UND women miss NCAAs by one spot

For the second time in five years, UND is the first team out of the NCAA tournament.

Although UND finished at No. 8 in the Pairwise Rankings, it wasn’t enough this season because College Hockey America is in its first year of getting an autobid.

So, a 15-18-5 RIT team that twice lost to Lindenwood will occupy the last slot in the tournament.

Everyone knew that this season would be more challenging to qualify for the NCAAs because of the CHA autobid, and UND put itself behind the 8-ball by losing nonconference games against Vermont and Syracuse, two teams that finished with losing records.

UND went 12-1-1 down the stretch, which tells you about the importance of those nonconference games.

North Dakota put together an outstanding finish to the season, but it wasn’t enough to dig out of that early hole.

NCAA women’s tournament

RIT at Minnesota
Boston University at Wisconsin
Clarkson at Boston College
Quinnipiac at Harvard

If both the Gophers and Badgers win in the quarterfinals, they would meet up in the semifinals.

Saturday morning reading

The last time that Grand Forks and Ralph Engelstad Arena hosted the WCHA Final Faceoff, UND wasn’t a member of the league yet.

Today, it returns.

This time, UND gets to play in it.

The field is probably exactly what the fans in the area wanted to see. It starts with three-time defending Final Faceoff champ Minnesota taking on Jim Scanlan and the Bemidji State Beavers at 2:07 p.m..

Then, it’s Wisconsin against UND at 5:07 p.m.

Today’s game appears to be a must-win for UND, which currently sits at No. 8 in the Pairwise. With the CHA champion taking up one of the eight spots in the national tournament with an autobid, the lowest an at-large team can be in the Pairwise and still make the tournament is No. 7.

This is somewhat similar to the situation UND was in two years ago. It knew it needed to beat Wisconsin in the semifinals to have a shot at the NCAA tournament, and UND did win that game.

This is the third year in a row that UND has matched up with the Badgers in the WCHA semifinals. UND won the last two.

For today’s paper, I wrote about senior defenseman Johanna Fallman. She doesn’t spend a lot of time in the limelight, doesn’t score a lot of goals, but has been a pretty consistent presence on the blue line for UND this season.

Fallman also is one of the smartest players on the team, posting a 4.0, while studying in her second language. She had a rough start at UND, breaking her ankle and being declared ineligible for a year by the NCAA. Fallman thought about leaving and going home, but stuck it out and says it has been the best decision of her life.

Winnipeg Free Press writer Tim Campbell, who covers the Jets for the paper, was in town last weekend doing pieces on Tucker Poolman and Meghan Dufault. He watched Dufault make the play to set up Amy Menke for the triple OT game-winner a week ago. Read his piece on Dufault here.

I also wrote a story on Scanlan, the former East Grand Forks coach and administrator who has led the Beavers to their first 20-win season in school history. He had a funny story about how BSU scored the game-tying goal in a decisive Game 3 against Minnesota Duluth last weekend. Read that here.

If you get a hard copy of the paper, you’ll see matchup boxes of all four teams, a note on their top player and a short piece on what to expect from each team in the tournament.

All four teams are coming in hot.

UND is 15-2-1 since early December.

Minnesota is 31-2-4 on the season.

Wisconsin is 20-4-4 since getting swept by Minnesota in October.

Bemidji State is 6-3 since getting swept by UND last month.

So, it should be a great event. Since I’m in Oxford, Ohio, we’ll have Darian Brevik covering the tournament for us. Check out all the coverage on the Herald site. That’s it for now.

Amsley-Benzie, Scanlan win major awards

Shelby Amsley-Benzie is the WCHA student-athlete of the year and Jim Scanlan is the coach of the year in the league, heading up the major award winners for the WCHA.

Amsley-Benzie did get some bad news as she missed the cut for the Patty Kazmaier top three. She has the second-best save percentage in college hockey in the last eight years (only behind Noora Raty’s senior season). Raty also probably should have won Patty Kaz that year. Tough award for goalies.

UND’s Becca Kohler and Halli Krzyzaniak also made the all-WCHA third team.

WCHA awards

Player of the year — Hannah Brandt, F, Minnesota
Coach of the year — Jim Scanlan, Bemidji State
Student-athlete of the year — Shelby Amsley-Benzie, G, North Dakota
Rookie of the year — Annie Pankowski, F, Wisconsin
Defensive player of the year — Rachel Ramsey, D, Minnesota
Scoring champion — Brandt
Goaltending champion — Amsley-Benzie

First team

F – Hannah Brandt, Minnesota
F – Dani Cameranesi, Minnesota
F – Blayre Turnbull, Wisconsin
D – Rachel Ramsey, Minnesota
D – Lee Stecklein, Minnesota
G – Shelby Amsley-Benzie, North Dakota
G – Brittni Mowat, Bemidji State

Second team

F – Brittany Ammerman, Wisconsin
F – Zoe Hickel, Minnesota Duluth
F – Annie Pankowski, Wisconsin
D – Milicia McMillen, Minnesota
D – Brigette Lacquette, Minnesota Duluth

Third team

F – Rachel Bona, Minnesota
F – Becca Kohler, North Dakota
F – Karley Sylvester, Wisconsin
D – Courtney Burke, Wisconsin
D – Halli Krzyzaniak, North Dakota
G – Ann-Renee Desbiens, Wisconsin

Rookie team

F – Emily Clark, Wisconsin
F – Annie Pankowski, Wisconsin
F – Kelly Pannek, Minnesota
D – Sydney Baldwin, Minnesota
D – Alexis Joyce, Bemidji State
G – Kassidy Sauve, Ohio State

Women’s final: UND 2, OSU 1, 3 OT

Notes: No lineup changes for UND. Ohio State makes a change in net, one of many changes for the Buckeyes.

First period

No scoring.

Second period

UND 1, Ohio State 0 — Samantha Hanson (Meghan Dufault) 9:03. Dufault wins a draw cleanly back to Hanson, who blasts a slap shot through a Jensen screen to give UND the first lead.

UND 1, Ohio State 1 — Kayla Sullivan (Danielle Gagne, Sara Schmitt) 19:23. UND gets outnumbered down low and Gagne feeds Sullivan for backdoor tap-in to tie the game.

Third period

No scoring.

Overtime

No scoring.

Second overtime

No scoring.

Third overtime

UND 2, Ohio State 1 — Amy Menke (Meghan Dufault, Becca Kohler) 3:17. UND punches its ticket to the Final Faceoff with a two-on-one goal in transition. Dufault, coming up the left side, feeds Menke, who buries it to end the second-longest game in program history.

UND’s lines

51 Becca Kohler–19 Meghan Dufault–21 Amy Menke
10 Andrea Dalen–63 Josefine Jakobsen–25 Leah Jensen
15 Kayla Gardner–11 Shannon Kaiser–13 Layla Marvin
16 Tori Williams–14 Marissa Salo–4 Sam LaShomb

6 Gracen Hirschy–18 Halli Krzyzanaiak
22 Tanja Eisenschmid–8 Samantha Hanson
5 Johanna Fallman–7 Jordan Hampton

1 Shelby Amsley-Benzie
29 Lexie Shaw
34 Annie Chipman

Ohio State’s lines

18 Julianna Iafallo–6 Taylor Kuehl–19 Danielle Gagne
24 Claudia Kepler–27 Lauren Spring–17 Julia McKinnon
26 Kendall Curtis–7 Kayla Sullivan–16 Melani Moylan
9 Bryanna Neuwald–13 Jessica Dunne–14 Maggie Rothgery

22 Sara Schmitt–2 Cara Zubko
10 Kara Gust–21 Alexa Ranahan
20 Kari Schmitt–8 Dani Sadek

32 Kassidy Sauve
39 Stacy Danczak
35 Selena Hunter

Women’s final: UND 5, Ohio St. 2

Notes: UND goes with the same lines as it has been using.

First period

UND 1, Ohio State 0 — Josefine Jakobsen (Tanja Eisenschmid) 2:36. UND gets on the board on its first shot of the game. Jakobsen comes on a rush up the left side and wires a shot past Danczak on the far side from the circle.

Second period

UND 1, Ohio State 1 — Kari Schmitt (Kayla Sullivan) 10:02 (pp). UND’s shutout streak ends at 297:51 when Schmitt’s shot from the point bounces on the ice and kicks over Amsley-Benzie’s pad for a power-play goal.

Ohio State 2, UND 1 — Sara Schmitt (Danielle Gagne, Kari Schmitt) 13:34 (pp). The Buckeyes cash in on the power play again as Dufault’s clearing attempt is intercepted at the point by Kari Schmitt. She puts the puck into the scoring area and her sister puts a rebound past Amsley-Benzie.

Ohio State 2, UND 2 — Andrea Dalen (Kayla Gardner, Tanja Eisenschmid) 19:54. UND ties the game with just 5.5 seconds left in the second period. Gardner comes on a rush up the left side and throws a pass to the slot area, where it gets through Schmitt and comes to Dalen. The captain hammers a shot off of the goalie’s shoulder and in.

Third period

UND 3, Ohio State 2 — Andrea Dalen (Samantha Hanson) 8:54. Hanson ends a strong shift by getting the puck at the point and firing it toward the slot. It deflects off of a Buckeye defenseman to Dalen, who quickly snipes a backhand before Danczak can get over.

UND 4, Ohio State 2 — Meghan Dufault (Amy Menke) 18:51 (en). Menke fights off a couple of checks and gets the puck to Dufault for the empty-netter.

UND 5, Ohio State 2 — Andrea Dalen (Halli Krzyzaniak) 19:33 (en). Dalen finishes off the hat trick by firing one into the empty net from the circle.

UND’s lines

51 Becca Kohler–19 Meghan Dufault–21 Amy Menke
10 Andrea Dalen–63 Josefine Jakobsen–25 Leah Jensen
15 Kayla Gardner–11 Shannon Kaiser–13 Layla Marvin
16 Tori Williams–14 Marissa Salo–4 Sam LaShomb

6 Gracen Hirschy–18 Halli Krzyzaniak
22 Tanja Eisenschmid–8 Samantha Hanson
5 Johanna Fallman–7 Jordan Hampton

1 Shelby Amsley-Benzie
29 Lexie Shaw
34 Annie Chipman

Ohio State’s lines

7 Kayla Sullivan–6 Tahylor Kuehl–19 Danielle Gagne
24 Claudia Kepler–27 Lauren Spring–17 Julia McKinnon
18 Julianna Iafallo–26 Kendall Curtis–16 Melani Moylan
9 Bryanna Neuwald–23 Katie Matheny–14 Maggie Rothgery

22 Sara Schmitt–13 Jessica Dunne
10 Kara Gust–21 Alexa Ranahan
20 Kari Schmitt–8 Dani Sadek

39 Stacy Danczak
32 Kassidy Sauve
35 Selena Hunter

Friday morning reading

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — That’s really nice that it has warmed up to 13 degrees in Grand Forks. Because it’s currently -14 here in the Zoo.

Sorry Bronco fans, we brought the weather with us.

UND flew to Kalamazoo on Thursday morning and held a practice at Lawson Ice Arena during the afternoon. Sources say that Dave Hakstol actually scored a shootout goal this week on Zane McIntyre.

And former Kalamazoo Wing Brad Berry won the shootout in the town he spent six years as a player and where he started his coaching career. Seems fitting.

It’s not the same arena where the K-Wings play, though. That venue is currently being occupied by the U.S. Curling Nationals. They are down to the semifinals now. Former UND student Joe Polo is among the semifinalists.

It’s a busy week in town and it has been a busy week for the NCHC. The league office made a pair of suspensions this week — one on UND’s last opponent and one on UND’s next opponent.

NCHC commish Josh Fenton took some time out to answer some questions facing the league, including Arizona State, the officiating program, full cost of attendance stipends and first-round travel. Read his answers here.

NCHC assistant commissioner Joe Novak is expected to be on hand for this weekend’s UND-WMU series in Lawson Ice Arena.

WMU officials say that Friday’s game is a near sellout and that they are selling just standing-room only tickets for Saturday’s game. Western Michigan coach Andy Murray hopes a revved up crowd is an advantage for the Broncos.

Although Western is out of the race for the Penrose Cup, the team is keeping its hopes high as it heads down the stretch.

What are the keys to this series?

1. Goaltending. That’s always the case, but I think it’s an extra interesting matchup this weekend. Zane McIntyre stole two games here last season. If you recall, Western outshot UND fairly handily both nights, but Zane was the difference both times.

I thought that Western had the best 1-2 punch in goal in the NCHC coming into the season, but both guys have been up-and-down. Lukas Hafner’s stumble in the outdoor game re-opened the door for Frank Slubowski, who made his first start in three months last week. Whoever plays this weekend, the Broncos need a good performance.

2. Handling physicality. The Broncos were the most physical team in the NCHC last season and I thought it caught some teams off guard. I don’t think UND has any problem with playing that style of game, which is good, because it will need to this weekend. Western won’t be quite as physical Friday night without suspended 6-foot-5, 250-pound Mike McKee, but I’d expect to see Josh Pitt back in the lineup with McKee out.

3. Staying out of the box. Western’s power play has been potent this year, ranking fifth in the nation and first in the NCHC. Nolan LaPorte, the team’s top power-play point producer, did not play last weekend but practiced this week. Junior defenseman Kenney Morrison is believed to be one of the most coveted NHL free agents on the market. He’s an offensive specialist.

4. Find a difference-maker. There wasn’t much time and space last time these teams played in Lawson. Rocco Grimaldi created a lot of it, though. He was the best player on the ice and was a huge difference-maker in that series. He’s gone. UND needs to find another one, whether it’s one of the Schmaltz’s, Paul LaDue, Drake Caggiula or Michael Parks.

On to the picks….

Minnesota Duluth at Miami: Should be a great matchup between arguably the two best groups of forwards in the league. Duluth has won four of the last five. Miami is on a five-game unbeaten streak. Miami 4-2, Duluth 5-4.

Omaha at St. Cloud State: Omaha wants to avoid another late-season meltdown, and at this point, it doesn’t appear to be coming. The Mavs appear solid in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011. But I keep waiting for St. Cloud State to make its push. Maybe it starts this weekend. St. Cloud State 4-3, 3-3 tie.

Denver vs. Colorado College: The Tigers have been outscored 11-1 by their rivals this season. There’s not much left to play for but the Gold Pan. Unfortunately for the Tigers, it won’t be staying in the Springs this year. Denver 4-0, 2-1.

UND at Western Michigan: UND’s last three road trips have ended in splits. But I sense that this is a team that wants to make its late-season push. I think both games will be tight, low-scoring affairs. UND 3-2, 2-2 tie.

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Back in Grand Forks, the UND women’s team finishes its regular season against last-place Minnesota State-Mankato.

All it’s going to take is a single point for UND to clinch home ice for a fifth consecutive season. One victory will be enough to secure third place as well. Two wins would secure a 20-win season.

UND has started to monitor the Pairwise Rankings ever-so-slightly and this team could shockingly make a run all the way to the NCAA tournament.

How did this team go from 4-7-1 to this point? Here are the top five reasons.

We may not know UND’s first-round opponent until Sunday, as four of the eight WCHA teams conclude play on Sunday afternoon. One key series to watch is Ohio State and Minnesota Duluth.

Lamoureux make Team USA

Both Lamoureux twins have made Team USA for the upcoming Women’s World Championship.

Jocelyne, who missed some Team USA activities over the winter due to surgery recovery, is on the roster as a forward. Monique, who has moved to the blue line since the 2014 Sochi Games, will continue playing defense.

The World Championships will be played March 28 to April 4 in Malmo, Sweden.

Other 2014 Olympians on the WWC roster include forwards Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, Brianna Decker, Kendall Coyne and Alex Carpenter, defensemen Lee Stecklein, Anne Schleper, Michelle Picard and Kacey Bellamy, and goaltenders Jesse Vetter and Molly Schaus.

Friday night rewind

UND became just the fourth team to beat Minnesota in the last 120 games on Friday night with a surprising 3-0 win. It was a remarkable turnaround from the last meeting between the teams this season, in which Minnesota outshot UND 51-7 and won 5-0. Stories:

Herald – UND upsets No. 2 Minnesota in front of nearly 5,000 fans

Herald – Amsley-Benzie lifting UND to next level

UNDsports.com – Fans Pack the Ralph to see UND upset win

Other notes:

  • UND’s last win in The Ralph against the Gophers came on Dec. 3, 2011, also by a 3-0 score. That’s also the last time Minnesota has lost a game by three goals.
  • UND played the game it needed to a T. It wasn’t run-and-gun. They didn’t get into exchanging opportunities up and down the ice. They really limited Minnesota’s scoring chances. And when the Gophers did get looks, Shelby Amsley-Benzie was fantastic.
  • Amsley-Benzie has allowed nine goals in her last 11 starts and five in her last eight.
  • Amy Menke continues to score at a torrid pace, especially at home. She has eight goals 16 points in the last nine home games. Menke is now the team’s leading goal scorer.
  • Minnesota has dropped seven games since November 2011. The losses have been to Clarkson, Bemidji State (Minnesota not at full strength), Duluth, North Dakota, North Dakota, North Dakota and North Dakota. Yes, UND has had more success against Minnesota than anybody lately.
  • Gopher coach Brad Frost said: “They blocked a ton of shots. They made it difficult to get to the net and they deserved the three points tonight. All five players on the ice are looking to block shots. They are very good at it. They are big and they get in the way. They clogged up the net front real well.”
  • Frost also said he thinks Minnesota needs to compete better in the series finale. “We need our compete level to go up. They played desperate. We didn’t. We need to be significantly better if we’re going to come away with a split.”

Women’s final: UND 3, Minnesota 0

Tickets are $1 for tonight’s game. No surprises in the lineup.

First period

No scoring.

Second period

UND 1, Minnesota 0 — Amy Menke (Tanja Eisenschmid) 16:44 (sh). Menke skates on a breakaway with some back pressure from Minnesota but gets enough space to snipe one over the glove of Leveille for a shorthanded goal. It’s the first shorthander allowed by Minnesota this season.

UND 2, Minnesota 0 — Josefine Jakobsen 18:13. UND has a three-on-two rush. Hanson drives the net to create traffic and Jakobsen cuts from the right wing all the way across the slot and buries it.

Third period

UND 3, Minnesota 0 — Amy Menke 19:53 (en). Menke wins a battle at the line, skates it to the line and fires it into an empty net.

UND’s lines

51 Becca Kohler–19 Meghan Dufault–21 Amy Menke
10 Andrea Dalen–63 Josefine Jakobsen–25 Leah Jensen
15 Kayla Gardner–11 Shannon Kaiser–13 Layla Marvin
16 Tori Williams–14 Marissa Salo–4 Sam LaShomb

6 Gracen Hirschy–18 Halli Krzyzaniak
22 Tanja Eisenschmid–8 Samantha Hanson
5 Johanna Fallman–7 Jordan Hampton

1 Shelby Amsley-Benzie
29 Lexie Shaw
34 Annie Chipman

Minnesota’s lines

14 Maryanne Menefee–22 Hannah Brandt–21 Dani Cameranesi
20 Meghan Lorence–19 Kelly Pannek–7 Rachel Bona
6 Kate Schipper–10 Cara Piazza–18 Brook Garzone
27 Nina Rodgers

5 Rachel Ramsey–9 Sydney Baldwin
2 Lee Stecklein–13 Milicia McMillen
11 Kelsey Cline–12 Megan Wolfe

29 Amanda Leveille
37 Sidney Peters
31 Shyler Sletta

Friday morning reading

The UND men have the weekend off. It’s their final weekend off of the season.

But there still is a big series brewing in Grand Forks.

The UND women are hosting Minnesota at 7:07 tonight in Ralph Engelstad Arena and tickets are being sold for just $1. The cheap tickets are part of the effort to break the single-game attendance record of 5,835, set a year ago.

I wrote a preview on the series here.

It took UND a little while to get going this season, but thanks to a stingy defense and goaltender Shelby Amsley-Benzie, it has firm control of its own destiny in the chase for home ice in the first round of the playoffs.

If UND sweeps the WCHA’s worst two teams — St. Cloud State and MSU-Mankato — to close the season, it will have home ice, regardless of what happens this weekend.

Even so, you can bet that UND would like to grab a win against its rival and put some doubt in Minnesota’s mind in case the two meet up in the WCHA tournament (which also will be played at The Ralph).

Amsley-Benzie, who will set nearly every single-season goaltending record in program history this season, has been especially good as of late. Since Thanksgiving, she is 8-1-1 with a .966 save percentage and a 0.89 goals-against average.

She has a personal eight-game unbeaten streak (7-0-1) heading into this series against Minnesota and Amsley-Benzie leads the nation with a .949 save percentage.

Obviously, this will be UND’s toughest test to date.

Minnesota is on a 19-game unbeaten streak, and while it doesn’t have Amanda Kessel throwing up 100 points, the Gophers are extremely deep. Seven players are in double digits in goals.

And with three Olympic-caliber defensemen (Rachel Ramsey, Lee Stecklein, Milicia McMillen), they can generate offense from the back end as well as make it difficult to get good shots on Amanda Leveille (.943, 1.22).

So, can UND win a game this weekend?

It won’t be easy, but yes, when you have a hot goaltender with the potential to steal a game, there is that chance. Minnesota obviously has more skill, so UND will not want to get in a run-and-gun game with the Gophers. UND will have to do a good job of converting scoring chances and any potential power plays.

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On the men’s side, it’s a very quiet weekend in the NCHC.

Northern Michigan heads to Minnesota Duluth for the league’s final nonconference action of the regular season, while Denver plays Colorado College in a single game tonight (CBS Sports) and Miami plays Western Michigan in a single game at Soldier Field on Saturday afternoon.

My quick picks…

Northern Michigan at Minnesota Duluth: The Wildcats are without goalie Mathias Dahlstrom, who is their clear-cut starter. That doesn’t bode well against a Bulldog team that’s very dynamic up front. Bulldogs 4-1, 5-3.

Denver at Colorado College: The Pioneers can put themselves in the driver’s seat for the Gold Pan with a win tonight. Denver routed the Tigers 8-1 in the first meeting. While CC is bound to be better, I can’t see them winning this one. Denver 2-0.

Western Michigan vs. Miami: The Broncos had Miami’s number last season, going 4-0 against the RedHawks. The tables have started to turn as Miami is 2-0-1 against Western Michigan this season. I think an outdoor game on potentially bad ice tips the scales in favor of the Broncos, who don’t rely on their slick playmaking as much as the RedHawks. Western Michigan 3-2.