Breaking down the final eight

Now that the NCAA Field of Eight has been selected for this year’s tourney, the question so rightly asked as Saturday’s quarterfinal tilts approach is, ”
“Who will win the Frozen Four?”

The stock answer to that is, “Some team from the West.”

It’s been that way for 10 years, and with three entries in the running again, Wisconsin, Minnesota-Duluth, and Minnesota, you could say there’s no reason to think otherwise again, when the celebratory “pig pile” forms somewhere on the Tulio Arena surface two Sundays from now.

Of course you’d get an argument from the supporters of BU, BC, Cornell, Dartmouth, and the host Lakers of Mercyhurst.

If nothing else, the odds of keeping the skein of Western dominance running forever grow longer by the year, and while some would say, “Stick with the streak,” the better adage might be “Go with the roll.” Which is to say that given the long grind of a season, teams would much rather be playing their best at the end of the year than the beginning. While the eight have played well enough to get this far, some are more at the top of their game than the others.

So, to take a better stab at our original question “Who will win …,” let’s take a look at how each of the contenders wrapped up the year.

No. 1 Wisconsin. A check of the W-L-T column shows 11 straight Ws, followed by two Ts, followed by 11 more Ws. The last of those wins was the toughest, a 5-4 OT thriller over Minnesota in the WCHA Final Face Off championship tilt. Meghan Duggan, the NCAA’s most prolific goal getter, notched Nos. 36 and 37 in that tilt, so its safe to say that the newly named Kazmaier Award finalist is fully on her game.

No. 2 Cornell. The Big Red have enjoyed a banner year, rolling to a 30-2-1 mark, and 20-1-1 in the ECAC. However, that one conference loss came six games ago to Dartmouth, whom, as the draw would have it, will be their quarterfinal foe on Saturday. Then again, Cornell avenged that setback last weekend with a 3-0 whitewash of the Green in the ECAC title game.

No. 3 Boston University. It’s been more of a limp than a sprint down the home stretch for the Terriers. They ended the season with a pair of losses (in overtime to Maine in the regular season finale, then to Northeastern in the WHEA semifinal. In fact, since February arrived, BU has gone a tepid 4-4-1, suggesting that Brian Durocher’s squad had better find the “Go” switch, and fast.

No. 4 Boston College. The Eagles started out strong, hit some mid-season doldrums, then hit a higher gear in the last six weeks when they piled up nine wins and two ties in the last 13 games. If, as the old maxim holds, defense does win championships, then BC’s chances are strong, having allowed an average of a goal per game (thanks to the “Unsinkable” Molly Schaus) over the last five.

No. 5 Minnesota. Making it through the scrum that is the WCHA league schedule is accomplishment enough, so although eight conference losses seems rather high, it didn’t scare away the selectors. The Gophers have lost three league games since the last weekend of January, but two of those were to Wisconsin, and as mentioned before, the WCHA championship game with the Badgers could have gone either way. When you have goaltending (and who is better than Noora Räty?), you can beat anybody.

No. 6 Mercyhurst. Wouldn’t the Lakers love to win the whole thing on home ice? They spent the last month and a half preparing to do just that, racking up 11 straight wins to tie Wisconsin for the longest current string. However, their last two losses came to Wisconsin and Cornell, two teams they might have to topple in order to set off a victory parade down the aptly named Parade St.

No. 7 Minnesota-Duluth. Who is streakier than Shannon Miller’s squad? Nobody, really. The Bulldogs have lived a white-knuckle existence all year, although they are currently on an upswing. Well, that 4-2 loss to Minnesota in the conference semis was a momentum killer. Prior to that, UMD had piled up 10 straight wins, although each of them came at the expense of lesser teams. Still, the Bulldogs are five-time Frozen Four winners, and are the defending NCAA champions. They will be, too, until somebody knocks them off, and who says anybody will?

No. 8 Dartmouth. The Green can take comfort in knowing they were the last team to beat their quarterfinal opponent, Cornell. Then again, they were beaten handily by the Big Red, 3-0, just a week ago. Until then, Dartmouth had won eight of its last nine, six of them by two goals or less.