Women’s D-I wrap: March 18

Four survive to compete on the final weekend
A quarterfinal of the NCAA tournament may be the most pressure-packed game of the season. Win and a team is on to the Frozen Four, and by most measures, a season is judged as a success no matter where a team may have fallen short during the rest of the year. Lose, and the championship dream comes to a screeching halt.

For that one game, everything is magnified. Any decision by a coach, such as whether to juggle lines or how to match them against the opposition, what goaltender to start, or when to call that one timeout, could alter the outcome. So too for an action by a player, and those judgements have to be made in an instant.

In terms of advancing beyond that round, experience appeared to matter. The two teams that had not participated in the NCAA tournament since 2010, Clarkson and Harvard, were both eliminated in regulation. All four teams that gained a spot in the semifinals have at least some players on the roster that have participated in a previous Frozen Four, although admittedly, Mercyhurst was outgunned in that respect by Cornell.

Saturday did not prove to be a good day for the ECAC. The conference with the most teams in the NCAA tourney is the only one that won’t be represented at the Frozen Four.

Half of the quarterfinals required overtime, and one unseeded squad triumphed, along with three hosting teams.

Boston College continues success over Harvard
The storyline in this game may be as simple as the Eagles just matching up well against Harvard of late; they ran their head-to-head winning streak to five with a 3-1 victory.

Like they did in the Beanpot, the Crimson got on the scoreboard first, but again it proved to be their only goal. Gina McDonald had a chance to put Harvard ahead four and a half minutes into the contest, but with Corinne Boyles down, she was unable to lift the puck as Boyles kicked out a skate. At the 16-minute mark, Mary Parker’s quick shot on a power play got through Boyles and barely trickled across the goal line.

Exactly a minute later, Harvard’s lead was gone. Katey Stone decided to start freshman Emerance Maschmeyer over senior Laura Bellamy down the stretch, but that move did not pay dividends on this day. A rolling puck that did not appear threatening off of the stick of Haley Skarupa managed to find a route under Maschmeyer’s stick and into the goal. If one soft goal in a game of this magnitude is difficult to overcome, two can be back-breaking. A couple minutes into the middle frame, Caitlin Walsh released another shot that was more fortuitous than forceful; it fooled the goaltender, and BC was up, 2-1.

Alex Carpenter doubled the lead with a nice redirect. Harvard was unable to rally, as Boyles slammed the door with 30 saves.

Boston University overpowers Clarkson
The Golden Knights rely on a defense that allowed less than two goals on average. Their offense takes a conservative approach, averaging under three goals a contest, so when Boston University scored two goals 16 seconds apart to lead, 4-1, in the third period, that presented a challenge outside of Clarkson’s comfort zone.

The Golden Knights made a valiant attempt, answering 12 seconds later and pulling within one on a Shannon MacAulay goal with under five minutes remaining. Clarkson pulled Erica Howe for an extra skater with 1:06 to play, and Sarah Lefort converted into the empty net just seven seconds later, her second goal of the game. Lefort’s linemates, Marie-Philip Poulin and Jenelle Kohanchuk, each contributed a goal and a helper. Kerrin Sperry thwarted 34 shots to win her 23rd game, a career high.

Lakers outlast Cornell
When Caroline Luczak scored to put Mercyhurst ahead of Cornell, 3-2, at 18:47 of the third period, it appeared that the Big Red may have at last sunk into a hole from which they could not climb. Instead, a Lakers’ forward made one of those seemingly minor decisions that had major implications, dumping a puck without gaining the center line. The resulting icing call allowed Lauren Slebodnick to be replaced by an extra attacker and gave Cornell an offensive zone faceoff. Brianne Jenner won a draw back to Jillian Saulnier, and her shot wound up in the net. Just 17 seconds after falling behind, the Big Red were back to even. For the fifth straight playoff game, they had scored in the final two minutes of regulation to either tie or take the lead.

One would expect that such a dramatic turn would wreak havoc on a young team like Mercyhurst; rather than celebrating, it found itself in overtime with its season at stake. Perhaps that is where the Lakers’ youth served them well, and they were blissfully unaware that their program’s previous four trips into overtime in the NCAA tournament had ended in defeat. Saturday followed a different script, as Stephanie Ciampa made four more stops to bring her total to 29 for the game and freshman Jenna Dingeldein netted a game-winner 4:49 into the extra session.

Mercyhurst advances to its third Frozen Four and first since 2010, coincidentally also held in Minneapolis.

Minnesota takes marathon from North Dakota
The Gophers attempted to reproduce their quarterfinal recipe from a year ago against North Dakota in a quarterfinal. The first step went well, as Hannah Brandt scored in the opening minute to put the visitors in immediate trouble.  However, North Dakota departed from precedent, pressuring Minnesota into mistakes, outshooting the hosts heavily in the opening 20 minutes, and taking a lead of its own before a half minute was played in the next period on goals by Ashley Furia and Meghan Dufault. Amanda Kessel squared the contest at 2-2 before the second intermission. Minnesota had to kill off a five-minute major, North Dakota survived a couple of minors of its own, and bonus hockey was needed.

Goaltenders Shelby Amsley-Benzie and Noora Räty overcame all challenges through the first overtime, a second, and most of a third. When North Dakota was assessed another penalty, the Gophers’ Kelly Terry was finally credited with the deciding goal off of a goal-mouth scramble at 18:51 of the third OT, the longest game in history for both programs.

Semifinals schedule
The resulting bracket pairs Boston College versus Minnesota on Friday at 6 p.m. EDT, 5 p.m. CDT., and Mercyhurst with Boston University at 9 p.m. EDT, 8 p.m. CDT. The same matches occurred in NCAA quarterfinals in 2011, with both Boston schools earning victories.