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Women’s Hockey Wednesday: Is Merrimack the dark horse of Hockey East?

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Plus pre-season and international recaps!

Jessica Bonfe of Merrimack College (left) confirming that she had just scored, despite best efforts by Nicole Schammel (middle) and Sidney Peters (right).
Cat Lenander - Hockey Wilderness

Story of the Week

Minnesota Splits Series with Merrimack - Hockey Wilderness

Covering University of Minnesota Hockey: Game Story: #3 Minnesota upset by Merrimack 4-3 to open year

If I had to pick an upset for this weekend’s slate of games, I can’t tell you with utter certainty who I would have picked. I can tell you that I would not have sat down, looked at that schedule, and said, “Merrimack is going to beat the University of Minnesota, at home, in their season opener.”

And yet, Merrimack beat the University of Minnesota, at home, in their season opener.

For those who don’t follow college hockey, some backstory is necessary as to why women’s NCAA fans were yelling about this game so very loudly on Twitter. The University of Minnesota reached the national championship game every year from 2012 through 2016 and won four times during that span (2012, 2013, 2015, 2016). Merrimack College, a small school in suburban Boston with all of 3,200 students, wasn’t even playing Division I until the 2015-16 season. Last year, they won eleven games. Minnesota won twenty-six, and made it to the Frozen Four.

It’s expected for schools to take a few years after the elevation to Div I to get their feet under them, put together a few good recruiting classes, and settle in playing at a higher level. Until then, they’re cupcakes, creampuffs, whatever delicious bakery-related phrase you prefer to use for a bad program that good ones can beat up on for easy wins. Friday night, Minnesota discovered that sometimes cupcakes have teeth.

This wasn’t completely out of the blue. In their season opener last Friday, Merrimack beat Boston University 2-1, on the back of powerplay goals by Katelyn Rae and Megan Fergusson and a 31-save performance by goaltender Samantha Ridgewell. BU doesn’t have the roster or pedigree of Minnesota, but it was still a surprise. Bad team carried by a good goalie and a little scoring luck is an old story, but what’s even better news for Merrimack is that Ridgewell was not the goalie in net against Minnesota on Friday. That honor went to Léa-Kristine Demers, who made 54 saves (54!) and was indisputably the reason her team was able to battle back from a 3-1 deficit to win. Rae, Mikyla Grant-Mentis, Maddy Burton, and Jessica Bonfe certainly helped, putting a goal apiece past senior Minnesota netminder Sidney Peters, but it was Demers who shut the door. This game earned her WHEA Player of the Week honors, and deservedly so—if 54 saves can’t get you that award, what can?

(As a side note, Merrimack is coached by USA Hockey goaltending legend Erin Hamlen, so the fact that goaltending is one of their strong suits should not be a huge shock.)

Due to Olympic centralization, Minnesota is without offensive standouts Kelly Pannek and Sarah Potomak. They also just graduated two-time Olympian Lee Stecklein, who’s been a key part of their blueline since 2012, and is the sort of player any team, no matter how stacked, is going to miss. Even without those stars, Merrimack isn’t quite in Minnesota’s league yet, a fact that was proven on Sunday when they lost the second game of the series 4-1. That’s only part of the point. Beating a perennial winner like Minnesota is the sort of win that gives a team bragging rights. It’s the sort of win that can catapult a program from “where are they from again?” to “nationally ranked.”

There are a lot of reasons to love NCAA women’s hockey. Games like this are one of them. Early returns suggest Hockey East is going to be pure, delightful chaos this year, and I couldn’t be happier. This weekend, we also saw Quinnipiac knocked out of the top ten after a loss to Maine, the only team in Hockey East that was worse than Merrimack last year. Number 8 Northeastern tied with reigning national champions Clarkson on Friday, and then lost to them 5-1 the next afternoon. Chaos is what makes college hockey fun.

Merrimack’s next games are a weekend home-and-home series against New Hampshire, and I hope they can carry their momentum in from last weekend. More celebrations like this, please.

International Hockey

Women’s Hockey Top 25 Under 25 | Number 1 - Alex Carpenter - The Ice Garden
Already a superstar, Carpenter could very soon be the best player in women’s hockey.

‘Birds bested by team China in OT thriller
A remarkably improved Chinese national women's hockey team handed the UBC Thunderbirds a 3-2 double overtime loss in a thrilling exhibition matchup at Father David Bauer Arena Wednesday night.

FGCU defeats USA Women’s National team in exhibition
FGCU’s DII hockey team defeated the USA Women’s National team 7-4 in front of a packed house at Germain Arena on Friday night.

Canada rolls past Bisons to open Esso Series
An offensive outburst from Canada’s National Women’s Team led it to a 9-1 victory over the Airdrie Bisons on Tuesday night in the opener of the Esso Series at the Markin MacPhail Centre.

Ohio State overpowers South Korean Olympic team 8-0 in exhibition | The Lantern
Two goals each from forwards Maddy Field and Emma Maltais propelled Ohio State to an 8-0 victory over the South Korean Olympic team in an exhibition game Tuesday at the OSU Ice Rink in Columbus.

Having Learned From Sochi Heartbreak, The U.S. Women’s Hockey Team Rides Confidence, Camaraderie To 2018
Say the word, and you’ll get a reaction from the U.S. women’s ice hockey team.

A Day In The Life Of Hockey Player Meghan Duggan At The Team USA Media Summit
Two-time Olympic ice hockey silver medalist Meghan Duggan was so busy at her first pre-Olympic Team USA Media Summit that she didn’t even have time to post on social media until it was over. That’s not to say she doesn’t have the photos to fill it.

‘The pass. The goal. The gold’ | TheSpec.com
A stroll through YouTube with the headphones on and the volume turned up to 11 serves as a terrific time machine back to the moment things changed.

CWHL

Thunderbirds wrap up preseason against CWHL's Vanke Rays
The UBC Thunderbirds wrapped up their pre-season by dropping an 8-4 decision to the Vanke Rays, a professional CWHL team based out of Shenzhen, China.

‘Birds outpowered by Kunlun Red Star
Kunlun Red Star scored twice in each period for a decisive 6-0 win over the UBC Thunderbirds women's hockey team Tuesday night at Father David Bauer Arena in Vancouver.

UOIT Ridgebacks - Ridgebacks fall to CWHL’s Markham Thunder
The UOIT women's hockey team is still looking for their first win of preseason action as they lost a tough one at home to the Markham Thunder of the CWHL on Saturday afternoon.

Charline Labonté’s unconventional path to greatness - Eyes On The Prize
Her road to Olympic stardom was one we may never see again.

NWHL

Whale add five more to the pod including Meghan Huertas - The Ice Garden
Connecticut makes a flurry of signings and adds three new faces to the roster.

NCAA

Div I Polls: USCHO | Ice Garden

FIVE GOOD MINUTES: Catching Up With BC Women’s Hockey Head Coach Katie Crowley - BC Interruption
Hockey season is here!

A capsule look at Boston’s Division 1 women’s college hockey teams - The Boston Globe
What to look for this season from BC, BU, Northeastern, and Harvard.

Michaela Boyle Returns to Boston, Proving Her Strength is in the Details
The first game of a collegiate career always means a lot. Getting a first collegiate goal in the first series of said career is also always a special moment.

Caitrin Lonergan is Primed to be BC's Next Big Thing - The Heights
Caitrin Lonergan has spent the entire offseason working tirelessly for the season ahead—and is poised to make a big jump in her sophomore campaign.

Hockey trio turns heartbreak into new opportunities at Mercyhurst
Kennedy Blair, Emma Nuutinen and Vilma Tanskanen left the University of North Dakota last spring after school officials cut the women's hockey program. Now, they enjoy a fresh start on and off the ice at Mercyhurst.

College women's hockey: UMD sophomore captain Brodt wise beyond her years | Duluth News Tribune

U Sports

Mabou native first X-Women’s hockey player inducted into St. FX sports hall of fame
A Cape Breton native will become the first St. Francis Xavier X-Women’s hockey player inducted into the university’s sports hall of fame.

Concordia Stingers Video Coach Prove Training isn’t All Muscles | Special Issue – The Link
Concordia’s women’s hockey team will have a full-time video coordinator for the first time since the program’s inception.

European hockey leagues

SDHL (Sweden) Lara Stalder owns the ice with four-goal night - The Ice Garden

A hat trick with a cherry on top.

SWHL (Switzerland) EV Bomo Thun tops the SWHL A standings - swisshockeynews.ch

After three victories (one against HC Lugano and two against SC Reinach), Bomo Thun is on top of the SWHL A's standings, right before the Neuchâtel Hockey Academy and the ZSC Lions.

Naisten Liiga (Finland) Linda Välimäki hits 300-goal milestone in the Naisten Liiga - The Ice Garden

One of Finland’s most gifted scorers continues to dominate.

Women’s League (Russia) Women’s Hockey Update: October 2nd, 2017 | CONWAY'S RUSSIAN HOCKEY BLOG

Lots to cover in this one: six games from the Women's Hockey League, the opening tilts of the country's Under-18 women's championship, and the gathering of not one but two national squads.

AWIHL (Australia)

Melbourne Ice Women 2017-18 roster | Ice Hockey News Australia
The Melbourne Ice have announced their roster for the upcoming 2017-18 AWIHL season.

Sydney Sirens 2017-18 roster | Ice Hockey News Australia
The Sydney Sirens have released their roster for the upcoming 2017-18 AWIHL season.

Adelaide Rush 2017-18 roster | Ice Hockey News Australia
The Adelaide Rush have released their roster for the upcoming 2017-18 AWIHL season.