Part of a semi-regular series on local women's college hockey.
There have been 13 NCAA Division I women's ice hockey championships, and every single one of them has been won by either Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Minnesota-Duluth. Could this finally be the year that their stranglehold on the sport ends? With the Women's Frozen Four being hosted by Quinnipiac College in Hamden, CT this year, the eastern teams in the field at least have a small home ice advantage that could help in the quest to unseat the traditional powers.
Three local teams - #5 Harvard, #6 BC and #8 BU - qualified for the tournament and can play their way into the Frozen Four with a win on Saturday. But it won't be easy for any of them.
#1 Minnesota (36-1-1) vs. #8 Boston University (24-12-1) - Saturday, 5 PM
BU pulled off a pretty significant upset on Sunday to down BC and earn the Hockey East championship. Thanks to their impressive playoff run, they made the tournament as an auto-bid despite ending the year ranked #11. Unfortunately for BU, their reward for their tournament heroics is a trip to Minneapolis to take on the dominant Minnesota Golden Gophers.
You don't even need to be a casual follower of women's hockey to know just how good Minnesota has been in recent years. They completed an unprecedented 41-0-0 season last year, destroying their opponent in most of their games, and beating both BC and BU in last year's Frozen Four. They outscored their opponents 216-36 on the year. (That's not a typo.) While this year they have been slightly less dominant (181-40 goal margin, those slackers) they've still been far and away the best team in the country, and are overwhelming favorites to bring home another national title.
BU does have the benefit of having two of the nation's top scorers - Sarah Lefort (54 points) and Louise Warren (46 points). Their goaltender, Kerrin Sperry, stonewalled BC on Sunday when they were peppering her in the first period and kept her team in the game until they shifted gears and took over in the second and the third. They'll likely need her to play the game of her life to win on Saturday.
My prediction: Minnesota 4, BU 1.
#2 Cornell (28-5-5) vs. #7 Mercyhurst (23-8-4) - Saturday, 3:30 PM
Cornell moved their way up to a #2 ranking by virtue of a mild 1-0 upset win of their own over Clarkson in the ECAC championship game. They will take on Mercyhurst, a team coming off an inexplicable loss to RIT in the CHA championship game. The CHA is generally acknowledged to be the weakest conference in women's hockey, and their champion does not receive an autobid to the tournament (though that will change next year), so Mercyhurst squeezed in to the tournament by virtue of their 23-win regular season.
My prediction: Cornell 4, Mercyhurst 2
#3 Clarkson (28-5-5) vs. #6 Boston College (27-6-3) - Saturday, 4 PM
On paper, this is the tightest of the four quarterfinal matchups, though BC is certainly a slight underdog. For whatever reason, the Eagles have historically struggled in the Hockey East tournament, a trend that continued on Sunday in the title game against BU. The good news for BC is that they have been very good in the NCAA quarterfinals, posting a 4-1 record all time at this stage, including a win in 2007 at then-ECAC power Dartmouth, a victory over Minnesota in 2011 (I still can't believe that happened), and the dismissal of ECAC teams in each of the past two seasons (St. Lawrence and Harvard).
When BC gets their offense rolling, they have one of the nation's deepest and most prolific attacks. They average 3.56 goals per game, good for #4 nationally, and feature five players in the national top 50 in scoring, along with three solid attacking lines.
If they are going to get their offense humming, it's going to have to be against the nation's top defensive team. Clarkson has only allowed 40 goals in 38 games this season, and only three times all year has a Clarkson opponent scored more than two. Unfortunately for Clarkson, however, they will likely be without the services of Erin Ambrose, an outstanding defenseman and the team's second leading scorer, who missed the ECAC final with a high ankle sprain.
I think this is going to be a tight, low-scoring, high quality game, and I'm going to make a prediction with my heart: BC 2, Clarkson 1.
#4 Wisconsin (27-7-2) vs. #5 Harvard (23-6-4) - Saturday, 8 PM
Despite consistently producing some very good talent, Harvard hasn't been in the Frozen Four since 2008. To return to the Frozen Four, they'll need to beat Wisconsin, possibly the best team in the nation composed of mere mortals rather than superhumans like Minnesota. Four of Wisconsin's seven losses this year came to the Gophers, but they were pretty dominant when playing anyone else.
Harvard has had a somewhat disappointing second half of the season; after coming out of the gate with an 18-2-2 record, they finished up 5-4-2. They lost to Northeastern in the first round of the Beanpot, and had a whale of a time trying to finish off Yale in the ECAC playoffs, with two games in that three-game series going to double overtime. An uncharacteristically poor defensive performance in a 6-4 loss to Cornell put an end to their ECAC title hopes.
Wisconsin will be hoping for another stellar performance from senior goaltender Alex Rigsby, who has posted a .950 save percentage this year. Their other senior star, Brittany Ammerman, leads the team with 42 points.
If this game were being played at Harvard, I would maybe be more inclined to pick an upset, but with the Crimson having to fly cross-country and take on the Badgers in their rink, I just don't see it happening. My prediction: Wisconsin 5, Harvard 0.