WOMEN'S HOCKEY: Amsley-Benzie will be key in playoff series against St. Cloud State
The North Dakota women's hockey team has to win the Western Collegiate Hockey Association postseason championship in order to extend its season. That's no small task when the league includes Minnesota and Wisconsin, who are a combined 59-2-2 agai...
The North Dakota women’s hockey team has to win the Western Collegiate Hockey Association postseason championship in order to extend its season.
That’s no small task when the league includes Minnesota and Wisconsin, who are a combined 59-2-2 against other teams this season.
But there is some hope for the Fighting Hawks: They are responsible for both loss and both ties for the Gophers and Badgers. And they have Shelby Amsley-Benzie.
The senior goalie from Warroad is finishing up another tremendous year for UND. She has a 1.63 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage, while posting eight shutouts. She has blanked each of the top four opponents in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association this season -- Wisconsin (twice), Minnesota (once), Bemidji State (twice) and St. Cloud State (twice).
On Thursday afternoon, she was named one of 10 finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award, which goes to the top player in college hockey.
It is her second straight year as a top-10 finalist. She’s one of only two goalies on the list. The other is Wisconsin’s Ann-Renee Desbiens.
“Super excited for her,” UND coach Brian Idalski said. “It’s been an up-and-down season for us as a team, but I thought Shelby has been really solid. It hasn’t been on her. It’s nice for her to get recognized by her peers and other coaches for what she means to our team.”
Amsley-Benzie has been a stabilizing factor for a UND team that has been bizarrely inconsistent this season.
While the Fighting Hawks have had a couple of deflating losses to teams like Syracuse and Ohio State, they also are the only team in the nation to have wins over multiple top-four ranked teams.
Amsley-Benzie was the No. 1 star in those games and will have to be a major factor as the playoffs begin at 2:37 p.m. Friday in Ralph Engelstad Arena with a best-of-three series against St. Cloud State.
In order to make the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in program history, UND needs to win the series against St. Cloud State, then win the WCHA Final Faceoff, which will be held next weekend in Minnesota’s Ridder Arena.
UND started the season 4-0 but has not won more than two in a row since then.
“When it gets to this time, a hot goaltender can mean anything and a team can get on a roll,” Idalski said. “We definitely feel like Shelby has that capability. She’s done it in the past. There’s no reason why she couldn’t do it again. Now, it’s just a matter of us getting her some run support and scoring a few goals.”
UND went 2-1-1 against St. Cloud State during the regular season. The Huskies, who compiled their best season since 2009-10 under second-year coach Eric Rud, only scored one time against Amsley-Benzie during the regular season. They have just one goal in their last five games against her going back to last season.
“It’s nice as a coach (to have Amsley-Benzie),” Idalski said. “You know she’s going to stop the ones she’s supposed to and some she probably shouldn’t. I really think the confidence radiates out. The team can feed off of her. When she’s feeling it, they know she’s going to do her part. We just need a couple on the other end. I think her quiet confidence radiates out.”
Amsley-Benzie’s career numbers may stand for a long time at UND.
She has 65 wins, .929 save percentage, 1.70 goals-against average and 22 shutouts -- all are school records.
“That’s especially impressive as a goaltender in our league,” Idalski said. “There aren’t a lot of nights that aren’t grinds. You have to be sharp weekend in and weekend out playing against tough opponents. She’s been terrific.”
Patty Kazmaier Award finalists
Shelby Amsley-Benzie, G, North Dakota
Hannah Brandt, F, Minnesota
Dani Cameranesi, F, Minnesota
Alex Carpenter, F, Boston College
Kendall Coyne, F, Northeastern
Ann-Renee Desbiens, G, Wisconsin
Megan Keller, D, Boston College
Kelsey Koelzer, D, Princeton
Annie Pankowski, F, Wisconsin
Haley Skarupa, F, Boston College