Women’s D-III: Previewing the NCAA tournament first round

Amanda Conway of Norwich (Norwich Athletics)
Amanda Conway of Norwich (Norwich Athletics)

It’s down to the last two weeks of the season. There are 10 teams vying to move on to the Frozen Four this weekend. Here we preview the first-round games.

FIRST ROUND (Wednesday, March 11)

No. 8 Norwich at No. 9 Amherst
It says something about the quirks of the PairWise that a team (Norwich) that was undefeated in conference play all year and had five more wins than Amherst and one less loss is lower in the rankings. The Cadets are on the road to face an Amherst team that most likely qualified for the tournament by scoring an upset win in the NESCAC tournament.

Record: 17-5-5 (8-4-4 NESCAC)
Leading scorers: Jillian Mazzocca (11-12-23), Kaitlin Hoang (8-15-23), Carley Daly (10-10-20), Emma Flynn (4-13-17)
Goaltending: Caitlin Walker (1.15 goals-against average, .958 save percentage)
Team stats: 20.2% power play, 91.7% penalty kill
Why they’ll win: The Mammoths will have a lot of confidence coming off their wins over Colby and Middlebury to win the NESCAC championship.
Why they won’t win: The Mammoths face one of the best offensive teams in the East, and it will be tough to keep them in check.
After ending the regular season with a loss and tie against Colby, Amherst won three straight to take the NESCAC tournament, defeating Connecticut College in OT 1-0 in the quarters, exacting revenge on Colby with a 3-1 defeat in the semis, and then beating Middlebury for the championship, 2-1.

Amherst has one of the stingiest defenses in the country. The Mammoths haven’t given up more than two goals in the entire second half, and only gave up more than one goal five times in the 18 games played in 2020. That defense will need to be on fire against one of the best offenses in the country.

Amherst won the NESCAC with timely scoring. Emma Flynn scored the game-winner against Middlebury at 6:20 of the third, just 13 seconds after Middlebury had tied it. Kaitlin Hoang had a strong weekend, getting the first goal against Middlebury and scoring the game-winner against Colby, as well as adding an assist.

Record: 22-4-2 (16-0-0 NEHC)
Leading scorers: Amanda Conway (31-27-58), Sophie McGovern (19-25-44), Samantha Benoit (6-28-34), Julia Masotta (11-22-33) Ann-Frederique Guay (18-14-32)
Goaltending: Alexa Berg (1.15 GAA, .946 save percentage)
Team stats: 19% power play, 90% penalty kill
Why they’ll win: With likely Laura Hurd Award winner Amanda Conway spearheading a potent offense, the Cadets have a lot of weapons to hurt teams with.
Why they won’t win: As good as the Cadets have looked at times, they don’t have a single victory this season against a ranked team, going 0-3-2.
It’s striking that Norwich’s top scorer, Amanda Conway, has more points than the top two scorers combined of first-round opponent Amherst. In fact, second-leading scorer Sophie McGovern is only two points behind that combination. Conway and McGovern are 1-2 nationally in scoring, one reason Norwich has the top-ranked offense in the country.

Of course, it’s said that defense wins championships. Norwich is no slouch there either, giving up on average 1.11 goals per game.

Norwich will be looking to better its defensive performances against ranked teams. The Cadets tied Elmira in a scoreless game and also earned a 2-2 tie with Middlebury, but lost once to Elmira and twice to Plattsburgh, giving up 12 goals in those three games.

Norwich will also need to be sharp on the penalty kill. In a 6-3 loss to Plattsburgh, the Cadets gave up three power-play goals. The PK is at 90 percent, but it will need to be sharp against Amherst.

No. 4 Gustavus Adolphus at No. 5 Wisconsin-River Falls
This is a matchup of familiar foes, teams that played twice during the regular season, coming away with a split. Wis.-River Falls has the better offense, Gustavus the better defense, which should provide for an interesting and tightly played contest between two evenly matched squads.

Wisconsin-River Falls
Record: 21-5-2 (10-3 WIAC)
Leading scorers: Abigail Stow (23-16-39), Callie Hoff (14-21-35), Hailey Herdine (5-23-28), Bella Wagner (15-9-24)
Goaltending: Sami Miller (1.28 GAA, .938 save percentage)
Team stats: 15.1% power play, 89.2% penalty kill
Why they’ll win: After consecutive wins over Wisconsin-Eau Claire, it looks like the Falcons are peaking at the right time.
Why they won’t win: Gustavus is a much better special teams squad, and when two opponents are so closely matched, that can often be the difference.
Wisconsin-River Falls is coming off an impressive 2-1 victory over Wisconsin-Eau Claire in the WIAC tournament championship. It’s exactly the type of game the Falcons will need to play in the NCAA tournament: limit their mistakes and capitalize when they have an opportunity. The Falcons fell behind early but got a power-play goal to tie it from Callie Hoff and then Kora Torkeson scored the game-winner late in the first OT.

The Falcons PK is only 16th nationally, but they were perfect on all five power plays Wis.-Eau Claire had in the championship, including one late in the third period with the game tied.

The Gusties are a familiar opponent, and the Falcons won at home by seizing momentum from the game-winning short-handed goal. Since the Falcons are at home, that might bode well for their chances.

Gustavus Adolphus
Record: 22-3-2 (15-1-2 MIAC)
Leading scorers: Kristina Press (11-20-31), Molly McHugh (16-14-30), Hailey Holland (19-9-28)
Goaltending: Katie McCoy (.990 GAA, .951 save percentage)
Team stats: 19.2% power play, 95.1% penalty kill
Why they’ll win: A stingy defense and one of the best penalty kills in the country may be enough to blunt the Falcons’ potent attack.
Why they won’t win: The scoring for the Gusties isn’t as deep. If the Falcons can score one early on first-year goalie McCoy, it may tilt things their way.
When you don’t have much depth for scoring, you’d better have a solid defense, and the Gusties certainly have that. They are third nationally in team defense, giving up 0.93 goals per game, and second in penalty kill, clicking at 95.1%, behind only top-ranked Plattsburgh.

The Gusties were impressive in winning the MIAC tournament. They rolled past Saint Mary’s in the semifinal, 4-1, scoring twice on the power play. In the championship, they shut down Augsburg’s high-flying offense, which averaged just over three goals a game, winning 3-0 while limiting Augsburg to just 11 shots on net.

The Gusties played their next opponent in a home-and-home in December, with each team winning at home by a 3-1 score. They will need to look to their performance in the second game steadily built a 3-0 lead before giving up a late goal. In each game between Gustavus and Wis.-River Falls, the team that scored first won.