Women’s D-III: Conference tournament previews, Pool B and C previews

Jenna Marotta of Middlebury (Will Costello)
Jenna Marotta and Middlebury have a tough task to win the NESCAC tournament.  (Will Costello)

For the pool A bid, this prediction will be looking at more than just who won their conference regular season. I will consider team results from all competitions, how they competed both at home and away, as well as many other statistics that can tell a lot about a team. For the pool B and C bids, it’s clear now who will receive those bids now that the NCAA is using the PairWise rankings.

Pool A: Postseason tournament champions from CHC, MIAC, NEHC, NESCAC, NEWHL and NCHA.

At the beginning of the season, Morrisville was the favorite to win this conference, as they were the previous tournament champion. However, during the year Nichols, Endicott, and Canton made it clear that they were not going to let Morrisville win without putting up a fight. I would say those three teams did more than put up a fight, they became equal to or even better than Morrisville. Endicott won the Colonial Hockey Conference and can now label themselves the team to beat in the CHC. This playoff tournament will be extremely competitive, and any team has the potential to earn the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Endicott lost to Morrisville last year, 3-2 in overtime, in the championship game, and I believe they have unfinished business and will come out on top. CHC automatic bid: Endicott

The MIAC has proven to be one of the best conferences this year. The two teams on top, Hamline and St. Thomas, will more than likely be battling it out in the MIAC championship game unless there is an unexpected upset by another team. Hamline was expected to be a good team this year, but St. Thomas has exceeded all expectations. The Pipers are the only team to beat St. Thomas during the regular season, and I think the question everybody is asking is, can they beat the number one team again? Hamline’s offense is potent; the Pipers score 4.48 goals per game. On the other hand, as we have seen this season, goaltender Mackenzie Torpy and the Tommies’ defense are stellar. St. Thomas’s goals allowed per game is .92, which ranks second in the nation. St. Thomas’ defense is not the only thing they have in their tool box; this team can score and score a lot. When the Tommies faced Wisconsin-River Falls, a high-scoring team, during the regular season they put up five goals to beat the Falcons. This showed when push comes to shove, St. Thomas has a well-rounded team to win the important games. MIAC automatic bid: St. Thomas

The NEHC is becoming stronger, especially with Suffolk having the breakout season that they did. This conference holds last year’s national champion, Norwich, and without a doubt they will be the conference favorite to win the tournament. Norwich did not lose to a conference opponent during the regular season, but they did tie Castleton. Although Suffolk and Castleton had a decent year in the NEHC, I think Norwich has this conference’s playoff tournament in their back pocket. Of course, anything can happen, but seeing how many goals the Cadets scored against their conference opponents it would be more than shocking to see someone else win this tournament. NEHC automatic bid: Norwich

The NESCAC is the biggest wild card as for who will win the playoff tournament. In past years, it was assumed that Middlebury would come out on top with the bid to the NCAA tournament. There is a new top team in the NESCAC, and that would be Williams. Williams struggled in the first half to crack the top 10 rankings, and once they got there they moved up, quickly. The Ephs are currently ranked seventh, and Middlebury dropped to 10th after Williams swept the Panthers in the last weekend of regular season play. Both teams lost to similar opponents during the year such as Wesleyan and Colby, which makes predicting the winner of the NESCAC a toss-up. Middlebury has the experience, and that is why I will be predicting they upset Williams and continue their tradition of making it to the NCAA tournament. NESCAC automatic bid: Middlebury

The NEWHL’s second season as a conference gave shocking results as Potsdam landed second and Cortland third in the standings. Buffalo State and Oswego took a few steps back in progressing and ended up at the bottom of the conference. Plattsburgh completed a perfect season in the NEWHL and will be expected to win the playoff tournament. In conference, Plattsburgh scored 96 goals during the year, which is more than triple to the team in second, Potsdam who scored 25. These teams could give the Cardinals a run for their money in the future, but I don’t see it happening this year. NEWHL automatic bid: Plattsburgh

Adrian has won this conference tournament for the past three years, and it would be easy to say they will win again. During the regular season, Adrian struggled when they played at home. The Bulldogs have had many close games at their home rink against teams they should have been able to score numerous goals against. They ended their regular season with a tie against a team in the NCHA that did not even make the conference playoffs. Bottom line for Adrian is they are inconsistent, so the question, what team will show up? The team that won the Panther/Cardinal Classic, or the team that tied Marian at the end of the year?

Lake Forest is in the same boat as Adrian, as far as the inconsistency goes. The Foresters struggle to score when they don’t play at home, and unfortunately for them they only have home ice for the quarterfinals. Lake Forest can win the NCHA tournament if the team that beat Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Adrian shows up for the playoffs. However, my prediction is that St. Scholastica will win the NCHA tournament. It may be a gamble predicting a team to win that has never received a bid to the NCAA tournament, but this team has reached peak performance at just the right time. They almost beat Adrian at the beginning of the year, and they took care of business against Lake Forest at the end of the regular season. St. Scholastica has the potential to win the playoffs and is the most consistent team in the NCHA. If Adrian does get upset by the Saints, they still have potential to receive a pool C bid. NCHA automatic bid: St. Scholastica

Pool B:
One institution from a group of schools in conference that do not qualify for pool A consideration (UCHC, WIAC).

The top team in the WIAC that will be considered for the pool B bid is Wisconsin-River Falls. The Falcons have had a comeback season from last year when they didn’t qualify for the NCAA tournament after receiving a bid for many years prior. The Falcons’ record against ranked opponents is 5-4-0, and their overall record is 21-4-0. Wisconsin-River Falls is ranked fourth for offense in the nation; however, their defense is their downfall. The Falcons fall to 14th in the nation in that category. Wisconsin-River Falls is currently tied in the PairWise rankings with Elmira at number three.

Elmira is the team from the UCHC that would be considered for the pool B bid and will most likely receive it. Although they are tied in the PairWise rankings with Wisconsin-River Falls, almost all their statistics are better. Not to mention, Elmira is second in the nation for team offense with 4.96 and third in team defense. Elmira’s record against ranked opponents is 3-0-1, while their overall record is 22-2-1.

Analysis: Because these two teams are tied in the PairWise rankings, we must go to the tiebreaker. The teams’ RPI ratings will be the deciding factor when there is a tie. Therefore, Elmira’s RPI of .6634 will beat Wisconsin-River Falls’ .6197, and they would receive the bid. Pool B Bid: Elmira

Pool C
Three institutions from automatic-qualifying conference that are not their conference champions, and the remaining teams in Pool B. Now that the NCAA is using the PairWise rankings to pick these three bids, there is no disputing who it will go to. This prediction will also coincide with the predicting champions from the playoff tournaments in pool A. Pool C Bid: Wisconsin-River Falls, Hamline, and Adrian