|Maine forward Danielle Ward (photo: Peter Buehner)|
Two seasons ago, Maine forward Danielle Ward couldn’t have imagined scoring an overtime game-winner against the No. 9 team in the country.
Of course, she was handicapped by playing for Division 3 Southern Maine at the time.
Ward, a senior, put on exclamation point on a strong weekend of hockey for Maine, scoring 2:32 into overtime to lift the Black Bears past No. 9 Quinnipiac on the road, 5-4, completing a weekend sweep and improving their record to 4-0-0.
Maine was picked by coaches to finish last in the Hockey East preseason poll, but second-year coach Maria Lewis saw a team whose overall skill level was better than it was a year ago, when it finished sixth and made the league playoffs; and that it would benefit from the improvements made by players like Ward.
“I expect every player on our roster to improve this year,” said Lewis on the eve of the season. “They all have the ability to do that. Danielle Ward … has been outstanding for us in the preseason. I see her taking another step forward.”
If the weekend was a step forward for Maine, it was a step back for Quinnipiac (1-3-0), which has managed just eight goals in two games despite a potentially deadly offensive attack led by super sophomore Kelly Babstock.
The Bobcats twice blew two-goal leads against Maine, including on Saturday, when Brittany Dougherty’s goal with 30 seconds left in regulation set things up for Ward’s heroics.
“Obviously, we have some psychological issues we have to deal with, giving up two three-goal leads,” said Quinnipiac coach Rick Seeley. “We have to tighten everything up; from a coaching standpoint and playing standpoint, everything has to get a lot more efficient.”
Ward, who transferred from USM prior to last season, has gained a reputation as a fast starter. Last year at Maine, she had two goals and three assists in a season-opening series against Sacred Heart, and finished with 11-13-24 totals, fourth-most on the team.
This year, her five points (3-2-5) rank her third on the team behind Dawn Sullivan and Myriam Croussette.
Maine’s early success may not give way to success against the game’s iron, or even make it one of the teams to beat in Hockey East. But it sure doesn’t look to be an easy out early on.
“I definitely think we have the best parity in the country; there’s no doubt about that,” said Lewis. We can play with any team — not us, Maine, but the teams in our league can play with anyone.”
Game of the Week
No. 6 Minnesota-Duluth at Connecticut, Friday and Saturday
A Western power comes East for a pair of games, with perennial contender Duluth coming off a split against Boston College to open its season.
UConn (0-2-2) is still trying to find itself after absorbing a loss (4-1 at St. Lawrence) and a tie (3-3) in the North Country over the weekend.
Around New England
Jenn Wakefield scored four goals and assisted on three others as Boston University swept Niagara by scores of 3-1 and 5-2, improving its record to 3-1. … Freshman Alex Carpenter (Reading, Mass.) scored a short-handed goal with 0.4 seconds remaining in regulation as BC stunned Duluth, 3-2, to salvage a split of their weekend series. Carpenter earned her first three points as a collegian in the game. … Casey Pickett scored three goals to help Northeastern begin their season with wins over Syracuse (5-2) and Colgate (5-0). Brittany Esposito and Katie MacSorley had a goal in each game. … Nina Riley (Lexington, Mass.) made 33 saves as Providence salvaged a weekend point with a 3-3 tie against St. Lawrence.
Mike Zhe can be reached at email@example.com.