Okay. As brackets go, the template for the NCAA Divison I womens’ hockey tourney is a short one. However, that doesn’t mean that the field of eight is a dull one, void of intrigue.
Observers of the scene will ask, where’s Wisconsin? Granted the question comes strictly out of habit. The defending champion Badgers stumbled through a down year by their standards, failed to win a playoff game, and were left behind when the NCAA handed out its at-large bids, guaranteeing a new Frozen Four winner.
But will that winner come from the west? That, too, is asked reflexively.
After all, it always has.
And with strong entries in No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth and No. 3 Minnesota, sure, the WCHA could continue its national championship domination for a ninth year. Then again, this really could be the year for an Eastern winner.
There are two eastern schools that have been cornerstones of the women’s game (Harvard for one, New Hampshire for another), and have only Frozen Four frustration to show for all their trouble. Safe to say that folks in Cambridge and in Durham are telling themselves that â€œthis is the yearâ€.
And do you think that BU is simply â€œhappy to be hereâ€? How about Clarkson? Cornell?
You think the New Orleans Saints were just happy to be in the Super Bowl?
No, those newbies expected to win the whole thing, just as the these newbies – the Terriers, Knights, and Big Red – are planning on doing.
Then there is Mercyhurst, last year’s runner up, the one team that led the polls for almost an entire season. Is this the year they finally shake that â€œbest of a bad (CHA) lotâ€ label? The strength shown by the rest of the CHA this year should have done that.
A Frozen Four championship surely would.
Now wouldn’t that be a bracket buster?
Friday: No. 4 Harvard vs. No. 5 Cornell
A regular old ECAC clash. In winning its first-ever ECAC Hockey regular-season title, Cornell beat Harvard at home, then tied them at the Bright Center in the rematch.
Harvard has the dynamic Liza Ryabkina up front, and a whole lot of Frozen Four experience to draw from.
Saturday: No. 1 Mercyhurst vs. No. 8 Boston University
The Lakers hit their stride in Week 1, and have kept humming through the entire grind of the long season. One major reason is Patty Kazmaier finalist Vicki Bendus, the nation’s leading point getter.
As for BU, they lose the dark horse advantage they had with their surprise Hockey East tourney win. But they do have momentum, and first-hand experience at getting hot at the most opportune time.
Saturday: No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth vs. No. 7. New Hampshire
What a war this could be. They’ll meet in for the third consecutive year, with the last two having gone to the Bulldogs. Both teams have enjoyed enduring success, but of course, title-wise, it’s UMD 3, UNH 0.
Saturday: No. 3 Minnesota vs. No. 6 Clarkson
Let’s make this bold statement: the Gophers will not play a game away from Ridder Arena again this season. Of course, that’s because they’re hosting the Frozen Four, and would dearly love to win their third NCAA title on home ice. And with extraordinary freshman (already a Kazmaier finalist) Noora Raty guarding the Gopher hole, that could certainly happen.
Then again, if anyone can keep Raty hopping, Clarkson – with senior Dominique Thibault leading the attack – can do it.