Women’s D-III: Previewing the NCAA tournament quarterfinals

Madie Leidt of Middlebury (Will Costello/Middlebury Athletics)
Madie Leidt of Middlebury (Will Costello/Middlebury Athletics)

After Wednesday’s first-round games, we are down to eight teams competing for the women’s D-III NCAA Championship. Assuming the games aren’t canceled due to COVID-19, here is a preview of the four quarterfinals.

No. 8 Norwich at No. 1 Plattsburgh
Norwich is coming off its first win over a ranked team this season, having defeated Amherst, 3-1. Now the Cadets get another crack at top-ranked Plattsburgh. If their history this season is any guide, Plattsburgh will win, as the Cardinals defeated the Cadets twice during the regular season.

Record: 26-1 (18-0 NEWHL)
Leading scorers: Annie Katonka (21-20-41), Sara Krauseneck (19-16-35), Ivy Boric (10-25-35), Nicole Unsworth (16-18-34)
Goaltending: Ashley Davis(0.91goals-against average, .949 save percentage)
Team stats: 28.10% power play, 98.08% penalty kill
Why they’ll win: They have been the best team all year, and in their previous two outings against Norwich won going away
Why they won’t win: It sometimes seems that the more frequently you play a team, the harder it is to defeat them. Norwich won’t go quietly, and the Cadets will be extra motivated because of their two losses.
Plattsburgh is the defending national champion for a reason. In fact, that Cardinals have won five of the last six NCAA championships. They’re the dominant team in the country.

Pick your poison when playing the Cardinals. Want to play free-wheeling, high-octane offense? Plattsburgh has the second-best offense in the country, averaging 4.85 goals per game. Want to lock it down? Plattsburgh has the third-best defense, giving up only 0.96 goals per game. Want to make it a special teams battle? Plattsburgh has the second-best power play and top-ranked penalty kill.

Plattsburgh won the NEWHL going away. In their last outing, against a strong Oswego team, the Cardinals dominated, winning 6-1. Their only loss was to Middlebury, 2-1, on Dec. 1. Right now, the Cardinals look like the favorite for a six national championship.

Record: 23-4-2 (16-0-0 NEHC)
Leading scorers: Amanda Conway (32-27-59), Sophie McGovern (19-25-44), Samantha Benoit (6-29-35), Julia Masotta (11-22-33) Ann-Frederique Guay (18-14-32)
Goaltending: Alexa Berg (1.14 GAA, .948 save percentage)
Team stats: 19% power play, 90.2% 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: The Cardinals weren’t able to beat Plattsburgh in two previous outings, and it’s hard to see what has changed.
If Norwich is looking for positives ahead of their quarterfinal game against Plattsburgh, they can take heart from their 3-1 win over Amherst on Wednesday, their first win over a ranked opponent all season.

A second positive is that Norwich is the only team all year to score more than two goals against Plattsburgh, doing so in a 6-3 loss in a game in which they gave up three power-play goals. The Cadets seem to have tightened up their penalty kill and defense since then.

Norwich has the best offense in the country, averaging 5.31 goals per game. The Cadets also have a strong defense, only giving up 1.10 goals per game.

Goalie Alexa Berg 30 saves against Amherst. Berg will be the biggest factor for Norwich’s chances. If she can keep Plattsburgh’s potent scorers in check, it might be enough to allow Norwich’s equally potent scorers to shine.

No. 3 Wisconsin-Eau Claire at No. 5 Wisconsin-River Falls
This is a matchup of familiar foes and will be the third game played between the two in the last three weeks. Wisconsin-River Falls has won the last two games, after losing the first two between the two, including a dramatic 2-1 OT thriller in the WIAC Championship game. Extra time would not be a surprise in this one either.

Wisconsin-River Falls
Record: 22-5-2 (10-3 WIAC)
Leading scorers: Abigail Stow (24-17-41), Callie Hoff (15-21-36), Hailey Herdine (6-24-30), Bella Wagner (15-9-24)
Goaltending: Sami Miller (1.27 GAA, .939 save percentage)
Team stats: 14.58% power play, 89.66% penalty kill
Why they’ll win: Since defeating Wis.-Eau Claire on the last day of the regular season, the Falcons have been on a roll, and looked especially impressive in beating Gustavus on Wednesday.
Why they won’t win: After losing two to Wis.-Eau Claire, the Falcons have won two; does it switch again now?
Wisconsin-River Falls looked dominant against a very strong Gustavus team on Wednesday, winning 4-1. After giving up the first goal of the game at just 2:24, the Falcons rolled to the next four goals, breaking open a 1-1 tie with three goals in the third period.

The Falcons special teams, especially the power play, aren’t the strongest. The PK is only 14th nationally, while the power play is 34th. It could come down to special teams.

This will be the fifth meeting between the two clubs this season. The teams each won one game 3-1, and in Wis.-River Falls’ other loss it was a 1-0 battle. There is little unknown between the two, so it likely comes down to a bounce.

Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Record: 22-3-2 (15-1-2 MIAC)
Leading scorers: Hannah Zavoral (9-14-23), Elizabeth Bauer (11-10-21), Emma Peterson (10-10-20)
Goaltending: Erin Connolly (0.94 GAA, .948 save percentage)
Team stats: 21.1% power play, 91.4% penalty kill
Why they’ll win: Defense and special teams is often the key in the postseason, and Wis.-Eau Claire is better than its opponent in all those categories.
Why they won’t win: The Falcons have a much better offense, and they can be explosive. As good as Connolly is, if the game is tied late, you might favor the Falcons, who have more weapons.
The Blugolds may not have a lot of offensive firepower, but they win with one of the best team defenses in the country, ranked fourth and only giving up a goal per game.

The Blugolds have a lot leadership, including senior captain Elizabeth Bauer and senior goaltender Erin Connolly. The two provide a steadying influence and allow the Blugolds to win with their formula: get the timely goal and shut the opposing team down.

This will be the fifth meeting between the two clubs this season. The teams each won one game 3-1, and in Wis.-River Falls’ other loss it was a 1-0 battle. There is little unknown between the two, so it likely comes down to a bounce.

No. 10 Adrian at No. 6 Elmira
These two battled to a 2-2 draw back in January. Both teams have top offenses and defenses, and both have the ability to roll over teams, and both have outstanding goaltenders. Overtime would not be a surprise in this game.

Record: 22-3-3 (14-1-1 NCHA)
Leading scorers: Nicole Guagliardo (16-17-33), Brianna Buchanan (19-11-30), Une Bjelland (9-21-30), Kelly O’Hara (4-22-26)
Goaltending: Denisa Jandová (1.06 GAA, .954 save percentage)
Team stats: 26.4% power play, 91.4% penalty kill
Why they’ll win: A deep and dangerous offense with an equally dangerous power play makes the Bulldogs a tough out.
Why they won’t win: The Bulldogs haven’t beaten a ranked opponent since defeating Hamline in the opening game of the year, getting two ties and losing twice since then.
After losing to Plattsburgh in the East/West Showcase, Adrian seemed just a tad more vulnerable in their conference games, tying St. Scholastica and losing to Lake Forest. Come NCHA tournament time, and with a berth in the NCAA tournament on the line, Adrian was back to its swaggering self, giving up only one goal in three games.

Adrian is led offensively by Nicole Guagliardo, a big offseason pickup for the Bulldogs. She played two seasons at Division I Mercyhurst and her junior season at Division I Lindenwood before transferring to the Bulldogs in the summer. She spearheads a potent offensive attack that has lots of ways to hurt an opponent.

In net, goalie Denisa Jandová has the ability completely shut teams down, and she will need to be at her best against an Elmira team that is just as dangerous and deep offensively as her own team.

Record: 22-4-2 (13-2 UCHC)
Leading scorers: Emma Crocker (21-23-44), Morgan Mordini (11-19-30), Jess Adams (20-8-28), Devyn Gilman (8-18-26)
Goaltending: Elizabeth Hanson (0.81 GAA, .960 save percentage)
Team stats: 27.2% power play, 94.4% penalty kill
Why they’ll win: The two opponents are close stats-wise, but Elmira seems to be just a bit better in every category.
Why they won’t win: In the last game the two played, Elmira trailed 2-0 entering the third period before rallying for the win. They can’t afford to let the Bulldogs get up by two in this game.
Elmira has at times struggled against ranked teams this season, going 1-1-2, but when it came to their own conference, Elmira dominated. Last weekend gave the Soaring Eagles a tough test, as they fell behind Manhattanville 3-0 in the UCHC championship before rallying for the 5-3 win.

The Soaring Eagles are deep offensively, led by Emma Crocker, whose 44 points are tied for second in the country behind Norwich’s Amanda Conway. The defense is anchored by senior Kiana Melvin.

In net is Elizabeth Hanson, a junior with the second-best save percentage in the country. Hanson is capable of stealing games for her team, and she will need to be at her best to keep Adrian at bay.

No. 7 Endicott at No. 2 Middlebury
These two played once during the season, with Middlebury earning a 3-0 shutout. Endicott has the lowest strength of schedule of the NCAA tournament teams, ranked 24th. If prior experience to tough situations helps for the postseason, Middlebury should be the favorite, having played the second-toughest schedule in the country.

Record: 25-2 (16-0 Colonial Hockey)
Leading scorers: Jade Meier (13-26-39), Jillian Gibbs (15-19-34), Michaela McNamara (9-22-31), Courtney Sullivan (15-11-26)
Goaltending: Alyssa Peterson (1.12 GAA, .957 save percentage)
Team stats: 33% power play, 92.9% penalty kill
Why they’ll win: Endicott has the best power play in the country, and the Gulls will get their chances in this game to use that weapon.
Why they won’t win: Defense wins, and Middlebury blanked the Gulls in their last game out. Has enough shifted for the Gulls to win?
Endicott was looked at as the red-headed stepchild for a long time this season, likely because they had a relatively weak strength of schedule. As Endicott racked up more and more wins however, the poll voters couldn’t ignore them any longer.

Endicott was a perfect 16-0 in conference play this season, and rolled to the Colonial Hockey Conference Tournament Championship, earning the conference’s auto-bid in the process. Interestingly, Endicott’s PairWise position was likely high enough they could have made it even if they lost but entering the tournament with a loss is not how a team wants to start its campaign.

Endicott’s offense and power play are its greatest strength. The Gulls have scored 36 power-play goals this season. Led by Jade Meier and Jillian Gibbs, Endicott can score in bunches. Those two will need to be sharp to get pucks past Middlebury’s Lin Han.

Record: 21-3-3 (14-1-1 NESCAC)
Leading scorers: Madie Leidt (19-16-35), Jenna Letterie (12-19-31), Eva Hendrickson (2-13-15)
Goaltending: Lin Han (0.87 GAA, .956 save percentage)
Team stats: 21.9% power play, 92.3% penalty kill
Why they’ll win: The best defense in the country and a top goalie are a good combination, one the Panthers used in a shutout win of Endicott this season.
Why they won’t win: After Leidt and Letterie, the Panthers’ scoring falls off precipitously. As you play better teams, it’s harder to get wins without depth.
Middlebury’s formula is remarkably similar to Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s: shut the opponent’s offense down and then win with timely scoring. More often than not, it’s been enough. However, the Panthers had a hiccup on home ice in their last game out, losing to Amherst, 2-1. It’s the type of game the Panthers excel at, but Middlebury had a defensive lapse after tying the game in the third period, giving up the game-winning goal 13 seconds later.

Junior Madie Leidt is having a career season with 35 points. She is the leader on the team, but sophomore Jenna Letterie has more than doubled the point output of her rookie year and is the other player teams need to worry about.

For Middlebury, it comes down to defense and goaltending. Netminder Lin Han has only given up 15 goal all year and has a .956 save percentage, third in the country. She will be looked to again to lead the Panthers in the postseason. Middlebury’s defense is the reason the Panthers are the only team to defeat top-ranked Plattsburgh all season.

Getting that first goal against Endicott would go a long way to settling the team and helping them advance.