Nicole Haase

NCAA Women's Hockey: What to Watch, Week 21

Come back each week for a breakdown of the most interesting upcoming games, how to watch or listen to them, and some thoughts on the movers and shakers of the previous week.

Here are the games to watch this weekend:

(8) North Dakota at (3) Minnesota

Friday, 7 PM CT; Saturday, 4 PM ET

Watch and listen: Video is available online from BTN2GO for $9.95 for a month of Minnesota access. Listen online at GopherSports.com.

This series was already going to be interesting, but the return of Amanda Kessel has made it the center of the women's hockey universe this weekend.

The two teams met in late October in Grand Forks and split the series. Minnesota has not looked their sharpest since the winter break. Though they've continued to win, they have struggled against teams that they normally beat handily. They eked out two 2-1 wins against Bemidji State last weekend, one in overtime.

The games against the Fighting Hawks this weekend will be important for the Gophers to show that their post-break struggles were mere blips and not major roadblocks. It's maybe a little comical to talk about the Gophers as though there should be concern, since they've lost just three games (and two were to rival Wisconsin). But it's definitely been a tougher season than normal in Minneapolis, and the Gophers needs to gain momentum as they head to the post-season.

North Dakota has looked as though they'd found more consistency since the break, something they struggled with early on -- but they tied winless Mankato 5-5 last Sunday. The weekend prior, NoDak allowed Wisconsin to score just four goals -- including an empty-netter -- for the whole series.

There's a long history of rivalry with these squads, which has most recently manifested in the Lamoureux twins transferring from Minnesota to North Dakota. Any series between the two is hard-fought and full of storylines.

Enter Amanda Kessel. The 24-year old hasn't donned a Minnesota sweater since the 2012-13 season, when the team went undefeated and won a national championship while Kessel won the Patty Kazmaier Award.

Her list of accolades that year is almost encyclopedic. Kessel was named the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner, USA Hockey Bob Allen Women's Player of the Year, ACHA/CCM Hockey First Team All-American, USCHO.com Co-Player of the Year, WCHA Player of the Year; named to All-USCHO.com First Team and All-WCHA First Team, WCHA scoring title; and she became the fourth player to ever record 100 or more points in a single season.

She took the following season off to train and play for Team USA in the Olympics in Sochi. She suffered a concussion and had lingering symptoms, so she took the next year off as well.

In July 2015, Minnesota coach Brad Frost announced that Kessel had concluded her career as a Gopher. The "retirement" announcement said she was out of eligibility and would not return. In mid-January, there were reports that she'd been practicing with the Gophers, but Frost was very cautious with his wording about her possible return. Now less than a month later, Kessel has passed the necessary tests and has been cleared to play.

It's fortuitous timing for the Gophers, but it'll be interesting to see what kind of shape Kessel is in. Even at her worst, she's likely better than most of the players in the world, but two years off the ice will have taken their toll. Regardless, I imagine those will be some highly sought-after tickets this weekend.

(9) Princeton at (10) Colgate

Friday, 7 PM ET

(4) Quinnipiac at (10) Colgate

Saturday, 4 PM ET

Watch and listen: Video is available online from for $7.95 per game.

When just eight teams make the NCAA tournament, action at the bottom of the rankings is always interesting as we head to the end of the season.

Four spots in the tournament are allotted to the conference tournament winners, and the other four are for at-large bids.

But before NCAA's comes the conference tournament and in the ECAC, the top eight teams face off with the top four getting home-ice advantage for a best-of-three quarterfinal series. The only school that looks to have home ice secured are Quinnipiac, who are at the top of the conference with 27 points. Just five points separate second place from seventh place. Colgate and Princeton are currently third and fourth with 21 points, but Harvard is just two points back.

Also worth a look:

  • Beanpot Finals: (1) Boston College vs (5) Northeastern. Tues., 7:30 PM EST

Stick Taps and Snark

↑Minnesota State Mankato -- After giving the Gophers a scare to end the first half, the Mavericks tied North Dakota 5-5 on Sunday. The team has 10 freshmen and 10 sophomores, and they've shown vast improvement over the course of the season.

↓Princeton -- The Tigers ended a 12-game win streak when they lost to Harvard 4-1 last Sunday.

↑Quinnipiac -- The Bobcats earned their first-ever program win at Harvard and their first season sweep of the Crimson. Freshman Melissa Samoskevich scored the game-winning power play goal in Friday's 1-0 win.

↓Union -- They managed a tie against Brown -- their sixth of the season -- but it might be a goose egg for Union this year.

↑Quinnipiac goalie Sydney Rossman -- The sophomore was named the ECAC Goaltender of the Month for January. She has a 20-game unbeaten streak and allowed just two goals in six conference matchups.

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