Sixteen survive to play another day
The brackets are set for the semis and finals of the four conferences, but before looking at them, some valiant efforts by losing teams, although ultimately unsuccessful, deserve a mention. Eight tournament games went to overtime, including the first two games of St. Lawrence at Quinnipiac, the only series to require a deciding third game.
The Lions sleep tonight
If an award was given to the team that demonstrated the most improvement over the course of a season, that recognition would have to go to either Lindenwood or Colgate. The Lions packed a lot of hockey into the final week of their season after their final regular-season series at Syracuse was postponed until Tuesday and Wednesday. Lindenwood took the first game of that series, 2-1, thanks to 42 saves from freshman goaltender Nicole Hensely and an overtime game-winner from Caitlyn Post. The Orange came back with a 4-1 victory on Wednesday. Hensely had another 36 saves, and she was just getting warmed up.
Friday at Robert Morris brought the Lions’ first taste of the postseason, and they made it memorable. The Colonials won, 2-1, on a power-play goal by Cobina Delaney at 8:04 of the third overtime. That was the game’s first successful power play; each team had nine opportunities, including two apiece after regulation. Hensely finished with 90 saves, surpassing the previous NCAA record of 78 set by Desirae Clark of Mercyhurst in a 2005 NCAA tournament game versus Harvard that also went deep into a third overtime. Taylor Fairchild took over in the Lindenwood net on Saturday and stopped 40 of 42 shots, but the Lions didn’t have a fresh contingent of skaters to put on the ice. Playing 289 minutes and five seconds over the course of five days, they were unable to muster any offense, and finished their season with a 2-0 loss.
The Nittany Lions of Penn State also experienced their first tournament, coming up a goal short each day at RIT, 1-0 and 3-2 in overtime. PSU goalie Nicole Paniccia had 88 saves over the two games.
Cornell could conceivably have become one of those rare teams that reaches the NCAA tournament, but not the semis of its own league tourney. After winning the season series by a combined score of 18-2, the top-seeded Big Red trailed in the final minute of both games versus Colgate, and but for some extra-attacker magic, could be watching the rest of the ECAC playoffs rather than hosting. On Friday, the Raiders held a two-goal lead early in the third period, and after the hosts battled back to tie, took a 4-3 lead on a power-play goal by Brittany Phillips at 17:25. Monika Leck was able to pull Cornell even just three seconds after Lauren Slebodnick departed for an extra attacker. Once on a fresh ice sheet in overtime, Brianne Jenner needed just 39 seconds to complete her hat trick, part of a five-point game, and put the contest in the win column for the Big Red.
Saturday was deja vu all over again, as Colgate again could not kill off the remaining time once Slebodnick headed to the bench and another Cornell skater came over the boards. This time it took 17 seconds for Lauriane Rougeau to net the equalizer, and Jenner saved some Zamboni fuel by scoring the deciding goal at 19:59 in a 3-2 win.
I’ve watched a lot of hockey this season, and I don’t remember seeing a single charging penalty assessed. However, over the course of this series, two different teams of referees whistled at least three in each contest. It makes one wonder if they can’t remember the signal for body checking, or if the league office sent out a missive encouraging its officials to reduce the inventory on unused charging calls before the offseason. Or maybe they just forgot that the game speeds up in the postseason?
Boston College found the Black Bears to be a bit more troublesome than expected, although much of that difficulty was limited to a single Bear, senior goaltender Brittany Ott. The Eagles outshot Maine, 74-18, but still required 64 minutes to advance with a 2-1 win, due to 72 saves by Ott.
Another senior goalie bows out
Quinnipiac and St. Lawrence fought down to the wire this season for the final home-ice spot in the ECAC. The Bobcats won that battle, yet ultimately lost the war. Both teams had success on the road a year ago, so perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the Saints leveraged the strong play of sophomore netminder Carmen MacDonald into a series win. MacDonald pitched shutouts in the odd games to edge her team over Quinnipiac; she stopped 137 of the 140 shots that she faced on the weekend.
Friday’s only goal came off a wrap-around attempt by Kayla Raniwsky of SLU at 10:56 of OT. The Bobcats struck back on Saturday, despite blowing a two-goal lead when Rylee Smith scored twice for the Saints in the final 32 seconds. Quinnipiac’s Amanda Colin ended matters at 8:55 of the third overtime, dragging the puck to elude the final defender and beating MacDonald to the far post. Colin’s second goal in the 3-2 win was one more than she’d scored in the season’s previous 34 games. After playing seconds shy of nine full periods over the previous two days, SLU took a first-period lead on tallies by Brooke Fernandez and Kelly Sabatine, survived heavy pressure by the Bobcats in the second period, and claimed a 2-0 victory and a semifinal berth. When Quinnipiac finally turned on the goal light with 3:26 remaining, the goal was disallowed, as the ruling was the puck had been kicked into net.
The defeat ends the career of Victoria Vigilanti, who had done much to carry the Bobcats’ program to new heights. She made 114 saves in her final weekend, but was simply outdone by MacDonald.
In 11 of 14 cases, the team playing at home advanced. However, in pairings where a No. 4 seed hosted a No. 5, presumably the tightest matches, the visitor moved on in three of the four. The only exception is the case of RMU over Lindenwood.
Robert Morris advances to face Mercyhurst, the team that seems to bring out the Colonials’ best. On the other half of the bracket in Erie, Syracuse attempts to stave off RIT, a team it tied once before earning three straight one-goal victories.
Last year, St. Lawrence carried the momentum of a road quarterfinal series win into triumphs over Harvard and Cornell to grab the league crown. This year, Cornell will be first up for the Saints.
Clarkson is back in the ECAC semis for the first time in three years. The Golden Knights bested Rensselaer, 3-2, on the strength of a Carly Mercer goal 8:51 into overtime, and a 5-2 win to close out the series. Jamie Lee Rattray scored a highlight-reel goal while falling to the ice in game one and backed it up with a pair of markers the next day. Clarkson travels to Harvard to face a Crimson team that looked rejuvenated in bouncing Dartmouth, 3-0 and 4-0. Lyndsey Fry scored twice in the second game, and Harvard limited the Big Green to 39 shots on goal for the series.
Haley Skarupa’s game-winner secured Boston College a date with Northeastern in Hyannis. The Huskies spotted Vermont the first goal before taking a 5-1 win. Kelly Wallace found the net twice, and Kendall Coyne had a four-point effort.
Jenelle Kohanchuk led with two goals and Boston University recorded its third straight triumph at Connecticut’s expense. The defending tournament champs will meet Providence. The Friars were the league’s only road team to advance, storming back with goals from Nicole Anderson and Brooke Simpson to force overtime at New Hampshire. Beth Hanrahan finished off the Wildcats 5:51 into the extra session.
Ohio State was the third road squad to find the accommodations to its liking. The Buckeyes surrendered the first goal of the series to Minnesota-Duluth, and then knocked in seven of the remaining eight tallies on the weekend, advancing with 4-2 and 3-0 wins. Several players for OSU had three-point series, and Chelsea Knapp backstopped both wins. The Buckeyes reach their first WCHA Final Face-Off since 2010, while the Bulldogs miss out on the event for the first time. The Buckeyes will face host Minnesota. The Gophers rode a pair of record-setting shutouts by Noora Räty to 5-0 and 8-0 defeats of Bemidji State.
The other half of the bracket matches two teams battling for their NCAA tournament futures. For North Dakota, it was all Lamoureuxs, all of the time, in 6-1 and 8-1 poundings of Minnesota State. The sisters combined for 14 points in their final games in Grand Forks. Wisconsin was less explosive, but just as dominant in shoving aside St. Cloud State, 5-0 and 4-1. Madison Packer had a six-point series and Brianna Decker chipped in five points. The Badgers took three of the previous four meetings with UND this season.