Nothing But Question Marks After WCHA Tournament
For those of you who were hoping to have a better idea of the NCAA tournament pairings after the WCHA tournament, you’ll have to wait another week. With several big upsets and no guaranteed bids this year, the selection process appears to have only gotten fuzzier.
That said, No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth (26-5-2) has all but locked up one of the four spots in the inaugural NCAA championship. The Bulldogs ran the table out west, blowing out last-place Mankato State in the first round, 10-1, then squeaking past No. 7 Wisconsin in overtime, 6-5, to reach the championship game. UMD then captured the WCHA crown by shutting out No. 8 Ohio State, 3-0.
Life was not so good to Minnesota, which fell from No. 3 to No. 6 in the USCHO.com poll after a disappointing weekend. The Gophers, who had a bye in the first round, were shut out by goaltender April Stojak and Ohio State’s stifling defense in the semifinals, 4-0. Even more surprising, Minnesota lost the consolation game to Wisconsin, thanks to a pair of third-period Badger goals by Nicole Uliasz and Steph Millar.
That puts the Gophers, just 4-5-1 in their last 10 games, in a precarious situation. However, Minnesota is the defending national champion and the WCHA regular-season champ. Plus, the Gophers are hosting the Frozen Four at Mariucci Arena March 23 and 25, and the NCAA would love to draw as many local fans as possible to its inaugural women’s hockey national championship.
So what will the selection committee do? Can they take Minnesota (23-9-2) — which was in a similar position last year after losing the conference championship game to UMD, yet which won the whole thing in the AWCHA championship? What about Wisconsin (21-9-5) — which has a nearly identical record and just beat the Gophers last week? Or how about taking Ohio State (18-16-3) as a dark horse, especially after the Buckeyes’ impressive showing against both Minnesota and UMD in February and March?
Or is it possible that the NCAA will invite only one team from the west? That probably depends on what happens at the ECAC tournament this weekend. Dartmouth has held the No. 1 ranking almost the entire season and certainly deserves an invitation to Minneapolis. Should the Big Green lose in Saturday’s semifinal to No. 5 Brown, however, then the Bears could get another bid, with the third invite going to the winner of the other semifinal between No. 3 Harvard and No. 4 St. Lawrence.
Don’t worry if that sounds complicated. Hopefully, this will at least clear up the situation for the ECAC playoffs in Hanover this weekend:
No. 1 seed: Dartmouth (24-3-1)
The Big Green has probably wrapped up its NCAA bid already, but for now it has a great chance to win the conference championship on its home ice this weekend. Dartmouth is on a four-game winning streak since waking up after its stunning loss at Niagara on Feb. 24. But Saturday’s matchup against Brown should be its toughest opponent since playing, well, Brown (a 3-2 Dartmouth victory on Feb. 18).
The Big Green can attack the Bears with a balanced offense that features seven skaters with at least 10 goals this season. Dartmouth also plays a stifling defense that relies on two tested netminders in Amy Ferguson and Meaghan Cahill (although Dartmouth coach Judy Oberting likes to platoon the two goalies, look for Ferguson to get the nod in both games this weekend).
Should Dartmouth avoid the upset against Brown, the Big Green would have a chance to avenge itself against either St. Lawrence (which tied the Big Green in Hanover on Thanksgiving weekend) or Harvard (which ended a four-game losing streak against Dartmouth on Feb. 17 at Bright Hockey Center).
No. 2 seed: Harvard (22-8-0)
The Crimson is lucky to still be alive, after needing overtime to beat No. 7 seed Providence in the ECAC quarterfinals last weekend. Harvard controlled the puck most of the game, throwing 42 shots at the Friars’ freshman phenom, Amy Quinlan. But Harvard netminder Jessica Ruddock, who has had a quality rookie season herself, made only 11 stops at the other end, and the Crimson needed a hat trick from Tammy Shewchuk and a goal from Kalen Ingram five minutes into the extra period to escape the upset.
Harvard cannot expect another 42-14 shot margin in the semifinals against St. Lawrence, which is deeper offensively and even more aggressive on defense than Providence. The Saints beat the Crimson in Cambridge in January, 3-2, to tie the season series at 1-1. A loss to St. Lawrence could finish Harvard’s season.
With senior co-captain Angie Francisco finally back in the lineup, however, Harvard is deeper than it was for most of February, when the Crimson went 8-2. Francisco should create plenty of scoring chances for the deadly duo of Jennifer Botterill and Tammy Shewchuk on the power play, and Harvard coach Katey Stone can also afford to swing the versatile Tara Dunn back to defense. With two solid lines and a more confident blueline, the Crimson could be hard to stop from scoring in the postseason.
No. 3 seed: St. Lawrence (23-6-3)
The Saints also had a narrow win in the quarterfinals, holding onto a 1-0 lead against No. 6 seed New Hampshire despite being outshot, 34-19. Freshman Rachel Barrie, who leads all ECAC rookie goaltenders in both GAA (1.77) and save percentage (.935), sealed the victory by shutting out the Wildcats, who poured 14 shots on net in the final period.
“Rachel had an outstanding game, making several key saves, particularly in the third period,” said St. Lawrence coach Paul Flanagan. “UNH played a solid game in which they outworked and badly outplayed us in the third. Not only did Rachel make several outstanding saves, but she did a great job of controlling and covering rebounds.”
Barrie will need another big game against high-scoring Harvard on Saturday if St. Lawrence is to advance to the championship game. Barrie should get plenty of help from her frustrating freshmen defensemen, Isabelle Chartrand and Lindsay Charlebois.
The Saints’ lone goal came from Jessica Wilson, one of five players that has at least 10 goals for St. Lawrence this season. But Flanagan will need more players (including Amanda Sargeant, Caroline Trudeau and Gina Kingsbury) to put the puck in the net in the semifinals because it will be difficult to shut out Harvard on the other end.
A win on Saturday should lock up a trip to Minnesota for St. Lawrence. But this is the farthest the Saints have made it since Flanagan took the helm in Canton, and it could be the most emotional game of the season.
“The further you go in the playoffs, the more emotion is involved in each game,” Flanagan said. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves for the UNH game because we were the higher seed. I’m hopeful, that being young in terms of playoff experience, we learned a lot from Saturday in preparing ourselves emotionally for the Harvard game.”
No. 4 seed: Brown (19-6-3)
The Bears had one of their better offensive games of the season last weekend against No. 5 seed Northeastern, beating Husky netminder Erika Silva four times on 36 shots. Three of those goals came from Kathleen Kauth and Kristy Zamora, Brown’s leading goalscorers this year.
The Bears have played well against Dartmouth both times this season, although they suffered a pair of 3-2 losses. If Brown is to emerge victorious on Saturday, it will need another outstanding performance from sophomore goaltender Pam Dreyer. Dreyer has admirably filled the big skates of Ali Brewer, last year’s Kazmaier Award winner, finishing second in the conference with a 1.57 GAA while leading the ECAC with a .940 save percentage.