The matchup between the top seeded Boston College Eagles and unseeded but 6th seeded via PairWise Rankings Northeastern University Huskies is steeped in controversy.
According to past precedent, preserving bracket integrity while minimizing flights would’ve sent 7th seeded Princeton to Boston College via bus while sending the Huskies to 3rd seeded Minnesota via flight. There had previously been no cases where the committee took into consideration the length of the flight or bus trip -- a bus ride was a bus ride and a flight was a flight.
Last year, Boston University finished 5th and Quinnipiac finished 6th. Both teams were bus rides to 3rd ranked Harvard with BU being much closer, but the committee sent Quinnipiac there instead. QU and BU were only separated by .0005 in the RPI. If the committee had used the same rationale they used this year, it would have been easy to send the Terriers down Storrow Drive to Bright Arena and fly Quinnipiac to Wisconsin. That would have avoided hotel costs with no serious damage to bracket integrity.
Fast forward to this year when Northeastern finished ahead of Princeton in every metric except the Common Opponents comparison for PWR. In that comparison the only difference was Northeastern had a 1-0-1 record against St. Lawrence while Princeton went 2-3 and their records against Harvard with the Huskies losing their only matchup with the Crimson while the Tigers split. Adding fuel to the fire, the head of the selection committee, Sarah Fraser, answered BC Interruption’s question about what happened.
Princeton and NU were neck-and-neck in regional and national committee deliberations all winter and in the final discussion Princeton was deemed to be a stronger team. Strength of schedule played into that discussion.
Not only is that contrary to every metric available to the fans, but against the precedents of past committee decisions.
This has caused a lot of anger and confusion among fans in general, particularly fans of the two teams, and the teams themselves. It can easily be taken as an insult. For Boston College who has run the gauntlet of the entire season with an unblemished record, they are being given a much tougher team then they earned the right to play at this point in the tournament. For Northeastern, there is the same issue, plus the added slight of being called out by the selection committee chair and being the first team to ever be dropped lower because the committee felt they were weaker despite all metrics indicating a stronger body of work.
On paper, this matchup could briefly be looked at as an easy win for BC, but a deeper look raises some doubt. The most obvious reason is beating any team five times in a season is hard, beating a good team five times is even more difficult, and beating a team featuring Kendall Coyne five times still more so. So far in the season the Eagles and the Huskies have met four times. . Away from Conte Forum, there was a dominant win by the Eagles early in the season at Matthews and a game on neutral ice in the Beanpot Championship in which the Huskies were overrun. However, the two meetings in Chestnut Hill were much tighter affairs. In the early season meeting, NU held a lead and it took a late empty net goal for the Eagles to pull away, winning by a final score of 4-2. The matchup the Friday after the Beanpot was a similar ordeal with NU leading at two different points and the Eagles needing an ENG to win 5-3.
The two stars of the game are clearly Northeastern’s Kendall Coyne and Alex Carpenter of Boston College. Both are in the Final Three for the Patty Kazmeier Award. But both teams have a lot more depth up front. The Eagles are the top ranked offense in the country while the Huskies are a mere third. Both teams can easily run three lines deep and can get quality minutes out of their fourth lines if they need them. The biggest question here is whether BC head coach Katie Crowley decides to go with her uber-line of Carpenter, Haley Skarupa and super freshman Makenna Newkirk, or splits them up and has a superstar on each line. That, and whether or not Senior Dana Trivigno can set the all time BC penalty minutes record.
On defense is where it gets a bit trickier for the Huskies as they rank 15th in the country on scoring defense. For them, the biggest question is whether junior assistant captain Melissa Haganey will be moved back to the blue line where she has been a steady presence in her brief stints there. Senior Jordan Krause, trying to keep her career alive, has been on fire the second half of the season and the Huskies will desperately need her to continue this.
For the Eagles Megan Keller is viewed by many as the top defender in the land. She showcased her abilities in the last meeting between these teams by holding Coyne in check more then most have all season. The BC blue like is also led by Boston Pride draft pick Lexi Bender who continues to be a scoring threat from the point.
In hockey though, it always comes back to the goaltender. Both teams feature US U-18 goalies that are the same age. BC accelerated local product Katie Burt a year early last season, which could be all the difference in this game. Last year Burt looked phenomenal but seemed to struggle slightly in big games. Her only three losses came in the Beanpot Final, the Hockey East Final and the NCAA semifinals. But this year has been a completely different story - she has already logged shutout victories in both the Beanpot Championship and the WHEA final.
For the Huskies, the goal is true freshman Brittany Bugalski. Bugalski has had a few non-hockey related medical issues that have hampered her development this season, but she seems to be fully healthy and has shown major promise. A few fans have questioned her ability in big games as a freshman like they did with Burt last year, though she is more like a sophomore at this point in the season. If she is going to pick a game to stand on her head and prove her detractors wrong, this is the game, and she is very capable of doing so.
My head says a Boston College win. They are a dominant team that has shown no signs of slowing this season. Their performance in the Beanpot final was nothing short of a masterpiece, though they have struggled with the Huskies at Conte. Add in the fact Kendall Coyne is playing for her college career, and this is going to be an amazing game to watch.
Final Score: 4-2 (ENG) BC Wins
Coyne and Carpenter go toe to toe and don’t disappoint, but it will be Newkirk that shines through and makes WHEA groan about the next three years.
My heart tells a different story, though. After getting edged out of the tournament in 2012 and almost having that done again this year, the Huskies finally make the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history despite being cream of the crop in the pre-NCAA era.
Coyne is one of the most competitive people you will ever meet, and she does not want to hang up the red and black quite yet. She is already the most prolific scorer in Husky History (men or women), but she has the chance to go down in true Husky lore if she can lead them to the first ever Frozen Four in Northeastern history.
Final Score: 4-3 OT NU Wins
It will be a tight back-and-forth game. I see the Eagles leading 3-1 in the third and a desperate Husky team comes back to tie it up on the back of a Coyne hat trick to take this game to over time. In the overtime I see the second line led by Paige Savage taking the weight and winning the game for the Huskies, sending them to Durham where they have not lost a game in over six years.
Quinnipiac vs Clarkson
4th seeded Quinnipiac hosts Clarkson in a rematch of the ECAC Championship a mere six days earlier, on the same ice which QU won. The Bobcats have had the edge in the series and have one of the best defenses in the country, though they struggle on offense. Clarkson has been up and down this season, but is the only team to win the NCAA title out of the east. But the saying is "defense wins championships."
Prediction: Quinnipiac wins
Minnesota vs Princeton
Out west 3rd seeded Minnesota, controversially hosts the Princeton Tigers. The Gophers would’ve been favored over either opponent, but Princeton’s Kelsey Koezler doesn’t quite meet Coyne’s billing and appeared hurt in the ECAC tournament. Minnesota is at home and is the 800 lb. gorilla in the women’s hockey world.
Prediction: Minnesota wins.
Wisconsin vs Mercyhurst
In the final quarterfinal 2nd seeded Wisconsin gets what many view as the easiest matchup in the country, CHA autobid Mercyhurst. While The Lakers are the lowest team in the field, they are not a team to take lightly. The firepower of the Badgers should prove too much, though.
Prediction: Wisconsin wins.
For full story on the head of the selection committee’s statements and more analysis on the bracket implications, see BC Interruption’s story.