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NCAA Preview: D-III Women

Starting The Process

As the 2002-03 Division III women’s hockey season winds down, fans around the country wonder whether their favorite team is going to make the NCAA playoffs and if so, where they will be playing.

The good news is that there will be a few more happy fans and players this year, as the tournament has expanded from six teams to seven.

One thing is for sure: the bitter controversy last year that lit up the USCHO message boards over who would get the sole Pool B bid when both contenders — Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Elmira — were capable of winning the national championship (which Elmira did) will not occur this year.

The reason is not because the field has expanded, since there is still only one Pool B slot available. It’s because the ECAC West has expanded, thus qualifying for an automatic bid. Therefore, the only teams eligible for the Pool B bid — those teams that do not play in conferences with an automatic bid — are those in the NCHA.

Thus, every conference will get at least one team in the NCAAs. The only debate will be the same one for every sport on every level — who amongst the bubble teams will get in. There will be two Pool C slots available, and only those teams that compete in a conference with an automatic bid, but didn’t get it themselves, are considered.

Six ‘Easy’ Picks, One Difficult One

First, let’s set the initial assumption — no upsets in the remaining conference tournaments. Upsets, obviously, throw everything we are about to lay out up in the air. That’s okay. It’s just that we can talk endlessly about every possible scenario. Instead, we’ll talk about the logical scenario, and by doing so, you should be able to figure out what could happen if it veers off course.

The MIAC bid is already decided, and that goes to St. Thomas. The other guaranteed Western bid will be via Pool B from the NCHA. Wisconsin-River Falls won the NCHA tournament, but since the NCHA has no autobid, UWRF is not necessarily the selection.

The Pool B bid will be decided when the selection committee meets. The criteria they will use for all at-large bids are winning percentage, head to head results, results against common opponents, strength of schedule, and results against teams already in. They are all given equal weight.

River Falls and Stevens Point are the only teams in contention for Pool B. Overall winning percentage is dead even at .778 with River Falls at 19-4-4 and Stevens Point at 20-5-2. Head to head record has River Falls with the edge at 3-1-1. River Falls has the slight edge in strength of schedule, .5936 vs. .5680, while Stevens Point has the slight edge in common opponents. As for the final criterion, that won’t be known until selection day. Let’s go with what we know and say River Falls gets the nod for Pool B.

Since there are no second chances for the Pool B teams, that means that Stevens Point will be out in the cold. Ironic, considering if this year’s situation with bids occurred last year, Stevens Point would have been in the inaugural tournament.

In the East, three conferences get autobids. In the ECAC West, the champion is Elmira. Over in the ECAC East, the likely candidate is Manhattanville, if they can translate their first-place regular-season finish into a championship in the tournament, which they will host this weekend.

That leaves us with the NESCAC, and the most difficult prediction to make. It might not matter. Bowdoin and Middlebury are so highly-ranked regionally that they are both virtually guaranteed a spot. One will take the NESCAC automatic bid, and the other will get an at-large bid in Pool C. The NESCAC tournament is being held at Bowdoin this weekend.

If you’ve been doing the counting, that makes six teams. We need a seventh. This is where it gets a bit more difficult. There are most likely four teams battling for that final spot: Plattsburgh, Rensselaer, Williams (if they beat Middlebury Friday), and Gustavus Adolphus. RIT, depending on how they do this weekend, may be in the mix as well, but the Tigers’ strength of schedule is poor. Note: if Middlebury stumbles in the NESCAC semifinals, they could fall low enough to be jumbled in with these teams, but since we are assuming no upsets, let’s just look at these four.

One of the interesting portions of the selections is that the teams are first ranked within their region. We will go with the following scenario: the committee selects the next-best candidate in both the East and the West, and then matches them up to see who gets the final bid.

The top Western team will be between Concordia and Gustavus Adolphus. Gustavus takes all but one category, including head to head, so it looks like they will be the Western team to be compared against the Eastern candidate.

The top Eastern selection will be between Rensselaer and Plattsburgh. After those two, Southern Maine, RIT, and Williams are ranked essentially even, but they fall too far behind.

Rensselaer has the slight edge in the PairWise Rankings, but using the criteria to compare teams head to head, it becomes a very difficult choice. The two teams never played each other nor do they have common opponents. Winning percentage favors Rensselaer, strength of schedule Plattsburgh. Record against teams already in the tournament, assuming the six teams we named above come true, has Rensselaer at 0-2 and Plattsburgh at 0-5. However, do you penalize the Cardinals for having to play Elmira three times and being willing to play Middlebury and Bowdoin?

How Rensselaer does this weekend could go a long way in helping to make the decision. My personal hunch is that Plattsburgh gets the nod.

No matter which Eastern team is selected, all comparisons essentially eliminate the remaining Western team, which means that there will be only two Western teams, and due to the rules concerning regional seedings, they will be paired up for the quarterfinal round, most likely at River Falls. Thus, only one Western team will make the Frozen Four, and therefore the finals will be held in the East. You can bank your airline ticket on it.

Who Gets To Host?

Perhaps the more important question is who will be seeded number one? Though the number-one seed will not necessarily host the Frozen Four, it may be a more sought-after goal. That’s because with the tournament at seven teams, the top seed gets a bye in the first round, and goes straight to the Frozen Four.

Before you all shout out, “Elmira!” not so fast. Granted, the only games they have lost have been to Division I teams, thus they are undefeated in Division III, which is the only record the committee will look at. However, there is another undefeated team, Bowdoin. The head-to-head comparison has Elmira with the slight edge, for now.

It is conceivable that Bowdoin gets the number-one seed. The other six teams will be seeded and paired off for one-game quarterfinals. These games will take place on March 15 or 16, depending on the availability of the host rinks.

Now, as to who will host, that’s a bit more difficult because factors other than the rankings enter. You have to put in a bid; then, criteria are, in order of priority, the facilities and accommodations, geographical location, seedings, and attendance history and revenue potential. Note that seeding is third out of the four criteria.

It most likely will not be Elmira even if they are seeded number one. Under the geographical factor is listed “rotation of sites.” Historically, selection committees have not given a tournament whose site is not predetermined to the same school two years in a row. There have been cases where the host team has had to sit on the visitor’s bench because they were not the “home” team due to their seeding.

Therefore, don’t expect it in Elmira. Since it will be in the East, the two top contenders are probably Middlebury and Bowdoin. Middlebury certainly has the facilities — perhaps the finest in Division III — and they did an excellent job hosting the men’s Division III Frozen Four last year.

Bowdoin’s Dayton Arena and the surrounding area are capable of meeting all the criteria, and the Polar Bears could be the next highest seed to Elmira, but will the committee want to send the other teams all the way up to Maine? Again, under the geographical location criteria is listed “accessibility and transportation costs.”

If those teams don’t make the Frozen Four, the other contenders certainly have facilities that are capable of hosting the championship such as Manhattanville, Plattsburgh, and Rensselaer.

Three Conference Champions Decided

As we said above, the MIAC, NCHA, and ECAC West have all wrapped up their seasons.

The ECAC West champion is, to no one’s surprise, Elmira. They ran the table taking the title with a 4-2 win over Plattsburgh in the championship game. The Soaring Eagles jumped out to a 3-0 lead on goals by Charissa Gawant, Michelle Rennie, and Laura Hurd with her nation-leading 32nd goal, which came shorthanded.

Plattsburgh made it a game when Lindsay McCafferty and Jenn Clarke scored, but Lindsay Palmer scored a late second period tally to clinch it for Elmira as the third period went scoreless. Edith Racine got the win with 25 saves.

The MIAC title was taken by St. Thomas, 4-1, over Gustavus Adolphus. St. Thomas also jumped out to a 3-0 lead on goals by Tomery Stolz, Tedra Mitchell, and Tiff Petermeier. Laura Stypulkowski got one back for the Golden Gusties, but Maureen Hardwick finished it off with a late second period goal, as they too played a scoreless third period. Becky Kilpatrick got the win with 25 saves.

The NCHA pitted old rivals, River Falls against Stevens Point, which the Falcons won, 5-1. Tracy Truckey put Stevens Point on the scoreboard first, but then it was all River Falls, with five unanswered goals bookended by a pair of goals by Lindsay O’Keefe. In between, Lou Paulson, Lisa McGuire, and Jodi Hensch scored. Marelene Yaeger made 32 saves for the win.

Two More To Go

The ECAC East and NESCAC play their conference tournaments this weekend. Though the NESCAC may have the most sought-after matchup, there is also intrigue in the ECAC East.

The ECAC East semifinal between RIT and Manhattanville is not a gimme. The last time these teams met, just a month ago, RIT won in overtime, 3-2, giving Manhattanville their only league loss. The day before that, the Valiants took the victory, 7-2. In the other semifinal matchup, Rensselaer and Southern Maine haven’t played each other since opening week when the Engineers won 5-4 in overtime and 3-1.

Many are looking forward to a possible Middlebury vs. Bowdoin showdown in the NESCAC finals. These teams have not been able to beat each other yet this season, playing to 1-1 and 2-2 ties. If Sunday’s game ends in a tie, they will have to keep playing until somebody scores.

First, Bowdoin has to beat Colby which the Polar Bears easily did during the regular season, 10-2 and 6-0. Then, Middlebury has to get by Williams, which will not be an easy task. The Panthers barely won the first game, 1-0, and the two teams played to a 1-1 tie less than a month ago.


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