Despite loads of success, Mercyhurst still feels disrespected
Mercyhurst women’s hockey head coach Michael Sisti comes into this weekend’s Women’s Frozen Four with a chip on his shoulder.
It certainly isn’t because his team hasn’t performed well. Far from it, in fact, as his Lakers (28-6-1) are making their third Frozen Four appearance following a 4-3 upset overtime victory at No. 2 Cornell in the teams’ NCAA quarterfinal game on Mar. 16.
The school’s women’s hockey program has a winning pedigree, too. Admittedly, Mercyhurst plays in the College Hockey America conference whose champion does not receive an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament, but Sisti’s team’s long history of success within the league and without speaks for itself.
Still, he doesn’t believe his program is getting the amount of universal respect that he feels it has earned.
“We always set high goals and expectations for ourselves,” Sisti said, “But I think, lots of times, our school’s name isn’t as well-known as some other schools that have been around for 200 or 300 years, and so we get disrespected.
“But we’ve won 10 league championships and 12 out of 13 league playoff championships, and we’re the only team to make the NCAA tournament nine times, all without an automatic bid.”
If, however, his Lakers beat No. 3 Boston University in Friday’s second national semifinal game at Minneapolis’s Ridder Arena, Mercyhurst would certainly rake in a lot more attention.
The Lakers have enough talent on their roster that knocking off the Terriers would be far from unfathomable. Mercyhurst boasts Division I’s third-best offense (4.22 goals scored per game), sixth-best defense (1.69 goals conceded per contest), and it comes into Friday’s meeting with BU riding an eight-game winning streak dating back to Feb. 9.
Mercyhurst is led up front by captain and junior forward Christine Bestland, whose 28 goals and 43 assists for 71 points this season place her fourth in the country in terms of point production. Just below Bestland, two Lakers freshman forwards – Jenna Dingeldein and Emily Janiga – have both surpassed the 40-point mark in their first season in Erie.
Energetic youth has certainly served the Lakers well this season – five of Mercyhurst’s top seven point-scorers this season are either freshmen or sophomores – and it has had to following big losses to graduation in each of the past two seasons.
"We’re a very young team and, in the last two years,” Sisti said. “We’ve lost about a thousand points and have had 19 new players in that time.
“Because of that, a lot of time, people on the outside look at us and might not respect our past and present accomplishments, but our team always plays with a lot of pride and passion, and I think that’s what breeds our success.”
There is plenty of upperclassman experience on the team, though, including in the form of senior goaltender Stephanie Ciampa. Ciampa has been superb for the Lakers this season, amassing a 20-1-0 record, .935 save percentage and 1.43 goals against average.
BU (27-5-3) has had to rely a little more on its upperclassmen than Mercyhurst has. Four of the top five Terriers on BU’s scoring chart are either juniors or seniors this season, and junior goaltender Kerrin Sperrey (23-4-3, .921 SV%, 2.14 GAA) has carried the load between the pipes for her team this season.
The Terriers’ team defense is statistically the weakest among this year’s Frozen Four participants, having given up 2.31 goals per game this season. At 3.77 goals scored per contest, however, BU’s offense ranks sixth in all of Division I.
Head coach Brian Durocher’s team has really spread the wealth offensively this season, too. Junior forward Marie-Philip Poulin has led the pack with her 17 goals and 34 assists for 51 points, but five Terriers have at least 30 points so far in the 2012-13 campaign, eight have gone above the 20-point mark, and 11 BU players have at least 10 points to their name.
Durocher feels as though his Terriers are feeling very confident, having knocked off Clarkson 5-3 in the teams’ NCAA quarterfinal game in Boston on Mar. 16. His seniors have never missed an NCAA tournament, either, and he’s hoping that their leadership and experience at this level and point in the season will help to keep BU in the hunt for its first-ever national championship in women’s ice hockey.
“I think everyone’s really excited to be heading out there (to Minneapolis),” Durocher said. “Our seniors and our juniors got that experience two years ago and have gotten into the NCAA tournament now for a fourth year in a row, so we’ve got some experience at this level.
“My hope for us is that it’s a tempered excitement where the kids are excited and ready for when the puck drops, but at the same time they know they have that experience, that they’ve been on this stage before, and that they’ll play in a relaxed mode.”
Relaxation or, conversely, anxiety could prove to be an issue for both teams, as Mercyhurst and BU are both in the top one-third of Division I teams in terms of penalty minutes assessed.
Both teams are playing great hockey at the moment, though, and both schools will hope that they continue on their run of form and get to vie for their first-ever national championship on Sunday afternoon in Minneapolis.