Women’s D-III NCAA semifinal previews: Familiar foes find each other again in the semifinal rounds of the national tournament

Kenzie Torpy plays goal during a women's hockey game against St. Catherine University January 20, 2017 at the St. Thomas Ice Arena in Mendota Heights. The Tommies beat the St. Kate's Wildcats 3-1. (Mike Ekern/University of St. Thomas)
Kenzie Torpy leads the stingy defense of No. 1 St. Thomas in the D-III Women’s Frozen Four. (Mike Ekern/University of St. Thomas)

No. 2 Plattsburgh versus No. 5 Adrian
Adrian and Plattsburgh faced off twice during the regular season, with both teams coming away with a win. Although these teams seem to be similar, Plattsburgh has the Bulldogs beat in every statistic. The Cardinals own the top-ranked team defense, offense, and penalty kill. Despite these facts, something to consider is the strength of the conference that both teams compete in. The NCHA is a well-established conference with numerous teams that gave Adrian a hard time and even a loss, whereas the NEWHL is still growing and developing. All of Plattsburgh’s conference games were complete blowouts that didn’t test the Cardinals. Plattsburgh’s first-round game against Endicott went to overtime, in spite of the fact that they completely out played the Gulls. The closeness of that game could very well have gotten into the heads of the Plattsburgh players. Although the game against Williams ended in a wider margin in favor of Plattsburgh, it was still a tight game, and the Cardinals did perform much better.

Plattsburgh has talented forwards in Courtney Moriarty and Annie Katonka, but I think the deciding factor for this team will be the goaltending. Kassi Abbott has been great for the Cardinals all year, but had a rough game against Endicott with a .80 save percentage. The senior played a little better against Williams and earned a .88 save percentage. If Abbott bounces back from these two games, then I could see the Cardinals coming out with the win.

Adrian took out an extremely tough opponent in the opening rounds of their tournament debut. Elmira was a talented team all year long, and many didn’t see this upset coming. Adrian must be the most well-rounded team in the Frozen Four. They don’t have any star forwards, but all team members can score. Their defense is strong, and the freshman goalie from Czech Republic, Denisa Jandová, has played solid since taking over the net midseason.

The Bulldogs offense scores about four goals per game, and the team only allows 1.34 goals a game. Another aspect of this team that makes them difficult to play against is the depth to their roster. Their top six forwards, Tory Harshman, Jacqueline White, Brianna Buchanan, Kourtney Diaz, Maggie Mitter, and Brooke Schembri, all have 24 points or more. Their defense has contributed to the score sheet as well as stopping other teams from scoring. This team’s roster is strong enough to carry them to the finals; the question will be if they can execute their game plan.

Adrian’s coach Skelly said he thought overall his team played well against Elmira and is proud of his team for getting the job done.

“I felt like we had our game rolling in the first and then took a step back in the second as Elmira made their charge to get back in the game. We hung on in the third after killing a few penalties and then turned it on in overtime to get the win and move on.”

Harshman said they are excited to play Plattsburgh in the semifinals, but it doesn’t matter who the opponent is, they plan on playing their game and advancing to the finals.

“It’s definitely going to be a good game playing against Plattsburgh again, but even though we beat them, we can’t take them lightly. They know we beat them, so they will be coming out that much stronger but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what team we’re playing, we’re going to bring our A game and battle hard each shift.”

No. 1 St. Thomas versus No. 4 Hamline
We have seen this matchup numerous times this year, and one thing we can expect is for it to be close in score. The MIAC has been arguably one of the best conferences in the country, and now with two teams competing in the semifinals, it’s safe to say it is the best conference to play in this year. Looking at how both of these teams competed during the year can give a lot of insight on how this game will go.

St. Thomas and Hamline have close to perfect records. St. Thomas’ 25-1-2 record is slightly better than Hamline’s 22-3-3. Both team’s losses came from each other, with the exception of Hamline’s losses to Gustavus Adolphus. Although the Tommies and Pipers are used to winning, their statistics show that they win games very differently.

St. Thomas rarely wins games by a large margin. They have the number two defense in the country, and that’s what they rely on. Goaltender Kenzie Torpy, who is having an all-American season, is the core of this defense. She only allows .92 goals per game, and that is the difference maker. When your goalie usually only allows a goal a game, it gives the offense confidence and allows them time to score. Not to mention, your team doesn’t need powerhouse forwards to score numerous goals a game, you’ll only really need two goals to win. This has been the case with almost all of the Tommies’ games. The quarterfinals for St. Thomas was a higher-scoring game than they were used to, but coach Tom Palkowski acknowledged his team’s extra efforts to secure the win.

“I thought we played a little tentative early, and Kenzie (Torpy) had to make a few big saves. We settled in, took the lead, but then took too many penalties and allowed them to grab the momentum. we rallied in the third and found a way to win.”.

As this is the fourth meeting between these two teams, senior goaltender Kenzie Torpy said that going into this game, she and the rest of the Tommies are trying to look at it in a simple manner.

“This week at practice, we’ve emphasized that even though this game is on a larger stage, it’s really just a game, exactly like the other 28 we’ve played, and we have to do our best to approach it the same way we have every game this season. Last Saturday against Wisconsin-Eau Claire, we talked as a team about how our mindset every day from here on out has to be having a 1-0 record each game.”

Hamline, on the other hand, does not rely on a strong defense to secure wins. Their star forwards, Bre Simon, Leah Schwartzman, and Molly Garin, are the main reason Hamline averages 4.39 goals a game. Simon has 63 points, Schwartzman has 46, and Garin 38. This trio is clearly talented offensively and has won many games for the Pipers on their backs alone, but Hamline’s weakness is their defense. This team allows 1.5 goals during a game, and for a normal regular season game this would be a good statistic. However, this isn’t a regular game, and it will be played on one of the biggest stages along with three of the other best teams in the league. Out of the four teams in the Frozen Four, Hamline allows more goals than anyone of them. Despite this fault, the Pipers were able to hold Wisconsin-River Falls to one goal in the quarterfinals. Hamline’s coach, Natalie Darwitz, said she’s happy with the way her team played opening weekend, and special teams were performing on all cylinders.

“We played a very solid game versus River Falls. They are a very skilled team, and we were able to keep them to the perimeter. We got timely goals from our special teams, and our penalty kill was on their game.”

Darwitz also acknowledged St. Thomas’ strong defense and mentioned what it will take to beat this team again.

“Play our game. We need to dictate the pace of play. They are a very defensive team who will wear you down and then capitalize on their opportunities they get from turnovers in the neutral zone, and they like to sit back and trap. We need to play a very steady game in all three zones.”

Simon said she and the rest of the Pipers are focused on not only winning, but having fun and enjoying the experience, as only a select few get the opportunity.

“Having fun with each and every game and practice because we don’t know when our last could have been. This is the best part of the season, and it should be enjoyable, and so making sure everyone is having fun playing the sport we all love is making us do better things on the ice and winning games.”

This game is defense versus offense, and so far the team with the better defense has won two out of the three games. However, both teams will be putting those past games behind them and focusing on the task at hand, advancing to the finals.