2002 is set to be a banner year for women’s hockey. The number of girls and women playing the game is growing by leaps and bounds. The U.S. national team is expected to have a strong showing the Olympics, and is off to a fast start. And in the college ranks, Division III will have its inaugural NCAA women’s championship, joining the NCAA Division I Frozen Four that began with the 2000-2001 season.
For the past several seasons, the American Women’s College Hockey Alliance has sponsored a four-team Division III tournament, held at a neutral site, usually in conjunction with the Division I tournament that was conducted prior to 2000-2001.
Now the NCAA will hold its own tournament, which will be run under a format similar to the men’s D-III championships.
Instead of four teams, there will be six, and the games will all be held at campus sites.
Three of the six bids are Automatic Qualifiers (AQs) awarded to the playoff champions in the NESCAC, MIAC and ECAC East.
Two bids are Pool “C” at-large spots for teams from the above conferences who do not win the title, but make a strong showing.
And finally, one Pool “B” bid is available to independents or teams from conferences that do not have AQs: the NCHA and the ECAC West. Neither has the required minimum of seven teams in order to be granted an AQ.
Selection of the Pool “B” and Pool “C” teams, as well as seedings for the tournament will be based on the following criteria, in priority order:
1. Winning percentage, head to head results and results against common opponents
2. Strength of schedule as determined by opponent’s winning percentage
3. Results against teams already in the tournament
The top two seeds will have a bye in the first round, which will be played on March 5. The two first-round winners will meet the top two seeds for semifinals and finals on March 8 and 9.
Here’s the way things are shaping up.
Manhattanville needs just a single point in its last two games to lock up the regular-season title, which comes with a first-round playoff bye and the right to host the ECAC East semifinals and finals on March 2 and 3. All of the Division III teams in the conference make the playoffs: MIT, Rensselaer, RIT, Salve Regina, Southern Maine and Union. The Division I and Division II teams in the conference — Holy Cross, Sacred Heart and St. Michael’s — will have a separate playoff hosted by Holy Cross on February 23 and 24.
The winner of the ECAC East tournament gets an automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament. Manhattanville is the favorite and would likely take one of the Pool “C” at-large slots if it does not win the playoffs. The rest of the teams probably need to win the title in order to make the NCAA tournament.
In only its first year of existence, the ECAC West has made waves in Division III with the success of Elmira and Plattsburgh. Elmira has won the regular-season title and will host the semifinals and finals on February 23 and 24. Plattsburgh and Utica have also clinched playoff berths, and Cortland and Buffalo State will battle this weekend for the fourth and final spot.
There is no AQ for the ECAC West, so Elmira will find itself competing with teams from the NCHA for the lone Pool “B” spot.
The top five teams make the playoffs, with the four and five seeds squaring off in a play-in game on February 26, followed by semifinals and finals hosted by the top seed on March 2 and 3.
Gustavus Adolphus, St. Mary’s , Concordia and St. Thomas have all clinched playoff berths, leaving St. Benedict and Augsburg to battle for the final spot.
The winner of the MIAC championship gets an AQ, and the runner-up will be in strong consideration for a Pool “C” bid.
The playoffs are set with one weekend to go in the regular season. Wisconsin-Stevens Point has already locked up the regular-season title and will host the finals and semifinals on February 22 and 23. The Pointers will host Wisconsin-Eau Claire, while Wisconsin-River Falls and Wisconsin-Superior square off in the other semifinal.
The tournament champion does not get an AQ, and must compete with the ECAC West for the lone Pool “B” slot.
Middlebury can take the regular-season title with a win against Bowdoin on Saturday. The top seed gets a first round bye and the right to host the semifinals and finals the weekend of March 1-3.
Middlebury, Bowdoin, Colby and Williams have clinched playoff berths, leaving the other five teams to fight for the remaining three spots.
The winner of the NESCAC title gets an AQ, and Middlebury will get a Pool “C” bid if it stumbles in the playoffs. Otherwise, Bowdoin and Colby are both in contention for an at-large bid should they finish second to the Panthers.
Check back for weekly updates as the countdown to the first-ever women’s NCAA Division III championship continues.