WOMEN'S HOCKEY TEAM WINS HE, NCAA'S NEXT UP

Sunday Providence swept past Connecticut to win their 4th straight league championship and 10th in 22 years. The victory also assured the Friars of their first NCAA berth. PC defeated a game UConn team 3-1. On Saturday they had earned their spot in the finals with a resounding 9-1 triumph over Boston College.

Even before the games were played the Friars reaped the rewards of their regular season triumph. Karen Thatcher harvested a share of the Hockey East Player of the Year award, her 2nd Sportsmanship award, and 1st team All League. Linemate Rush Zimmerman was also a first team All League. Kathleen Smith capped a fine freshmen season by not only making the All Rookie team, but also getting 2nd team All League as a defenseman. Sophomores Sonny Watrous and Kristin Gigliotti earned honorable mention.

Saturday it was clear from the get go the Friars realized they had to work to win their 3rd straight Hockey East title. Part of the PC success was due to the work of Thatcher who created a lot of space for her linemates to exploit. The other major help was that the defense played a very active game. PC took a quick 2-0 lead on goals by Hilary Greaves, her 4th career goal in the Hockey East playoffs, and Sonny Watrous. BC hung tough due to a couple of power plays, the 2nd of which Fall River native Sarah Feldman converted. However in the last 3 minutes of the period PC turned up the heat a notch and upped the lead to 3. Freshman forward Rachel Crissey converted one Gigliotti helper and then Watrous converted another Gigliotti assist.

In the second the game became a rout. Rush Zimmerman scored a hat trick in the period and Kristin Gigliotti added a 4th tally. By the end of 2 the score was 8-1. PC was able to avoid double shifting Thatcher, Watrous, and Zimmerman and to rotate equally all 5 defensemen, saving their legs for the work ahead. Gigliotti finished out the scoring early in the 3rd. After the lead rose to 9-1 PC had to play a good deal of the period shorthanded due to penalties. With the big lead Providence did not appear to skate with the same fire they had early in the game. One of PC's biggest weaknesses is when they stop skating they still play aggressively, but by not moving their feet the infractions become magnified. This time PC survived unscathed.

Gigliotti with her 2 goals became the first defenseman in the 3 years of the tourney to score 2 goals in a game. Zimmerman recorded the 1st hat trick in tourney history. Finally Karen Thatcher tied the mark for assists and points set 2 years earlier by Friar defensemen Kelli Halcisak.

In the championship game Providence used a script very similar to what has worked for them in past championship games. They played a strong defensive game, borne out by the fact Connecticut was limited to 15 shots on net. The Friars also looked to be opportunists and convert their best chances.

While eventually Connecticut would lose the game they gave a solid effort, pushing PC to the limit before PC's skill carried the day. UConn is a gritty, good skating and fundamentally sound club which resembled the PC squads of the late 80's. The coincidence might not be an accident. For 3 years Connecticut coach Heather Linstad wore either an "A" or the "C" on her Friar uniform. Linstad is still one of the all time greats of the PC program.

For the first time in their last 4 championship games the Friars let up a goal. Just before the end of the first period a fluke bounce escaped the grasp of the Friar defense, came out front forcing Thomas to make an initial save before Huskie senior Jaquelyn McGuire fired a high shot into the open left side of the goal. Despite the goal the Friars had played a solid period, gaining momentum as the period went on.

In the 2nd the Friars got their first break. UConn was called for 3 straight penalties which Providence was unable to convert. After the 3rd the Friars put their 3rd line on to rest the top 2 line's legs. In an ensuing scramble freshman forward Cherie Hendrickson backhanded a shot through Connecticut goalie Kaitlyn Shain's five hole. For Hendrickson it was her 3rd goal of the season, but all 3 were huge. Her first two were in victories over UNH. Hendrickson is also building up a reputation for coming through in playoff games. Last year in her Division II Prep league she scored several huge goals for Brooks.

With the help of the power plays and the goal the Friars were soon taking full charge of the game. Killing 4 of their own penalties was a slight bump in the road. However as the game came down the stretch tied like it was last year, it was clear the Friars would only be unseated if Connecticut could find a way to score a fluke goal. Instead UConn provided PC with a golden opportunity. With 8 minutes left in the period their senior captain Tiffany Owens was called for interference when she was too aggressive in pushing the Friar leading the attack into the boards. PC began the power play with their top unit, which put on the best pressure of the day. Switching over to the 2nd unit, Connecticut was hard pressed to hold off the PC attack. Finally in the waning seconds of the penalty the top unit was sent out again. As the penalty expired the puck was worked to the top of the offensive zone to Kathleen Smith who collaborated with Zimmerman for a great opportunity. The rebound was knocked out halfway to the opposite point from Smith with only Friar defensemen Gigliotti able to get to the puck quickly. With a clean view of the net and with Zimmerman providing a nice screen Gigliotti got off a heat seeker missile which beat Shain cleanly.

The Friars wrapped it up 3 minutes later when PC's captain Danielle Bourgette got of a strong blast of her own. It appeared to hit Shain on her shoulder and drop to her feet. Shain was unaware where it went and hesitated before falling to the ice hoping to smother to puck. Before she even began dropping down, Zimmerman banged the puck to Shain's right where Thatcher was in position to tap it in.

For her work Zimmerman (3 goals 2 assists in 2 days) was named playoff MVP and to the all tourney team. PC defenseman Kristin Gigliotti who in 2 days doubled her goals for the year (3 goals 2 assists), forward Sonny Watrous (2 goals 3 assists) and goalie Amy Thomas were also named to the All Tourney team. For Thomas especially it was a very satisfying victory. Relegated to 3rd string status the past two years and having suffered through some tough games this year Thomas became only the 2nd Friar goalie to win 20 games in a season. Also despite not making the All Tourney team Karen Thatcher (1-5-6) tied the record for assists and points in a tourney. Also Kathleen Smith's strong play in the two games was worthy of notice too.

For this year's senior's (Zimmerman, Hilary Greaves, Christina Redmond, Thomas, Danielle Bourgette, and Emily Gryp) they became the 2nd class in either the ECAC or Hockey East to win their league championship every season they played. The first group was the Friar's class of '95 (Steph O'Sullivan, Melissa Mills, and Kathleen Brophy).

With the win the Friars earned their NCAA bid. They are scheduled to play defending National Champions Minnesota at the Ritter Arena.

It would be fair to say that the Friars have their work cut out for them when they face the Minnesota Gophers on Friday night. Truthfully that probably is an understatement.

Minnesota has some pretty impressive credentials. Start with they are defending National Champions. Move on to they are the number 1 seed. Take a peek at their roster and you think you are facing the U S Olympic team.

Minnesota hosts the Friars having compiled a 33-2-2 record. Last weekend they won the WCHA championship in one of their toughest matches of the year, a 3-2 overtime win over Wisconsin. Their two losses are to Minnesota Duluth two weeks ago and Dartmouth in mid December. Both losses were on the road.

Minnesota is coached by Laura Halldorson. She graduated from Princeton in 1985 and as a junior played in the first ECAC tournament at PC. Her Princeton team was eliminated that year by the Friars. Her first head coaching job was at Colby. Despite going up against bigger name schools her Colby teams more then held there own. They qualified for the ECAC tourney on several occasions. She was also able to bring top rated talent to Colby such as Megan Sittler (former NHLer Daryl Sittler's daughter), Barbara Gordon, and the Kennedy sisters (who followed her to Minnesota with younger sister Courtney becoming an Olympian). At Minnesota her numbers place her among the elite. She has now won 282 games in 15 seasons. In her 8 years at Minnesota she has won at least 20 games each season.

The team's statistics are equally impressive. They have outscored opponents 180 to 48, out shot them 1439 to 712. They have a deadly power play which converts at a better then 30% rate and they kill better then 90% of their penalties. Less then a third of their games were decided by less then 3 goals. They also try to strike both early and often. They have outscored their opponents better then 4-1 in each of the first two periods of their game.

The team's star power comes from 2 of the 3 Patty Kazmaier finalists. In all the team has 3 members of the 2002 Olympic team. The name Krissy Wendell might ring a few bells. She was the first female to play in the Little League World Series back in the early 90's. Since then hockey has take precedence. She is Minnesota's 2nd leading point producer (95) and top goal scorer (40). The top producer is Natalie Darwitz, who as a high schooler made the last Olympic team. On that team she played on the same line as Cammi Granato. Like Granato she seems to have the ability to make everyone around her better. This year she produced 39 goals and had 63 assists for 102 points. The 3rd member of that line is senior Kelly Stephens. She is a top candidate to make the 2006 Olympic team. Her numbers are almost as impressive, 30 goals and 39 assists for 69 points. The 3rd 2002 Olympian on the team is New York native Lyndsay Wall. She too was a high schooler when she played on the Olympic team. Now a sophomore, the defenseman produced 12 goals and 33 assists for 45 points.

Depth is strength of this Gopher team though. Beyond the stars you will find a solid 2nd line, each of whom scored at least 10 goals. They are Bobbi Ross (12-33-45), Erica McKenzie (11-9-20) and Andrea Nichols (10-8-18). Ross and McKenzie are freshman, and Nichols a sophomore. The future will remain very bright for the Gophers. They play a 3rd line regularly made up of a sophomore from Maine, Becky Wacker, and freshmen Liz Palkie and Janelle Philipczyk. The other key defensemen will be juniors Ashley Albrecht and Chelsey Brodt.

In net the Golden Gophers have another solid answer. Jody Horak has been a workhorse for them. She has played 25 games and won 21 with 2 ties. She has a goal's against average of under 1.4 and a save percent of almost 93%.

Most of the Gophers are natives of Minnesota including their top forwards Wendell and Darwitz. Beside the two easterners mentioned above Ross is a Canadian and Stephens is from Washington state. The state of Minnesota has developed a solid high school girl's program which pays big dividends. The female players dream about playing for State U as much as the boys do.

After winning the Hockey East tourney Providence is also on a roll. They have won 5 in a row and have a 7 game unbeaten streak. While not possessing the firepower of Minnesota's top line PC does have one of the best forward lines in the country. A lot of PC's hope will rest with getting major productive minutes from the line of Zimmerman, Thatcher and Watrous. They will need to match up against Minnesota's top line and play them even. Then double shift to give PC the 3 lines to match against Minnesota.

PC's defense stepped it up in the tourney. Kristin Gigliotti made the All Tourney team, and Kathleen Smith continued to impress. Danielle Bourgette received mention on the Hockey East honor roll for her work in the playoffs. They have also received fine goal tending during their current streak from Amy Thomas.

Karen Thatcher's 58 points are the most by a Friar since the 1996-97 season when Olympian Laurie Baker scored 71 points. Thatcher's and Zimmerman's combined total of 114 points is the most since Steph O'Sullivan and Alison Wheeler combined for 124 points in 1994-95. This season is also the first time PC has had 3 20 goal scorers on the same team since 1992-93 (Cammi Granato, Steph O'Sullivan and Lynn Manning).

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