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The Manitoba Match-Up in the NCAA Female Frozen Four

By Jon Waldman and Scott Taylor

Friday evening at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis, the incredible development of female hockey in Manitoba will be on display. And regardless of the outcome of the second semifinal of the NCAA Women’s Frozen Four, at least three young women from our province will win, will undoubtedly shine and will play in Sunday’s championship game.

The second game of the Frozen Four will feature the Mercyhurst Lakers and the Boston University Terriers (7 p.m., NCAA.com). In total, six players who were born in Manitoba, learned to skate in Manitoba and became outstanding hockey players in Manitoba, will take to the ice.

Jenelle Kohanchuk, Boston University.

Jenelle Kohanchuk, Boston University.

It will be a remarkable night. And it will also be a night of celebration for Hockey Manitoba.

“As a branch we’ve invested a lot into female development over the past 10 years and it’s nice to see the success at the Team Manitoba level, the Team Canada level and at the university level,” said Hockey Manitoba’s Director of Development and Communications, Kyle Prystupa. “The women playing this weekend were key players in our under-18 Program of Excellence. And it’s interesting, unlike the boys, who are one-and-done in that program, a lot of the girls in the Program of Excellence have been part of it for two or three years.

“These young women are your future Olympians. This is a big deal for the girls themselves and for our investment in female hockey development, as well. You’re looking at the best of the best. These girls are your Olympic candidates.”

Mercyhurst's Kristine Grenier gets a 2nd period shot off against RIT's Ali Binnington.

Mercyhurst’s Kristine Grenier gets a 2nd period shot off against RIT’s Ali Binnington.

The journey to Minneapolis began this past Saturday for Mercyhurst, as Shelby Bram (St. Anne), team captain and leading scorer Christine Bestland (Brunkild) and Kristine Grenier (St. Leon) helped the College Hockey America champion Mercyhurst Lakers overcome No. 2-ranked Cornell Big Red to reach the NCAA championship tournament.

The team just happens to be co-coached by Pilot Mound’s Delaney Collins, a former member of the national Women’s Hockey Program who played on the team that captured gold at the 2007 IIHF Women’s Hockey Championship in Winnipeg.

Britt Hergesheimer, Boston University.

Britt Hergesheimer, Boston University.

Meanwhile, a trio Manitobans from Boston University — Britt Hergesheimer from East St. Paul and Jenelle Kohanchuk and Alexis Woloschuk from Winnipeg – also stamped their ticket to the Women’s Frozen Four on Saturday by beating Clarkson College 5-3 last weekend.

Kohanchuk had a goal and an assist to lead BU (27-5-3) past Clarkson and the fourth-year senior will be one of the players to watch this weekend in Minneapolis.

At the same time, in Ithaca, N.Y., the Mercyhurst Lakers, ranked No. 8 in the country, were taking on ECAC Champion Cornell, in the NCAA Quarterfinals. The Big Red featured a Manitoban of their own – Morden’s Taylor Woods.

For Grenier, who starred for Team Manitoba in 2009 when the home side won the National Aboriginal Hockey Championship, there were a number of challenges. However, there was none greater than having the ability to come down from the high of Saturday’s championship win and move forward for the game against Cornell, a team that beat the Lakers during regular season play.

Christine Bestland

Christine Bestland

“It’s pretty tough,” the sophomore said during an interview with MHN correspondent Jon Waldman following last Sunday’s announcement of the bracketing for the quarterfinals. “We give ourselves a little bit of time to enjoy the win and feel that joy, and then we have to come together to house those emotions for next weekend’s game.”

The game itself was a seesaw affair. Mercyhurst led 1-0 after the first period but Cornell responded with a pair of unanswered goals in the second. By the 10-minute mark of the third, however, Mercyhurst had rallied back to tie the game and with just over a minute left to play, the Lakers were able to grab a 3-2 advantage.

But there was no quit in The Big Red. Cornell tied the game and sent it overtime where freshman Jenna Dingledein sealed the win and sent Mercyhurst to the Frozen Four.

Earlier, Mercyhurst defeated Syracuse 4-1 to win the College Hockey America title. Though the score may suggest that the game was easily in-hand for the Lakers, the effort reflects a difficult comeback by the team after falling behind 1-0 in the second period.

“In between periods, it was very nerve-wracking being down,” Bram told Waldman, “but we got very excited and just gave it everything we had. We came out, potted one and the whole team just got motivated.”

Bestland battles for the puck.

Bestland battles for the puck.

Bestland, who was later named to the tournament all-star team, counted a goal and an assist in the contest, responding well to the pressure of being on one of the largest stages of her college career.

“It’s a lot of pressure but you have to treat it like any other game,” Bestland, the three-year Mercyhurst veteran told MHN. “If you don’t, you’re going to mess yourself up during the game and stress yourself out.”

Amazingly, there were almost eight Manitobans in the final tournament. The University of North Dakota, featuring two former Balmoral Hall stars, Meghan Dufault from Canada’s National Under -18 team and Tori Williams, another member (with Grenier) of that 2009 National Aboriginal Championship Team Manitoba, lost 3-2 in Triple overtime to the undefeated and No. 1-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers last Saturday night.

“Wouldn’t that have been great,” Prystupa said. “To have seen eight Manitobans in that tournament would say even more about the development of women’s hockey here.”

No matter who wins on Friday night, the NCAA Championship game on Sunday will involve one of three of these young women and that speaks volumes.

Shelby Bram (31) about to start warm-up.

Shelby Bram (31) and Lauren Jones about to start warm-up.

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