Although it’s time for March Madness, the madness of the NCAA tournament when it comes to women’s hockey is relatively contained, as only eight teams make it into the tournament, compared to the 68 that make it into the men’s basketball tournament. Still, even though fewer teams are competing, the play will not be diminished as the eight squads take to the ice this weekend for the quarterfinals with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line.
If you’re a bit out of touch with the women’s hockey world, here’s a look at the teams outside of Wisconsin vying for the NCAA title. Six of the seven are trying to become the first team outside of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association to take home the crown.
No. 1 Minnesota
It’s not exactly pleasant news for Badger fans, but the Golden Gophers are once again the favorite to win the NCAA championship with back-to-back titles the past two seasons already under their belts. After winning the championship last year with a 41-0-0 record, the first undefeated season in collegiate hockey history, Minnesota almost matched the feat this year with its current record of 36-1-1. Despite losing the reigning Patty Kazmaier award winner Amanda Kessel to the U.S. Olympic team, the Gophers have had no shortage of offense this year, averaging a nation leading 4.76 goals per game, which is a goal more per game the second ranked offensive team in the country. With the best goaltender in the nation in Amanda Leveille, don’t be surprised if the Gophers go three for three.
BU played its way into the tournament with its Hockey East tournament crown, and otherwise wouldn’t have made it into the tournament with its 24-12-1 overall record. After falling decisively 5-1 to Boston College in the final game of the regular season, the Terriers reeled off three straight victories in the conference tournament including a 3-2 win in the championship game to take revenge on Boston College. Although BU has a quality offense averaging the sixth best goals per game in the country, the defensive end leaves a little to be desired. BU comes into Saturday’s game with Minnesota ranked 19th in the country in scoring defense, giving up an average of 2.54 goals per contest. The Golden Gophers should test that defensive weakness heavily, and although anything can happen any given night, the Terriers look like they are quite overmatched in their quarterfinal.
No. 2 Cornell
The Big Red come into the NCAA tournament flying high after winning the ECAC tournament this past Sunday, knocking off Clarkson in the championship game in a 1-0 nail biter. As one would expect out of one of the top ranked teams in the country, Cornell has also been quite the prolific scoring team in the country, and although not on the same level as Minnesota, Cornell still averages a quite respectable 3.61 goals a game. That offense has carried the Big Red to a record of 24-5-4 so far this season, although its 16 conference wins were only good for third best in the ECAC. The one weakness that Cornell has might have is in the net, as they allow an average of 2.12 goals per game, the second worst per game average of the eight teams in the tournament.
The good news for Mercyhurst is that it has already faced both Cornell and Clarkson this season. The bad news is that the Lakers first game is against Cornell, the team it was unable to record a win against in a two-game series just over two months ago. Another problem for Mercyhurst is that it hasn’t played a great deal of tough competition this season as a member of the CHA, which is considered one of the weakest leagues in women’s college hockey. After falling short in the championship game of the CHA tournament, the Lakers still had enough of a body of work with their 23-8-4 record to secure an at-large bid. Despite a weaker league, Mercyhurst still has statistics to back up its performance with five scorers tallying 30 points or more and a goaltender in Amanda Makela, who has a 1.79 goals-against-average and .927 save percentage. Cornell should be a tough matchup for the Lakers, and it will be seen how much they have improved since the first two games.
No. 3 Clarkson
Besides Cornell, Clarkson might very well be the best bet to take home the title this year outside of the Golden Gophers, at least according to the statistics. That’s because Clarkson is the second best offensive team in the country as well as the best defensive team in the nation. With strengths on both sides of the puck, the Golden Knights have compiled a 28-5-5 record heading into their quarterfinal matchup with Boston College. Although they fell in the ECAC championship game, the Golden Knights took home the conference regular season title, outlasting Harvard by a point in the conference standings. Clarkson is led by the nation’s leading scorer Jamie Lee Rattray who was recorded 59 points this year, but it isn’t limited to just one scorer with four other players who have tallied 40 or more points this season. A balanced offensive attack and air tight defense should take Clarkson deep into the tournament.
After winning the regular season title in Hockey East, the Eagles fell one win short of the HEA playoff title after running into a hot BU squad in the final game. Boston College sports an overall record of 27-6-3 heading into its first round matchup against Clarkson. The game should be a defensive battle since, like Clarkson, BC is ranked in the top 10 in the country in team defense, allowing 1.69 goals per game. The Eagles’ offense is even better than their defense as the fourth-ranked scoring offense in the country, averaging 3.54 goals per game. In a defensive battle with the Golden Knights, the offense could very well be the deciding factor in the game.