Women’s D-I wrap: March 11

Conference tourneys provide final pieces in NCAA picture
The four conference tournaments are in the books, and that means our season has been reduced to the seven games of the NCAA tournament, and that bracket has been announced. First, we’ll consider the conference action, where in a complete reversal of last season, every regular-season champion backed up its success with a playoff title. Two teams repeated their runs from a year ago, while a pair of squads are back on top after being upset in 2012.

Mercyhurst resumes CHA reign
The Lakers had to deal with recent nemesis Robert Morris in the semifinals, but they emerged unscathed with a 2-1 victory. Lauren Jones gave Mercyhurst a lead in the second period, and last-minute goals by Christine Bestland into an empty net and Brandi Pollock with an extra attacker offset. Stepanie Ciampa made 25 saves to up her personal record on the year to 18-1-0.

In the other semi, Syracuse recorded its fourth-straight 2-1 win over RIT. Seniors Kim Schlattman and Tenecia Hiller combined to put the Tigers on the board first, with Schlattman tallying the four-on-four goal at 6:32 of the second. It took the Orange more than a period to answer, but Allie LaCombe did so on a power play. Six minutes into overtime, Sadie St. Germain of Syracuse flirted with the role of goat when she sat for a trip. Her teammates killed off her penalty, and less than two minutes after her confinement ended, St. Germain proved heroic, scoring the game-winner from Brittney Krebs and goaltender Kallie Billadeau. Billadeau made 22 stops in her more conventional job, and Ali Binnington denied 43 shots in defeat.

The championship game brought a continuation of the pattern where Syracuse can get so close but no closer where Mercyhurst is concerned. Shiann Darkangelo just beat the buzzer to give the Orange a 1-0 lead at the end of a penalty-filled second period. The Lakers responded with a four-goal final frame, with markers coming courtesy of Molly Byrne, Caroline Luczak, Bestland, and Christie Cicero. Ciampa stopped 19 shots to earn another win and return the CHA Championship to Mercyhurst.

Minnesota repeats in WCHA
North Dakota and Wisconsin clashed in a much anticipated semifinal to determine the eighth team in the rankings, and potentially, the final team into the NCAA field. UND seized the role of the aggressor, and it paid off with an Ashley Furia goal 12:36 into the game. Monique Lamoureux doubled the lead six minutes into the final period, and 10 minutes elapsed before Erika Sowchuk responded for the Badgers. UW had to go onto the penalty kill a minute after getting momentum from the goal, and the clock ran out on any further comeback attempt from the 2-1 hole. Shelby Amsley-Benzie saved 26 chances for her 19th win.

Versus Ohio State, Minnesota got two goals from frosh Maryanne Menefee and a 24-save shutout from Noora Räty. Hannah Brandt, Mira Jalosuo, and Megan Bozek also found the net, giving the hosts a 5-0 victory.

Bozek and Menefee scored two minutes apart in the second period of the championship game, and Räty did the rest. Her 30-save shutout of UND was her fifth consecutive blanking and the sixth in a row for the Gophers.

Terriers take Hockey East again
Louise Warren scored twice in a three-goal second period as Boston University prevailed over Providence, 4-0, and advanced to the final. Half of Kerrin Sperry’s 42 saves came in the final 20 minutes, as the Friars dominated the shot chart but could gain no ground.

After flirting with disaster in the quarterfinal versus Maine, Boston College became seriously involved in the semis. Northeastern’s Casey Pickett struck short-handed early in the second period, and the Huskies lead swelled to three before the Eagles got on the board late. Chloe Desjardins turned aside 34 shots and NU kept its NCAA hopes alive with a 4-1 victory.

BU wasn’t in the mood for any Cinderella stories in the championship. Isabel Menard got her team a lead four minutes into the game, and Sarah Lefort tacked on a goal eight minutes later. Twice the Huskies drew within a goal, and twice Jenelle Kohanchuk answered. Sperry notched another 35 saves in a 5-2 win, the Terriers hoisted a trophy, and Northeastern fell just short of the NCAA field for the second straight season.

Cornell clutch in ECAC Hockey run
Few teams of late have embraced postseason drama with the enthusiasm of Cornell. After a number of overtime classics in recent years, the Big Red needed a pair of late rallies to get by Colgate in this season’s quarterfinal. Against St. Lawrence in the semifinal, Cornell opened up a gap on two Taylor Woods goals late in the first period before the Saints’ Rylee Smith put in a pair of tallies in the next frame. Still knotted at two, the Big Red survived some penalty problems in the latter stages of the third period and got the game-winner at 18:22 as Woods completed her hat trick. She assisted on Brianne Jenner’s empty-net goal to seal a 4-2 win.

Harvard led throughout in defeating Clarkson, also by a 4-2 score. The Crimson took a three-goal lead in the final period before the Golden Knights were able to get anything going. Mary Parker put the exclamation point on the triumph with her second goal into an empty net.

Jenner and Hillary Crowe traded goals in the first period, and although Cornell dominated the shot counter, it couldn’t get a second puck by Emerance Maschmeyer until Jessica Campbell connected on a power play with under two minutes remaining in regulation. The 2-1 win gives the Big Red seniors their third playoff title in their careers.

Tournament invitations
Due to winning conference tournaments, Minnesota, Boston University and Cornell were automatically in the NCAA field. The other five at-large spots went to the next five highest teams in the PairWise Rankings. The first four were obvious: Boston College, the fourth seed and final quarterfinal host; Harvard, Clarkson, and Mercyhurst.

Although the USCHO PairWise Rankings would seem to indicate that North Dakota’s loss on Saturday dropped them out of the field, that was a result of how that algorithm considers the Common Opponents category. The computer version computes a cumulative winning percentage against all common opponents combined, and because UND had more games and losses to Minnesota, it appeared to lose a comparison to St. Lawrence despite a better record versus the only other COP, Clarkson. Based on this and other recent decisions by the women’s selection committee, it evidently considers the winning percentage versus each COP separately. That flips the UND comparison with SLU and allows UND to tie Northeastern and Wisconsin with three comparisons won. North Dakota advances due to a higher RPI.

The NCAA bracket
North Dakota at No. 1 Minnesota, Saturday at 4 p.m. CT
Harvard at No. 4 Boston College, Saturday at 1 p.m. ET

Clarkson at No. 3 Boston University, Saturday at 3 p.m. ET
Mercyhurst at No. 2 Cornell, Saturday at 1 p.m. ET

Individual awards
The three finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award were announced last week, senior defenseman Megan Bozek, junior forward Amanda Kessel, and senior goaltender, Noora Räty, all from Minnesota. The winner of the award will be announced at the Kazmaier Banquet on March 23.

Each conference also handed out regular season awards, highlighted by the Player of the Year for each: CHA, junior forward Christine Bestland, Mercyhurst; ECAC Hockey, junior forward Brianne Jenner, Cornell; Hockey East, sophomore forward Alex Carpenter, Boston College; WCHA, Kessel.

The playoffs brought more recognition in the form of all-tournament teams, plus a Most Valuable Player in each: CHA, senior goaltender Stephanie Ciampa, Mercyhurst; ECAC, freshman goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer, Harvard; Hockey East, junior goaltender Kerrin Sperry, Boston University; WCHA, Räty.

All of these young ladies are most deserving, and their talents are definitely worthy of recognition.

One award of a slightly different tone went to Yale senior Alyssa Zupon, winner of the ECAC Hockey Mandi Schwartz Award. Zupon’s community service efforts, inspired in part by her late teammate for which the award is named, are truly exemplary, and serve as a sample of the great things done by players off of the ice that we learn of less often. She is also a finalist for the Hockey Humanitarian Award. More information regarding her work on behalf of causes such as earthquake and tsunami relief and forming a pediatric patients support group can be found here at this link.