Wednesday Women: The final weekend

Daryl Watts (BC - 9) - The Boston College Eagles defeated the visiting University of Vermont Catamounts 2-1 on Saturday, January 20, 2017, at Kelley Rink in Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)
Daryl Watts (BC – 9) – T (Melissa Wade)

Nicole: I should have expected a few surprises in the NCAA quarterfinals, but somehow I was still pretty shocked by how the games played out. We’ve got two teams who’ve never been in the tournament before playing in the Frozen Four, and there’s a chance both could make the championship.

We had the stream of the BC/OSU game on in the press box in Madison prior to that quarterfinal, and a group of us stood there watching and scratching our heads as we watched the Eagles struggle like we hadn’t seen from them all season. They looked like a totally different team than the one I’d watched at other times. I admit that while I thought Ohio State was going to be a tough matchup, and I vaguely saw a potential for an upset, I did expect BC’s offense to win out. I’d hypothesized that the fact that Ohio State had nothing to lose could play a factor in the game, and I do think we saw that play out.

I tried to watch as much of the Clarkson/Mercyhurst game as I could, but as the press box filled up, my ability to stream decreased. It sure sounds like we all underestimated Mercyhurst — my apologies to the Lakers for sleeping on them this season. I think it was easy to get lulled into that by their early results, but I should have known better from Mike Sisti and crew.

What was the biggest surprise for you yesterday?

Candace: I can’t say I was too terribly surprised by Boston College’s struggles against Ohio State. Given how things played out in the Hockey East tournament against Connecticut, it looked like BC might be struggling a bit, and let’s face it, the Eagles have a history of seemingly dominant offenses going into hibernation in the NCAA tournament.

Clarkson’s struggles too weren’t too surprising to me. The Golden Knights few losses this year came against teams that they theoretically should have dominated, like Vermont, Quinnipiac, and Princeton.

Colgate was at home, and while the game was closer than the 3-1 score, it never really felt like Northeastern was in it. Ultimately, given how up and down Northeastern was this season, that too wasn’t much of a surprise.

I think the biggest surprise was how easily Wisconsin rolled past Minnesota. Given the Gophers had just defeated Wisconsin the previous week in the WCHA tournament, and that in the five previous games the two teams played, each game was decided by a goal, I was expecting another nail-biter, with perhaps overtime needing to decide it. However, the Badgers were dominant, and Minnesota never really got into the game.

Maybe the Gophers were running on empty after putting everything into the WCHA tournament and having to win that championship to even make the NCAA tournament. I did not anticipate a 4-0 whitewash. Wisconsin certainly looks to be on a mission. Given that the Badgers, like the Eagles, have a history of their offense going MIA, a 4-0 win over Minnesota has to be encouraging for their NCAA championship hopes.

Did you see any surprises on the weekend?

Nicole: I also wasn’t expecting that dominant of a showing from the Badgers. I knew they’d be fired up after the loss and that they’re so good at LaBahn, but I was also anticipating a closer game.

It’s telling that both Mark Johnson and Brad Frost said it was the best game they’d seen from the Badgers all season. Other than the opening minutes where the teams were feeling each other out, it was a dominant game from start to finish from the Badgers. They just swarmed the Gophers. The first three goals were the product of forced turnovers, two in the Gophers defensive zone

Abby Roque scored twice in 16 seconds, and a reporter postgame told her she hadn’t scored in awhile and she had no idea. As she pointed out, her line had been producing, so it didn’t matter who actually scored the goals. That’s pretty much been the Badgers MO this season. Scoring by committee has worked this Olympic year for them, and the younger players have stepped up.

We’ve got two brand-new teams in the Frozen Four, but it seems like we could end up with a rematch of last year’s title game. Did the results this weekend change your thoughts on whether Wisconsin and Clarkson are beatable?

Candace: Really, I’d have to say no. Wisconsin looked like a force. Clarkson looked more vulnerable, but as I pointed out, they’ve seemed to go on walkabout against teams that they expect to win against easily. When they’ve played teams they consider more of a threat, they’ve done much better. This isn’t a knock on those teams that have beaten or challenged Clarkson, by the way, such as Mercyhurst this past weekend. It’s more a knock against Clarkson’s possible mentality in certain games, where perhaps they just aren’t completely as focused as they need to be.

If anyone can beat Clarkson though, I see Ohio State as the contender. The Buckeyes have a lot of upside. They’ve got good scoring up front from players like Emma Maltais, Maddy Field, and Tatum Skaggs, they’ve got solid defense from players like Jincy Dunne and Lauren Boyle who can chip in at both ends of the ice, and they’ve got a goalie who can steal games in someone like Kassidy Sauvé. They’ve also got a coach, Nadine Muzerall, who knows how to win. Muzerall scored the game-winner against Brown in the 2000 national championship and is Minnesota’s all-time leader in goals with 139.

It’s going to take Clarkson’s absolute best effort to defeat the Buckeyes; anything less, and we’ll likely have an all-WCHA final.

I’m not completely discounting Colgate, by the way. The Raiders have had an excellent season. They have solid goaltending in Julia Vandyk, and players who can score like Jessie Eldridge and Breanne Wilson-Bennett. However, I also think that the Raiders have looked more vulnerable since the postseason started. They did dominate Harvard, but that wasn’t unexpected. However, they blew a three-goal lead against Cornell and almost lost, and then were completely shut down by Clarkson in the ECAC Championship Game. Even against Northeastern, it was anything but routine. The teams were tied 1-1 when Olivia Zafuto got the eventual game-winner early in the third, and the Raiders added an empty-netter to clinch it.

Colgate fired 36 shots against Northeastern though, and only scored two against a defense that has been middling throughout the season. Wisconsin’s defense is a whole other matter, and I just don’t see Colgate threatening Wisconsin over 60 minutes.

Do you see it differently at all?

Nicole: Yeah, you would think Saturday’s outing would put a little fear into Clarkson and motivate them to pick it up for the semifinal. If not, watching tape of Ohio State should be enough to get them to understand that effort isn’t going to cut it.

It’s interesting, because I’d say the same thing about effort and playing up or down to their opponent that you mentioned about Clarkson about OSU, too. They have seemed to find another level against teams like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and BC, but have also struggled against Mankato.

The Buckeyes also haven’t played a season this long nor so many high level games in a row. Are they able to keep it up and maintain the level of play we saw from them on Saturday? The fact that the games are televised and therefore have TV timeouts will help them.

The votes are already counted and tallied, but with the Patty Kazmaier breakfast coming up on Saturday, let’s have one last discussion. Who’s your pick among Daryl Watts, Victoria Bach, and Loren Gabel?

Candace: It’s a tough one, because all have their plusses and minuses, but I have to go with Daryl Watts, even though she is a freshman and even though she plays in a relatively weak conference. However, as far conferences go, you could say that about all of them. Each conference has weaker teams that the stronger teams beat up on.

Anyway, back to the Kazmaier. Watts averaged over two points a game, and her points per game is higher than anyone else. Yes, she plays on a deeper team than Victoria Bach, and Bach is a senior, which will give her a boost. However, the voting took place after the first round in the conference playoffs, and Bach couldn’t help her team get past Maine. To me, that hurts her candidacy some.

That leaves Gabel, whose numbers have also been outstanding, but she has a fewer points than Watts does, eight in fact, as of this writing, and has played one more game than Watts. Clarkson is arguably as deep as BC, if not deeper, with Giguère, Pejzlová, and Savannah Harmon. I’d put that quartet up as even against Watts, Caitrin Lonergan, Makenna Newkirk, and Toni Ann Miano.

So the question becomes whether the voters penalize Watts for being a freshman against Gabel, a junior, and Bach, a senior, or go with the one who really has been the best player in college hockey this year, at least in my mind.

I know you were on the Kazmaier Award Committee this year, so you can’t give away to0 much, but is there anything you can say about that trio?

Also, before we go, I’d like to thank our loyal readers, and also you, Nicole, and Arlan Marttila, our other contributor, for making this such a fun weekly forum for us to discuss our love of women’s hockey and nit pick over the minutia of the game. It’s always fun. Also, loyal readers, be sure to check in next week when USCHO announces our player of the year, coach of the year, rookie of the year, and All-USCHO first, second, third, and rookie teams!

And now, you are on the spot Nicole! What’s your take?

Nicole: Going into our Patty committee discussion, I did think this might be a year where we saw a blueliner make the top three. Both Toni Ann Miano and Savannah Harmon had strong cases, though I can also see how it would be difficult to pick two of the three of the top group we ended up with and leave one out.

I can’t speak for other voters, but I tried to look at just the stats and how these players matched up against each other — that’s easier to do between Watts and Bach since they played similar schedules. Seeing how they performed against top teams versus the bottom of the conference is something to take into account. There’s not a calculation for “clutch,” but that’s something that held some sway for me. I do try to listen to those who’ve seen a player more often, especially the opposing coaches. I think when you’re trying to find that minute difference between players that are otherwise somewhat indistinguishable, it can be really telling to have an opposing coach tell that they have to design their offense or defense around a player.

There are a set of criteria given for the award, but ultimately there’s a lot left up to the individual committee members where they get to decide what they weigh as most important. I find it difficult to discuss my thoughts on this without giving too much away. I’ll definitely talk about it on Twitter after next weekend — and not just about the top three.

No matter the outcome this weekend, both in the Patty Kaz and on the ice, it’s been a fascinatingly entertaining season of hockey. The gap continues to close, new stars have emerged, and though I’m always a bit run down by this time of year, I’m also super excited about what’s ahead. Looking at the projected rosters for so many teams next season shows that we look to be in for another fabulous ride. Thank you so much to everyone for reading and following along this year.