This Week in D-I Women’s Hockey: March 13, 2009

For all the talk of parity, and the wide-open Women’s Frozen Four championship possibilities presented to any of two dozen Division-I programs, five furious months of hockey have proven this much.

The past and present are pretty much the same.

In the past year, we seen a change in regimes (good), and a change in economic fortunes (bad). However, when it comes to the NCAA tournament field of eight, any change is scarcely noticeable.

Last year’s Gang of Eight is missing just one face, that being Harvard, from the octet that will see quarterfinal action Saturday. The lone newbie is Boston College, which returns to the tourney after a one-year absence.

Hey, at least the Eagles’ coach, Katie King, is making a tourney debut. (Oh, wait. She was BC assistant during their last tournament cameo). Not that King was a stranger to high-stakes hockey as a player (lets start with her three Olympic appearances and work the trail to the Hockey Hall of Fame).

You do have to admire the way Minnesota, UMD, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, et al, has been able to keep their programs humming. Still, wouldn‘t you have wanted to see maybe one or two new programs force their way into the tournament picture?

Boston University had its chance, but couldn’t put enough pucks behind the unsinkable Molly Schaus to get past BC in the WHEA semifinal. And, perhaps most stunningly, RPI – a full-fledged D-I program for just three years – came within a game of winning the ECAC’s autobid, but was trounced by Dartmouth in the championship. The Engineers can always take solace from their overtime semifinal upset of Harvard, in the Crimson’s own rink, no less.

What would pass for change, or course, is if someone other than the WCHA’s Fearsome Threesome wound up winning the national title. Let’s leave that discussion for next week.

As for now, there are four quarterfinal clashes to look forward to.

The Matchups

(All games play Saturday)

No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Dartmouth
Kohl Center, Madison, Wisc.

Dartmouth can pull off an upset if: Sarah Parsons can keep putting up points. The All-Ivy selection and USA National team selection registered a dozen points in the ECAC tournament, including three (1g, 2a) in the final. Repeating that performance against the Badgers is easier said than done, as Wisconsin goalie (and Patty Kazmaier Award finalist) Jessie Vetter is currently at the top of her game.

No. 2 Minnesota vs. No. 7 Boston College
Ridder Arena, Minneapolis, Minn.

Boston College can pull off an upset if: Schaus stands on her head. And don’t think she won’t do it. Like another Natick native of another golden Golden Eagle era (we’re talking about you, Doug Flutie), Schaus has the ability to change a game’s flow in the blink of an eye. Nobody has a better save percentage than Schaus (.940). She’ll stop the first puck (and the Gophers will fire dozens of them at her), but it will help if her defense can keep traffic out of her face.

No. 3 Mercyhurst vs. No. 6 St. Lawrence
Mercyhurst Ice Center, Erie, Pa.

St. Lawrence can pull off an upset if: they can clamp down on Meghan Agosta, the Lakers All-Everything point getter. Agosta is the nation’s most prolific point producer (per game), and is especially deadly on the power play. The Saints’ mission? To stay the heck out of the penalty box, and to forget about Mercyhurst’s 15-game unbeaten streak.

No. 4 New Hampshire vs. No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth
Whittemore Center, Durham, N.H.

Duluth can pull off an upset if: … for starters, it wouldn’t be much of an upset, since these four/five matchups are almost always toss ups. It happens to be the order the teams finished in the final USCHO poll (but more pertinently the order they finished in the PairWise Rankings). Did we mention that Duluth is the defending National champ? That might count for something. Did we mention that top Wildcat sniper Jenn Wakefield and her 32 goals may be sitting this one out in street clothes? The super soph missed the WHEA tourney with a leg injury suffered, of all places, in class.

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