Wisconsin’s early exit from the WCHA tournament at the hands of North Dakota dropped the Badgers down to the fourth overall seed in the NCAA tournament, setting up their March 15 matchup with sixth-seeded Harvard at LaBahn Arena.
When it comes to the NCAA tournament, the two teams are fairly familiar with one another because in 2007 and 2008 they met in the eight-team tournament that decides the national champion. In 2007, two defensive minded squads fought to a 0-0 draw before Wisconsin finally cracked the Crimson halfway through the fourth overtime, the second longest game in women’s NCAA history, to move on as one of the remaining four teams. The Badgers would go on to repeat as the National Champions that year.
In 2008, the Crimson looked for payback when the two teams met in the Frozen Four, but its chance at retribution would be unsuccessful as the Badgers pulled off another win, this time by a final score of 4-1.
Over the course of their histories, Wisconsin and Harvard have met five times, with the Badgers taking all but the inaugural game back in 1999. In those games, Wisconsin has outscored Harvard 15-9. However, the current players have never faced one another, which should make for an interesting matchup.
Although the two teams are separated by nearly 1,000 miles, their playing styles, strengths and weaknesses are extremely similar.
“We’ll get some film on them and break things down…but on paper, and some of the things we do know, there are a lot of similarities with the two clubs,” head coach Mark Johnson said.
Both teams are defense-oriented. The Badgers have given up just 1.1 goals per game this year as the top scoring defense in the country, while Harvard has given up a respectable 1.5 goals per game, making them the sixth best defense in the country.
Both teams’ defensive success lies with their goaltenders’ play. For Harvard, it’s sophomore Emerance Maschmeyer. Maschmeyer is a Patty Kazmaier finalist, earning the distinction with the fourth best save percentage nationally of .943 and a 1.75 goals-against-average. For the Badgers, Alex Rigsby has been a staple of Wisconsin back line, coming into the NCAA Quarterfinal with a 1.18 goals-against-average.
Special teams are also critically important to both teams’ game plans. Wisconsin has been focusing on special teams all season, and their work has paid off in big ways. The Badgers have the third best power play in the country and one of the best penalty kills with nine shorthanded goals. In fact, Wisconsin’s penalty kill has scored more goals than it has allowed this season, as the Badgers have only yielded seven power-play goals to opposing teams.
While Harvard’s power play has been good this year, their penalty kill has been even more important to their success. They are ranked 4th in penalty kill with a 91.8 percent penalty kill percentage. If penalties become prevalent in this matchup, you can be sure the special teams battle will decide the game.
The Badgers finish in the WCHA was disappointing to say the least. They made an early exit from the tournament in a 1-0 loss to North Dakota and were forced into a third game by Minnesota State in their first round series. Overall, the Badgers have only netted two goals in their last three games, a surprising drop in production as the Badgers have averaged 3.1 goals per game this season.
“You’re not going to win many hockey games if you don’t score goals,” Johnson said. “We need to get the fish in the boat. It’s no good to put it on the end of your reel and fight it for 10 or 15 minutes and then go down and all of a sudden it gets away from you. We need to concentrate here in the next three or four days and bear down, and I think if everybody gives just a little bit more, hopefully, that will be enough.”
Harvard has had an equally peculiar end to their season. They finished with four of their last eight games going into overtime. Even more strange is that Maschmeyer has lost her last two starts. Harvard’s only postseason wins came with freshman Brianna Laing in net.
Harvard will also be playing without sophomore Mary Packer, who has scored 13 goals this season for the Crimson and is one of their most important playmakers, but will be sidelined due to a concussion.
Wisconsin’s inability to score and Harvard’s uncertainty in net and on the offensive end will make the two teams’ matchup unpredictable and entertaining as the teams fight for a spot in the Frozen Four.
If Wisconsin manages to slip past Harvard, it will face the winner of the Boston University and Minnesota matchup. The Badgers went 0-4 against their boarder rivals this season, including a decisive 4-0 loss in their most recent matchup. Wisconsin had better luck when they faced Boston University earlier this year in Vail, Colo. They ended up winning that game 5-0, outshooting their opponents 34-19.
Wisconsin will play Harvard at 7 p.m. Saturday at LaBahn Arena, with a trip to the Frozen Four in Hamden, Conn. on the line.