ERIE, Pa. – Molly Schaus didn’t leave the net until the final buzzer.
The Boston College senior goaltender, a member of the U.S. Olympic Team that won silver last year in Vancouver, remained in the net for the final minute of Wisconsin’s 3-2 win against the Eagles in the first of two semifinals at the 2011 NCAA Women’s Frozen Four, eventually defending her net one final time against national goal-scoring leader Hilary Knight.
It was a fitting ending for the Natick, Mass., native, who backstopped the Eagles to three NCAA tournaments and two Women’s Frozen Fours in her four years, but it was also an unintended one.
“To be honest,” Eagles head coach Katie King said, “my initial reaction was to pull Molly, and I think I got caught up in our offensive zone play for a few seconds. I guess it was good, because they probably would have gotten a fourth goal there in the end.”
Knight never actually got the shot off – “I’ll call that a win for me,” Schaus said with a smile – but even though Schaus wasn’t credited with the save, with 3,412 of them in her career, she certainly has plenty.
“Molly has meant so much to our program,” King said, “and obviously played a great game tonight and always seems to have the big saves when we need them. She will definitely be a player that will always be remembered in Boston College history for everything that she’s done.”
Amanda Mazzotta still has one more year in net at Cornell after the Big Red’s 4-1 loss to Boston University, but after leading the Big Red to a second consecutive Frozen Four with a .949 save percentage and a goals-against average of 0.99 heading into the game, she’s clearly established herself with a force to be reckoned with in net in her own right behind an impressive defense.
“They take care of business in front of the net,” said BU head coach Brian Durocher, “and she is a fantastic goaltender.”
Put simply, both the Badgers and the Terriers knew they had their work cut out for them on Friday evening at Tullio Arena, and they responded in the most natural way possible.
They shot, and shot, and shot, and then they shot some more.
Both BU and Wisconsin outshot their opposition by wide margins on Friday, with the Terriers posting 31 shots to Cornell’s 15 and Wisconsin putting 46 shots on net to BC’s 25.
Having played with Schaus during last year’s Olympics, however, Wisconsin senior forward Meghan Duggan knew that it would take more than a high volume to overwhelm the Eagles’ outstanding goalkeeper, a top ten finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award.
“I know Milly very well,” Duggan said. “She is an outstanding goaltender and difficult to beat most of the time. She played outstanding today, and made some great saves, so this week in practice, we worked on getting traffic in front and taking her eyes away, banging the puck in, moving her laterally, things like that.”
The traffic certainly made a difference on Wisconsin’s first goal, as Duggan turned and fired the puck through a crowd, past a screened Schaus and into the back of the net. More importantly, though, it worked with less than a minute to play, as Schaus set up the deciding tally by Brianna Decker.
“It started with a great turnover,” Duggan said. “Hilary Knight was in a great position. BC turned the puck over and she was in a great position to kind of pick off the pass that they were trying to break out. She tipped it between her legs to me, and I kind of just walked in and made a move and wanted to put it on Schaus. I knew Decker was probably right behind me somewhere, and she would be able to get any rebound that squirted out. I think we both saw the puck there and just whacked at it and got lucky enough that it squirted through the five-hole.”
For the Terriers, the key, in addition to volume, was puck movement. BU scored the deciding goals in the game from the slot on shots by senior Jillian Kirchner and junior Jenelle Kohancuk, getting them the puck in spots where they had great opportunities to beat Mazzotta. First, it was Kirchner potting a rebound from Kathryn Miller’s point shot, and then it was a perfect Jenn Wakefield pass to Kohanchuk, who was able to find the back door and streak towards the net.
“She had great puck control throughout the entire play,” Kohanchuk said. “The defense followed her, and she fed a pass right through the slot and let me take control of it. What was going through my mind wasn’t anything but ‘put the puck in the back of the net,’ and I got a backhand off and it went right in.”
With the two decorated veterans Schaus and Mazzotta gone, a pair of rookies remains to guard the nets in Sunday’s NCAA Championship game: freshmen Kerrin Sperry of BU and Wisconsin’s Alex Rigsby. While both goalies are new to the college game this season, Badgers junior Brooke Ammerman gets a very familiar feeling about her teammate.
“I remember before the game even started, she had a swagger that reminded me of Jessie Vetter,” Ammerman said. “So, a couple of us talked about that and it gave us a little more confidence going in. She’s young, but she plays like she is a lot older and we are really lucky to have her in net.”
The No. 1 goalie for last year’s Olympic team, Vetter was herself a freshman at Wisconsin when she backstopped the Badgers to their first NCAA championship. On Sunday, either Rigsby or Sperry will match the feat.