player in Division 1 scoring leader and Canadian Olympic star Meghan Agosta. The Lakers are hosting the Frozen Four in Erie, Pa., and don’t just want to be spectators.

“It’s one of those things you can’t get away from,” said Mercyhurst coach Mike Sisti. “There are signs all over the rink. It’s on the news. You can’t miss it.”

Mike Zhe can be reached at mzhe@hockeyjournal.com.