There's always a weekend or two during the hockey season that coaches tend to look forward to for one reason or another. A weekend where there is a little bit more at stake than just beating your opponent and gaining two points in the standings. May be it's the chance to beat your arch-rival or avenge a heart-breaking loss. Well, the weekend of October 10 & 11 2008 vs. St. Cloud State University happened to be one of those weekends for coach Brian Idalski and the Fighting Sioux Women's Hockey Team. There's a connection between Idalski to the Husky program as he spent one year as an assistant coach under current St. Cloud boss Jeff Giessen during the 2006-2007. In Idalski's first year behind the bench for the Sioux in 2007-2008, he went 0-2-2 vs. St. Cloud. Two close losses and 2 well earned ties. So it would be easy to see where the extra motivation may have come from for this past weekends' WCHA opening series sweep for the Sioux. But this past weekend was not just about a former assistant coach trying to beat his old boss for the first time or a team trying to avenge two close losses from last year. This series was about something more, something you can't quantify. This weekends' sweep was about one thing - earning RESPECT.
Friday night it was Brittany Kirkam's 32 saves and Sophomore Marie-Michelle Poirier's first collegiate goal with 9:50 left in the 3rd period that gave the Sioux a hard fought 2-1 win. The Sioux penalty kill was outstanding shutting out a Husky powerplay that went 0-6 on the night. The Sioux played much of the second period short-handed as they were whistled for four strait penalties and killed off two separate five-on-three attempts. None better than UND's last penalty kill to end the game. Poirier was whistled off for checking with only 1:19 remaining and St. Cloud pulled their goalie for a six on four advantage. UND used thier penalty kill to build momentum and late in the second period UND Senior winger Randi Motsko netted her third goal of the year on the power play with only :25 seconds remaining in the period. UND wasn't without its offensive chances though. UND had several prime scoring oppportunities in the first and second periods but St. Cloud's goalie Ashley Nixon turned away thirteen of the fourteen Sioux shots she faced through two periods. Poirier's game winner came off a great feed from linemate Alyssa Wiebe down low in front of the net on a nice two on one play. Poirier one-timmed a cross-crease pass from Wiebe to put the Sioux up 2-1 for good.
On Saturday, freshman goalie Stephanie Ney got her second win of the season as she turned aside 38 St. Cloud shots while Freshman Margot Miller provided the go-ahead goal with 10:18 remaining to put the Sioux up 3-2 and earn the series sweep. The Sioux came out flying and went up 2-0 early in the first period on goals by Sophmore defenseman Kelly Lewis on the powerplay and Alyssa Wiebe, her first collegiate goal, a nice tip in off a Cassandra Flannagan shot. St. Cloud would score a short-handed goal with just 3 seconds remaining in the first period off a breakaway by Katie Kemmerer to make it 2-1. In the second, St. Cloud's Caitlin Hogan beat Ney high to the glove side to tie the score at 2. It would stay tied at two until Margo Miller popped in her second goal of the season and first game-winner to give the Sioux a 3-2 lead with just over ten-minutes remaining. The Sioux penalty kill was outstanding again denying all 8 St. Cloud powerplays.
Backed by two very solid goaltending performances, a stifling penalty kill and timely scoring, the Fighting Sioux Women's Hockey Team improved to 3-1-0. True it's early in the year. But for a program that won only four games last year, earning a 3-1 record four games into the season and sweeping a quality WCHA opponent in St. Cloud should put other WCHA teams on notice. More than four points was won this weekend. This team won a little bit of respect in that process. Last years' St. Cloud team hosted a WCHA playoff series. They lost little to graduation and returned 8 of their top 10 scorers. Did they expect just to walk in, grab four points and go? I bet Coach Idalski was glad to beat his former boss, anyone would in that situation, right?. But I have a feeling he's more proud of his team gaining the respect of a worthy opponent and others in the WCHA.
St. Cloud Game Notes
If there was any doubt left in UND Freshman forward Margot Miller's mind as to whether or not she made the right choice to come to UND, I'm sure scoring the winning goal Saturday to help sweep St. Cloud wiped any of those doubts away. St. Cloud and UND were the final two schools Miller considered during the recruting process. Her high school coach at Shattuck St. Mary's was Gordie Stafford, father of former UND standout Drew Stafford. I wonder which direction he pushed her in? Interestingly enough, Husky Asst. Coach Jennifer Kranz, coached at Shattuck under coach Stafford before moving on to St. Cloud. Chalk one up for the Sioux on winning that recruiting battle.
Interesting UND hockey fact... you have to go back to the 2003-2004 season to find a weekend where the UND women's team won 2 games and the UND men's team lost two. The UND Men's team lost Febuary 6 and 7 to Wisconsin 4-3 and 5-2. The Women's team beat Bemidji State Friday night Febuary 6, 5-1 and again on Sunday Febuary 8, 5-3 in a home and home series.