November 15, 2013

Finesse should bring women's game attention, not fisticuffs

By Kat Hasenauer Cornetta

Sarah Lefort is a perfect example of the wealth of talent on display in Hockey East that should warrant more attention from the media.

It’s unfortunate how rarely women’s college hockey reaches the mainstream, but this week was one of those rare instances.

A Friday brawl between Bemidji State and Ohio State’s teams caught the attention of the mainstream sports media. The end-of-game fight helped the two teams set an NCAA record for penalty minutes with 303. When the referees were done sorting out what had occurred, 18 fighting majors and disqualifications resulted between the two WCHA teams.

It may ensure both teams a spot in the NCAA record books, but it is not a record either squad wants to be associated with. It’s also a shame that the particular feat is what gets women’s hockey attention, because as Hockey East women’s supervisor of officials, Dave Lezenski, so perfectly puts it: The women’s game is some of the purest hockey one can watch.

“To have the game not be keyed by physicality, it is the true essence of the sport,” said Lezenski Wednesday.

The league’s supervisor of officials since 2009 and longtime official and athletic administrator acknowledges that if a fight like the Bemidji State-Ohio State multiple-player mess broke out in a Hockey East women’s game, the officials’ reaction would be very much the same as their WCHA counterparts – regardless of if it was on the men’s or women’s side.

“To be honest, we would handle that type of conflict the same way in both the women’s and men’s game,” said Lezenski. “We would give the appropriate sides the appropriate penalties.”

Joining the Beavers-Buckeyes fight this past weekend was a Saturday game between Robert Morris and Mercyhurst of College Hockey America that saw 23 penalties handed out. Add to that the fight between the U.S. and Canada in a mid-October, pre-Olympic exhibition in Burlington, Vermont, and one might assume that the women’s game was getting chippy as a whole. Lezenski, who has worked the NCAA women’s tournament and ECAC games in addition to his women’s Hockey East work, doesn’t see that happening at all.

“It is absolutely not getting more violent or chippy,” he insisted. “I don’t see that at all. The skill, talent and finesse in Hockey East is fabulous.”

Lezenski does acknowledge it can be a tough job differentiating between what is a part of the game and what is unnecessary physicality in the women’s game, given the no-checking rule.

“It is a grey area,” he acknowledged. “We are lucky to be in a league with eight great coaches, and assistants and student-athletes who understand what is allowed. I know the coaches teach some angling and some body contact, but there is no checking, and they understand that.”

Lezenski looks towards the NCAA rules committee for his guidance, but doesn’t have any overwhelming suggestions for rule changes at the moment. “I think the NCAA rules committee has been doing a great job, and the coaches serving on it have also been doing a great job. I know this year they have spoken about eliminating interference and picking players.”

Lezenski is quite fond of the finesse of the game, and believes that New England women’s hockey fans are seeing the best level of play they have seen in a long time. “Every game is great these days. All eight teams are so close competitive wise. You are seeing games like UConn beating Providence in overtime. It’s not just the (Boston College-Boston University) games, it is all the games that are good.”

Player of the Week

Mary Parker, sophomore, Harvard, Milton, Mass.

There were a boatload of players that stuck out this week from BU and BC, but Mary Parker gets this week’s nod for logging a performance that is indicative of how much she should be able to help out her Harvard team this season. She had one of her best individual days as a Crimson forward, accounting for all of their scoring in their 2-0 Saturday win over preseason ECAC favorite Clarkson. She led her team with four shots, and finished the day with a +1. Those were Parker's first two goals of the season, after being held scoreless for the previous three games.

Team of the Week

Boston University 

When reporters sat down with Boston University head coach Brian Durocher preseason, they walked away with the most managed of expectations. But what was understated was how their schedule, which provided them week one of the season off, might help enable those players who needed to step up a chance to do so before game action. It has worked. the Terriers lead Hockey East with a 6-0-0 league record, and are 9-1-1 overall. Freshman such as  league Rookie of the Week Maddie Elia are chipping in to help an offense who has outscored opponents 21-5 over their last four games. Where BU stacks up nationally will be gauged this weekend as they travel to Vail to take on St. Cloud State and Wisconsin.

Games of the Week

Vail, Colorado Tournament - Friday and Saturday

Northeastern joins BU in traveling out to Vail, Colorado this weekend to participate in a two day tournament hosted by the Vail Recreation Commission and led by Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson. The Terriers and Huskies will face Wisconsin (8-2-0), who is considered the second best team in the nation in the USA Hockey weekly poll, and St. Cloud State (1-8-3), who nearly ended Minnesota’s 61 game unbeaten streak last weekend. Northeastern tries their hand at the Badgers first on Friday night, while BU will play St. Cloud as the warm-up act. The two teams swap opponents on Saturday afternoon.

Power Rankings

1) Boston University (9-1-1 overall, 6-0-0 Hockey East) - In New England, the Terriers are riding the hot hand right now. A true sense of where they stand nationally will be gathered this weekend.

2) Boston College (9-2-0 overall, 5-1-0 Hockey East) - If the Vail tournament wasn’t taking place this weekend, the Eagles’ date with Quinnipiac Friday would be the game of the week. BC has the grit and power to go toe-to-toe with the Bobcats in a matchup that would make an amazing NCAA Tournament game one of these years. Goaltender Corrine Boyles made 60 saves last weekend and her super senior leadership is proving to be a beacon for the Eagles.

3) Harvard (5-1-0 overall, 5-1 ECAC) - Crimson goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer notched her third shutout in five games against Clarkson, making 36 saves. The sophomore is second in the nation in save percentage with a .963. Harvard will host on ECAC rival Cornell in another stellar weekend matchup Friday night.

4) Quinnipiac (8-1-3 overall, 3-1-2 ECAC) - Like their ECAC mate Harvard, the Bobcats also have nationally ranked goaltending out of Chelsea Laden, who is second in the nation in goals against average (0.85) and third in the nation in save percentage (.957.) They host a Hockey East filled weekend, facing Boston College Friday and New Hampshire Saturday.

5) New Hampshire (6-4-2 overall, 2-2-2 Hockey East) - The resilient Wildcats are not letting injury or a short bench keep them from being a threat in Hockey East. They beat Providence last Thursday 4-2, and tied Vermont 3-3 on Sunday afternoon. Their lack of numbers may prove a problem against Quinnipiac Saturday, but their grit should help against Princeton on Friday.

Twitter: @sportsgirlkat