Women’s D-I: NCAA quarterfinals preview

Mercyhurst Lakers at No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers, Saturday, March 10, 8 p.m. ET, 7 p.m. CT
The Lakers and Badgers each took the regular season crown of their respective conferences before losing to the host team in the league tournament. They met in this same round in 2006, and it required 90 minutes and 10 seconds of hockey before Wisconsin emerged with a 2-1 victory. They also dueled in the 2009 final, a far-less dramatic affair, won by the Badgers, 5-0. Bucky has claimed all seven meetings in the series history, including the most recent on January 2, 2011. This is the only quarterfinal matching teams that have yet to play each other this season.

Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson says the Lakers “have had a good season and have a bunch of quality wins, so the job for the next three or four days is to figure out what type of style they play, who are their key people. One thing we do know is that each team in the bracket has a chance to win. Everyone has a quality group and a quality team, that’s what makes it fun though.”

Statistical comparison
Category                            Mercyhurst    Wisconsin
Record                                    23-7-3                  31-4-2
Versus NCAA field              4-3-0                    6-2-2
Goals-scored/game            4.55                      4.59
Goals-allowed/game          2.09                      1.43
Power play percentage      28.3                       23.7
Penalty kill percentage      83.1                       89.6
Avg. penalty minutes         11.6                       9.1
NCAA appearance:              Eighth                   Seventh

Top scorers: Bailey Bram, Sr., F, (27-41-68); Christine Bestland, So., F, (24-34-58); Kelley Steadman, Sr., F, (32-20-52); Jess Jones, Sr., F, (13-35-48)
Goaltender: Hillary Pattenden, Sr., (20-7-3), 2.10 goals against average, .919 save percentage, six shutouts

The CHA regular-season champions earned an at-large bid to the tournament, in large part thanks to a six-game stretch in late November and early December that saw them go 4-2 versus St. Lawrence, Cornell, and Boston College. Hillary Pattenden, the winningest goaltender in NCAA history, recorded her 100th triumph in the conference semifinal over Syracuse. After playing in the shadow of players such as four-time Patty Kazmaier top-three finalist Meghan Agosta and 2010 Kazmaier Award winner Vicki Bendus for her first three years, Bailey Bram has thrived under the spotlight this season. Recently named a top 10 finalist for the Kaz, Bram has amassed 201 points in her career at Erie. Kelley Steadman leads the team in goals, and was named CHA Player of the Year. With Minnesota-Duluth failing to make the field this year, Mercyhurst has the longest run of consecutive appearances with eight, having been invited each year since the event expanded to eight teams in 2005.

Top scorers:  Brianna Decker, Jr., F, (36-42-78); Brooke Ammerman, Sr., F, (32-42-74); Hilary Knight, Sr., F, (28-28-56); Carolyne Prévost, Sr., F, (25-29-54)
Goaltender:  Alex Rigsby, So., (31-4-2), 1.36 goals against average, .952 save percentage, nine shutouts

The defending-champion Badgers took the WCHA season title and enter the NCAA tournament as the top seed for the second-consecutive year. Though she no longer has Patty Kazmaier Award winner Meghan Duggan on her wing, Brianna Decker is nonetheless closing in on a second 80-point season. Decker has established good chemistry with Brooke Ammerman and Carolyne Prévost, and once they leave the ice, opponents still need to worry about Olympian Hilary Knight on the next line. Sophomore goalie Alex Rigsby, already with one NCAA crown to her credit, has taken her game to another level, as evidenced by her .952 save percentage. The Cardinal and White figure to have the largest home crowd on Saturday; they drew more than 12,000 fans for a game with Bemidji State in January, and 4,000 attended Wisconsin’s quarterfinal a year ago.

Why the Lakers will win: Mercyhurst sends out the country’s top power play, which produces an average of a goal and a half per game. Mike Sisti’s crew seems to be at their best when viewed as a big underdog, and as Harvard in 2005 and Wisconsin in 2006 can attest, the Lakers are anything but an easy first-round opponent.

Why the Badgers will win: Wisconsin counters with the nation’s top penalty kill, and is also good at staying out of the box. With an all-time record in the NCAA tournament of 14-2, the Badgers would be the team to beat even, were they not the top seed.

North Dakota Fighting Sioux at No. 2 Minnesota Golden Gophers, Saturday, March 10, 5 p.m. ET, 4 p.m. CT
WCHA rivals North Dakota and Minnesota clash for the sixth time, the fourth time in three weeks, and reprise their game a week ago in a WCHA semifinal.

“Significance wise, it’s another step in the the development of the program and where we want to be,” says UND coach Brian Idalski of his team’s first NCAA tournament berth. “I’ll be really excited when it’s not a big deal and everyone expects us to be in every year. I think that’s where we want to be in the position of the program. For the first time, it’s pretty special.”

On the other bench, Brad Frost has the Gophers in the national tournament for the fifth straight year.

“We’re excited, obviously, to be hosting,” he says. “It gets to these one-and-done situations, and it doesn’t necessarily matter who you play, you’ve got to come and play your best. So, we look forward to seeing North Dakota here again in a few days.”

Statistical comparison
Category                  North Dakota          Minnesota
Record                                    22-11-3                           31-5-2
Versus NCAA field            3-7-1                               5-3-1
Goals-scored/game           4.28                                 4.45
Goals-allowed/game         2.47                                 1.32
Power play percentage    23.2                                  25.0
Penalty kill percentage    87.6                                 88.7
Avg. penalty minutes        15.9                                  9.8
NCAA appearance              First                                 10th

North Dakota
Top scorers:  Jocelyne Lamoureux, Jr., F, (34-48-82); Monique Lamoureux-Kolls, Jr., D/F, (26-44-70); Michelle Karvinen, So., F, (23-37-60); Josefine Jakobsen, Fr., F, (13-21-34)
Goaltenders:  Stephanie Ney, Sr., (16-8-2), 2.75 goals against average, .898 save percentage, one shutout; Jorid Dagfinrud, Jr., (6-3-1), 1.81 goals against average, .930 save percentage, four shutouts

North Dakota becomes the 17th different program to gain an NCAA tournament berth. The Fighting Sioux added imports Michelle Karvinen and Josefine Jakobsen to the foundation set a year earlier with the arrival of the Lamoureux sisters, and the product was a top-five offense. The twins are both Kazmaier top-10 finalists this season. UND can be very explosive, scoring five or more goals 15 times this campaign. The question for the Sioux is at the other end of the ice, where they have been plagued at times by inconsistency. The defensive effort has improved of late, as UND has held opponents to two goals or less in seven of its last 10 outings. Unfortunately for the Sioux, two of the exceptions and both losses during that stretch were to the Gophers, including a 6-0 defeat last week.

“It’s another game, it’s an opportunity to play, you couldn’t write a better thing than that,” Idalski says. “We’re looking forward to going down there and playing better, and see what happens.”

Top scorers:  Amanda Kessel, So., F, (36-42-78); Jen Schoullis, Sr., F, (23-38-61); Sarah Erickson, Sr., F, (17-26-43); Megan Bozek, Jr., D, (14-27-41)
Goaltender:  Noora Räty, Jr., (30-5-2), 1.35 goals against average, .940 save percentage, 10 shutouts

The Gophers have their deepest team ever and are in the process of rewriting the program record book. On the blue line, seniors Anne Schlepper and Kelly Seeler and junior Megan Bozek rank in the top 10 for career goals, assists, and points by defensemen. Forwards Jen Schoullis and Emily West are tied for tenth in career points with 153, and Sarah Erickson with 149 is not far behind. Halfway through her career, Amanda Kessel is on a pace to exceed the marks established by Natalie Darwitz for points and assists. In net, Noora Räty owns the standard for career and season shutouts and season wins. The key to the team’s recent success is that it continues to get major contributions from other sources as well, such as sophomore Sarah Davis’ first career hat trick in the recent meeting with UND.

Why the Fighting Sioux will win: No team has more wins over Minnesota of late than North Dakota. It went 3-1 versus the Gophers a season ago, and has beaten them twice already in 2011-12.

Why the Gophers will win: Minnesota ended a six-year string of postseason frustration by winning the WCHA tournament last weekend, and the Gophers feel that this is their year. “I think [our team is] playing really, really well, and they’re a confident group,” Frost says. “I have total faith that we’ll come out and play hard here on Saturday as well.”

Boston University Terriers at No. 3 Cornell Big Red, Saturday, March 10, 2 p.m. ET, 1 p.m. CT
Boston University and Cornell collided in a Frozen Four semifinal in 2011, and the Terriers eliminated the Big Red by a 4-1 score. The teams also squared of in November, while BU was at less than full strength, and Cornell swept the series by 3-1 and 7-1 scores. Both teams are back for a third straight trip to the national tournament.

“Our team has fought through some tough injuries and the pressure of having a target on their back following last year’s NCAA run,” Boston University coach Brian Durocher says. “Despite this adversity, the team stuck together and finished the season winning 12 of the last 13 games and a Hockey East Title. Making it to the NCAA Tournament is far from a given, so doing it for three straight years is a real testament to the talent, leadership, and perseverance that the ladies bring to the BU program.”

While BU had to survive overtime on the final day to punch its ticket to the dance, ECAC season-champ Cornell has been securely in the field for weeks.

“We are excited to be in the NCAA Tournament once again,” Big Red coach Doug Derraugh says. “It is always an honor to be selected for this event.”

Statistical comparison
Category                   Boston Univ.       Cornell
Record                                      23-13-1                      29-4-0
Versus NCAA field                5-6-0                           6-2-0
Goals-scored/game              3.22                             4.61
Goals-allowed/game             2.46                            1.55
Power play percentage        17.5                             25.0
Penalty kill percentage         87.3                            88.5
Avg. penalty minutes            11.7                            10.4
NCAA appearance                  Third                         Third

Boston University
Top scorers:  Jenn Wakefield, Sr., F, (28-26-54); Isabel Menard, Jr., F, (17-28-45); Kayla Tutino, Fr., F, (17-18-35); Tara Watchorn, Sr., D, (6-17-23)
Goaltender:  Kerrin Sperry, So., (19-13-1), 2.41 goals against average, .917 save percentage, one shutout

BU’s season has been a tale of two teams, for the Terriers without Marie-Philip Poulin in the lineup have been far less effective than the version that includes the Canadian Olympian. Since she returned from her second injury stint in January, the team has been rolling.  While her presence has obviously been a major factor, others like Jenn Wakefield have taken their games up a few notches as well.

“In our matchup with Cornell, we will face a team that is highly talented at all three positions, and has been that way for the past three seasons,” Durocher says. “Their experience in ECAC and NCAA tournaments, along with home ice at Lynah Rink, will make our task very challenging, but something we are excited to be a part of at this time of year.”

Top scorers:  Rebecca Johnston, Sr., F, (27-29-56); Brianne Jenner, So., F, (18-36-54); Jillian Saulnier, Fr., F, (22-25-47); Laura Fortino, Jr., D, (7-29-36)
Goaltenders:  Amanda Mazzotta, Sr., (15-3-0), 1.56 goals against average, .927 save percentage, five shutouts; Lauren Slebodnick, So., (14-1-0), 1.35 goals against average, .928 save percentage, five shutouts

A season ago, the Big Red may have ultimately suffered from a lack of worthy opponents on the ECAC landscape. In 2011-12, Cornell beefed up its nonconference slate by adding another game with Mercyhurst and two versus BU. However, the increased challenge on the schedule likely came more from the improvement of conference foes like Clarkson and St. Lawrence. Still, there were many dates on the calendar where the squad from Ithaca, led by stars like ECAC Player of the Year Rebecca Johnston, just had too much talent to be seriously threatened by its foe. The next couple of weeks will reveal whether the Big Red have been sufficiently tempered for what is to come.

“Boston University has been one of the best teams in the country the last few months, and it should be a great game,” Derraugh says. “Both teams have tremendous individually-skilled players and play at a high tempo. It will be a great game for fans to watch.”

Why the Terriers will win: After a Hollywood comeback against Providence in the Hockey East championship game, one gets the sense that fortune is now smiling on the Terriers after torturing them earlier.

Why the Big Red will win:  Cornell has not lost more than one game in any month this season, and it got the March loss out of the way early. Prior to the setback versus St. Lawrence, the Big Red had won 10 straight, not surrendering more than two goals in any of them.

St. Lawrence Saints at No. 4 Boston College Eagles, Saturday, March 10, 1 p.m. ET, 12 p.m. CT
The Saints and Eagles clashed on January 5, with St. Lawrence coming out on top, 2-1, but this is their first NCAA tournament meeting. BC makes the field for a second straight season.

“We are extremely excited to be hosting again,” Eagles coach Katie King Crowley says. “We worked really hard to get into the position that we are in. It’s great that things worked out for us, getting the fourth overall seed and being able to host again.”

SLU returns after a two-year absence, earning an automatic bid by claiming the program’s first ECAC tournament championship.

“It’s such a special day for our program, our alumni, and our players,” Saints coach Chris Wells said following the victory over Cornell in the ECAC title game. “I am so proud of the effort every single player gave, and am thrilled we get to do it again next weekend.”

Statistical comparison
Category             St. Lawrence       Boston College
Record                                    24-9-4                       23-9-3
Versus NCAA field             2-5-0                          2-5-0
Goals-scored/game           3.19                             .89
Goals-allowed/game         2.08                           2.00
Power play percentage     18.0                           18.5
Penalty kill percentage      85.1                           82.1
Avg. penalty minutes         10.2                           10.6
NCAA appearance               Eighth                        Fourth

St. Lawrence
Top scorers:  Kelly Sabatine, Jr., F, (22-24-46); Rylee Smith, So., F, (19-26-45); Karell Émard, Sr., F, (13-22-35); Brooke Frenandez, Jr., D, (9-17-26)
Goaltender:  Carmen MacDonald, Fr., (21-6-3), 1.88 goals against average, .932 save percentage, six shutouts

The Saints make their second excursion to the NCAA tournament under Wells. Having made six trips with Paul Flanagan at the helm, St. Lawrence becomes the third program to make multiple appearances under two different regimes, joining Dartmouth and Minnesota. Someone associated with the St. Lawrence program likely got a hold of the wishbone on Thanksgiving and wished wisely, because the prospects of the Saints have improved drastically ever since. Carmen MacDonald has settled in nicely in her rookie season in net, having not allowed more than three goals in any of the last 11 games. The top line of  Kelly Sabatine between Rylee Smith and Karell Émard is taking care of business in the offensive end. SLU is tied with Cornell and Minnesota for fewest losses in 2012 with two.

“We look forward, as always, to a high-tempo, fast-paced game with Boston College,” Wells says. “Our games against the Eagles are typically exciting and fun to watch, and this one should be no different.”

Boston College
Top scorers:  Alex Carpenter, Fr., F, (19-18-37); Emily Field, Fr, F., (11-18-29); Ashley Motherwell, Jr., F, (12-13-25); Mary Restuccia, Sr., F, (4-20-24)
Goaltender:  Corinne Boyles, Jr., (23-9-3), 2.02 goals against average, .925 save percentage, six shutouts

The Eagles have only lost four times since the holidays, but somehow it seems like more. BC has struggled with consistency, having not won more than five games in a row at any point of the season. Part of that can be attributed to relying on new leaders in the wake of the graduation of Olympians Molly Schaus and Kelly Stack. Rookies Alex Carpenter and Emily Field have shouldered much of the load, but their pace has slowed as the season has ground along and opponents have become more aware of them. BC desperately needs its veterans to come to the forefront now that the playoffs are in full swing.

“St. Lawrence is playing really well right now, and has had some really nice wins,” King Crowley says. ” They beat us earlier in the season, so we’re excited to play them again.”

Why the Saints will win: Whatever held SLU down through the season’s first 16 games is a distant memory. The Saints have discovered the formula to success and aren’t shy about using it, battling through three playoff rounds with their season at risk.

Why the Eagles will win: BC hung on to home ice by the slimmest of margins and now looks to leverage that advantage into a Frozen Four spot as in 2011. The Eagles also have experience on their side, as 18 players have NCAA Tournament exposure.