It's all or nothing with only the top prize remaining

By Patrick McClary
On March 23, 2006

  • Our family LOVES gift-giving at the holiday time but due to the economy, for the past two years we have started a new tradition of picking names for the grown-ups. It's actually fun to anticipate who gets which name and opening it fun when each of us present the gifts to our secret person. I hope retailers continue to be creative and give us opportunities to get out and shop!. april d

And then there were four.

The women's hockey national tournament flies by so quickly, if you blink, you might miss it, with only eight teams in the final field. UNH made easy work of Harvard last Friday at the Whittemore Center, posting a 3-1 regional victory to advance to this weekend's Frozen Four in Minneapolis.

In typical UNH fashion, the Wildcats out shot the Crimson 38-16. The usual cast of stars led the way for UNH: Jennifer Hitchcock opened the scoring late in the first with assists going to line mate and Durham native Sadie Wright-Ward and Martine Garland. Later in the period, Garland scored the eventual game winner.

Their eyes are aimed squarely at one thing: a chance to bring home their second national championship in the program's history. The Wildcats are riding an NCAA single-season record unbeaten streak of 29 games (28-0-1) and tied the NCAA-record win streak of 17 games for an overall record of 33-2-1.

The path to become national champions won't be as easy as the relatively untested Wildcats have been used to. They'll face off against the defending champion University of Minnesota tonight, a game broadcast live on CSTV and on Yahoo Broadcast.

"Both teams are out to prove who's the top dog," Coach Brian McCloskey said in a press conference on Tuesday. "There will be a lot of pride on the line and I'm sure there will be just a ton of energy."

This time out, the 'Cats will hold the torch as the number one team in the land. It's something they're used to, considering they've held the title all the way down the stretch.

"Of course, everyone expects the number one team to win," Wright-Ward said. "We're the favorite going in so that's a lot of added pressure. I think that our team is handling it really well."

Inexperience hardly shows. Both teams will feature young rosters with freshmen and sophomores accounting for the bulk of both offenses. Hitchcock leads the nation in points with 63 (29 goals, 34 assists) with Wright-Ward not far behind in third with 60 (28 goals, 32 assists). Standout freshman Sam Faber rounds out arguably the best line in women's college hockey. Faber is tied for sixth in points with 51 (22 goals, 29 assists).

"I think our strengths and [Minnesota's] strengths match up pretty well," McCloskey said. "Both teams have good speed, both teams have defense that are fairly reliable with the puck and both teams have forwards that can hurt you if you're not paying attention to detail."

The number one ranked Wildcats and number four Gophers will be joined in Minneapolis by number two Wisconsin and number three St. Lawrence.

UNH has Wisconsin to thank for propelling the team through the season. The 2-1 win against the Badgers on Nov. 27 acted as a springboard for the team that hasn't lost a game since Nov. 5.

"Once we beat them, we felt like we can play with all these teams that everyone talks about all the time," Hitchcock said. "That was the turn around for us this year."

One thing that hasn't changed all year has been the outstanding play of junior goalie Melissa Bourdon. She leads the nation with a stingy 1.06 goals against average and 10 shutouts.

Even a powerful offense needs a tight defense to succeed.

"We're giving up 15 shots or less each game and that's a huge key to our success," Hitchcock said. "Bourdon hasn't had to face that many shots."

As they face off against Minnesota tonight, the 'Cats will hope to stymie the chance for a repeat champion. The word "lose" hasn't been said very often in the UNH locker room, but even if they come up short, not all is lost on one of the best seasons in the program's history.

"I don't think it will be unsuccessful," Hitchcock said of the season. "We'll be let down a little bit. We're definitely going in hoping to win the national championship. So far we've had an amazing season. It's been above and beyond what most people have expected."

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