The University of New Hampshire women’s ice hockey team, ranked second in both national polls, heads to the midwest this weekend for the Easton Shootout, which features UNH, Bemidji State, Maine and the host University of Minnesota at Ridder Arena.
    In the tournament opener, UNH faces off against Bemidji State on Oct. 6 at 5 p.m. (Eastern) and is followed by Maine vs. Minnesota. In a rematch of last year’s Frozen Four semifinal game, the Wildcats skate against third-ranked Minnesota in the tourney finale, Oct. 7 at 8 p.m. That game is featured on as the Game of the Week.
    Friday’s game will be the first meeting between the UNH and Bemidji State women’s hockey programs.
    New Hampshire has an 8-6-3 lifetime record, including last year’s 5-4 loss in the semifinals of the Frozen Four, vs. Minnesota. Prior to last season’s postseason meeting, the teams had not faced off since Jan. 18, 2003, when the Golden Gophers were 4-0 victors at UNH’s Whittemore Center. The Wildcats have a 3-3-2 record vs. UM in the state of Minnesota, but all of those games were at Mariucci Arena.
    UNH is 0-6-1 vs. the Golden Gophers in the last seven meetings with the 3-3 tie occurring at Mariucci Arena in the 2001-02 season. UNH’s last win in this series was March, 26, 1999, when the ‘Cats won 3-2 in overtime of the American Women’s College Hockey Alliance (AWCHA) semifinals.
    In last year’s NCAA tournament game, the Golden Gophers took a 2-0 lead midway through the first period on a pair of Bobbi Ross tallies but UNH stormed back to tie the game on tallies 2:17 apart by Jennifer Hitchcock and Kacey Bellamy.
    The ‘Cats took their first lead of the night, 3-2, on Nicole Goguen’s first goal of the year at 6:15 of the middle stanza. Four minutes later, Ross pulled UM even on a penalty shot and the teams entered the final frame tied at 3. The Golden Gophers regained the lead, 4-3, just 2:27 into the third period on a Becky Wacker goal but UNH once again pulled even, this time on a Nicole Hekle power-play goal at 12:11.
    Ross netted her fourth goal of the game with 1:51 remaining to give UM a 5-4 advantage. UNH pulled goaltender Melissa Bourdon (20 saves) with 41 seconds to play and called time out with 33.1 seconds remaining but could not score the game-tying goal. UM’s Brittony Chartier finished with 19 saves.

    For the third consecutive season, the Wildcats found themselves atop the Hockey East Preseason Poll. UNH, which has won three consecutive league regular-season titles, garnered all seven possible first-place votes and a total of 56 points in the 2006-07 poll. Boston College, runner-up to the ‘Cats in last season’s regular season and tournament, received the remaining first-place vote and 50 points to earn second place.
    Boston University, in just its second year at the varsity level, was next with 41 points and followed by Providence (38 points), UConn (33),  Northeastern (25), Maine (22) and Vermont (15).

    UNH’s Whittemore Center will be the site of the 2007 Women’s Hockey East Championship. The semifinal games will take place March 3 and the championship game is March 4. This will be the first time in the league’s five-year history that the tournament will be held outside of Boston. Northeastern University’s Matthews Arena was the site of the 2003, 2004 and 2006 championships, and Boston University’s Walter Brown Arena was the 2005 venue.

    Sophomore forward Sam Faber was named Player of the Week by Hockey East on Monday. Faber propelled UNH to a weekend sweep of Niagara University with an assist in the opening 5-0 win and two goals, inlcuding the OT game winner, in the 4-3 victory. She also had a +2 rating in the series.

    Sophomore defenseman Kacey Bellamy was named USCHO Defensive Player of the Week on Tuesday as she helped lead the Wildcats to a series sweep of Niagara. Bellamy scored a career-high two goals – both on the power play – in the season opener, a 5-0 win, and set up Sam Faber’s game-winning overtime goal the next night. Bellamy netted her two goals in a span of 4:05 in the third period –at 3:12 and 7:17 – to help extend UNH’s two-goal lead to 5-0. In addition, Bellamy recorded a plus/minus rating of +2.

    New Hampshire enters the weekend with a 2-0-0 record following last weekend’s sweep of Niagara University with 5-0 and 4-3 (overtime) victories at the Whittemore Center.
    UNH’s 4-3 overtime win vs. Niagara marked the team’s first win in OT since the ‘Cats defeated Niagara 4-3 on Oct. 16, 2004. Between those wins, UNH went 0-2-7 in overtime.
    Junior forward Jennifer Hitchcock (18 shots) and junior forward Martine Garland (13) – both of whom are captains – accounted for 31 of the team’s 87 shots in the Niagara series.
    Seven skaters scored a goal and a total of 11 Wildcats recorded at least one point in the series vs. Niagara.
    Four of the team’s five goals in the season opener were scored by special teams. The ‘Cats netted three power-play goals (on eight opporunities) and also scored a shorthanded goal.
    UNH was whistled for 10 penalties last Saturday night vs. Niagara, which matched the team’s single-game high from the 2006 season (1/29 vs Providence). The 23 combined penalties in that game is the highest total since Oct. 15, 2004, when UNH (12) and Niagara (15) combined for 27 penalties.
    New Hampshire recorded an 87-21 shot advantage in the two-game series vs. Niagara. The Wildcats did not allow a shot in the third period or overtime last Saturday night.

    UNH is the winningest women’s college hockey program in the United States. The Wildcats became the first to reach 500 victories and they are on the verge of No. 600. Now in its 30th year as a varsity sport at New Hampshire, the ‘Cats enter the Easton Shootout with an overall record of 585-153-48.

    UNH’s 29-game unbeaten streak came to an end last year in the semifinals of the Frozen Four, but the Wildcats extended their regular-season unbeaten streak to 28 games (27-0-1) with last weekend’s pair of victories vs. Niagara University.
    New Hampshire has won 16 straight regular-season games. In fact, the 5-0 win in the season opener marked the fifth consecutive regular-season game won by shutout. Niagara’s tally at 2:53 of the first period of the next game ended UNH’s regular-season shutout streak at 345:12.

    New Hampshire returns 17 letterwinners, including three All-America selections (Martine Garland, Jennifer Hitchcock and Sadie Wright-Ward) and a Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award Top 10 Finalist (Nicole Hekle), from a team that won both the Hockey East regular season and tournament titles and advanced to the Frozen Four en route to a school-record 33 wins.
    UNH boasts the Hockey East Scoring Champion from both the 2005 (Hekle) and 2006 (Wright-Ward) seasons, as well as the Hockey East Goaltending Champion (Melissa Bourdon) from each of the past three years. Furthermore, the ‘Cats also have the league’s reigning Player of the Year (Wright-Ward), Rookie of the Year (Sam Faber) and the ITECH Three Stars Award recipient (Hitchcock).
    Fifth-year head coach Brian McCloskey – whose accolades include national Coach of the Year runner-up (2003, 2006), New England Hockey Writers Association Coach of the Year (2003, 2006) and Hockey East Coach of the Year (2003, 2005, 2006) – has guided the Wildcats to an overall record of 106-27-13 and a 62-7-7 mark in Hockey East.
    Last season, UNH ranked No. 1 in the nation in both offense (4.81 goals per game) and defense (1.14 gpg) as well as power play (.309; school-record 60 power-play goals) and combined special teams (.586). The penalty kill ranked fourth with a 90.5% success rate and scored nine shorthanded goals.
    New Hampshire led Hockey East in 15 team statistics: goals, goals per game, goals allowed, goals allowed per game, assists, points, shots, shots per game, shutouts, power-play goals, shorthanded goals, power play percentage, penalty kill percentage, shooting percentage and save percentage.

    Here is a comparison of how UNH, Bemidji State and Minnesota stacked up in the  final 2006 national statistics (34 teams):
    UNH    BSU    UM
Off. (gpg)    1 (4.81)    25 (2.00)    11 (2.98)
Def. (gpg)     1 (1.14)    29 (3.31)    6 (1.68)
PP (%)     1 (.309)      26 (.123)    11 (.173)
PK (%)     4 (.905)     12 (.864)    17 (.852)
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