The National Women's Hockey League continues its offseason with numerous player signings, its first international draft and several front office moves. In case you've missed anything over the last few weeks, let's take a look at what's happened in the league.
On Saturday, we'll have the four NCAA tournament quarterfinal games. The winners will advance to next week's Frozen Four. Two of the games are rematches of games we saw in the conference tournaments last week.
All the games will be available to watch on free streams from NCAA.com.
(8) Robert Morris at (1) Wisconsin
Saturday at 2:00 PM Central
Watch: Live stream available through NCAA.com. Televised on Wisconsin Public Television's The Wisconsin Channel.
With apologies to the Colonials, the stats aren't on Robert Morris' side.
Wisconsin has only ever lost one NCAA quarterfinal. They've lost just one game at home in the past two seasons. They allow less than a goal per game and score more than four goals per game while having one of the strongest strength of schedules in the country. They lead the country in team offense and defense as well as penalty kill and they have the fourth-best power play in the country.
Annie Pankowski and Sarah Nurse are tied for second in the country with 24 goals each and they have repeat Patty Kazmaier top-three finalist Ann-Renée Desbiens in the net. Desbiens leads the country in both save percentage (.962) and goals against average (0.71).
It certainly doesn't look good for Robert Morris, but anything can happen in this one-and-done format. The Badgers will do well to score early and establish themselves in the first period. The longer Wisconsin goes without scoring, the higher Robert Morris' odds get, I think.
(7) Cornell vs (2) Clarkson
Saturday at 3:00 PM Eastern
Watch: Live stream available through NCAA.com.
These two met twice during the regular season. Cornell took a 2-1 win in January, but Clarkson beat them 5-4 in overtime in the last game of the regular season. Clarkson won 1-0 last weekend to take the ECAC crown.
That 5-4 game sure seems to be the anomaly and I don't think we'll see much of a high-scoring contest on Saturday. Clarkson tends to try to get an early goal and switch to a defensive set to hold off the opponent. Thus far, it's been a pretty viable strategy for them, but I'd sure like to see something more proactive from the Golden Knights this weekend.
Not only am I unsure of the effectiveness of that plan overall, but I don't think it's something they can possibly hope to use against Wisconsin, Minnesota or Minnesota-Duluth. Though it may work to get them that far, I'd like to see them try something here against Cornell that better prepares them to face a more offensively prolific team.
Not only that, but it really stifles Patty Kaz top-three finalist Cayley Mercer. I'd love to see more from her in the post-season but the Golden Knights' style of play really doesn't allow for it.
Despite the loss, Cornell has to have a ton of confidence and momentum and something a bit more dangerous -- nothing to lose. They're definitely the upstarts here this weekend who worked their behinds off to get there. Between what they've learned clawing for every bit they got this season and that they've already exceeded expectations, they could be particularly dangerous.
(6) St. Lawrence vs (4) Boston College
Saturday at 1:00 PM Eastern
Watch: Live stream available through NCAA.com
The Clarkson/Cornell game is a toss-up because we've seen how close they've played all season. This game is a toss-up because we have no idea what each is going to bring out from each other.
I expect the Eagles to be pushing it on offense - not only because they have the firepower but because they've been a bit thin on defense. That being said, St. Lawrence still has two of the top-four scorers in the country.
We're going to see what gives when those two offenses square off. And we're going to see if their defenses are able to hold up under the pressure. Both teams have had the luxury of playing from ahead most of the time, so how they handle this can make or break the game.
BC seemed like it needed every bit of it's depth and talent to eke out wins lately and that's not usually a tactic that bodes well for a team in the post-season.
(5) Minnesota at (3) Minnesota-Duluth
Saturday at 2:30 PM Central
Watch: A live stream will be available through NCAA.com.
Though I'm really not happy we're getting two conference tournament rematches in the quarterfinals, I'll admit I'm not sad about having to watch these two square off again. It took two overtime periods and 62 saves for the Bulldogs to edge the Gophers in the WCHA semi-finals.
These two are evenly matched and feature world-class talent playing at the top of their game. The Bulldogs were also-rans at last year's WCHA tournament and this year could have easily won the tournament. They turnaround for them has been unbelievable.
It's been a relatively down year for the Gophers and this certainly where the two-time defending national champions imagined themselves when the year began.
Maddie Rooney was absolutely spectacular for the Bulldogs in the WCHA tournament. If she can play like she did last weekend, Duluth has a big advantage.
But Minnesota's Sidney Peters absolutely found another level as the season wound down. She's been playing far beyond what we saw from her to start the season and she and the Gophers won't go away easily this weekend.
Expect Patty Kaz top-three finalist Lara Stalder and Dani Cameranesi to shine and prove why they're some of the best forwards in the country.
Stick Taps and Snark
↑Minnesota-Duluth's Maddie Rooney -- The sophomore goaltender was named MVP of the WCHA tournament -- the first time a player from the losing side was given the honor. She she multiple tournament and program records when she made 62 saves on Saturday and another 50 on Sunday.
↓Minnesota -- The Gophers are traveling for their NCAA quarterfinal game for just the second time since this format was introduced. It's been a rough second half for the Gophers and it's put them in the unenviable position of heading to Duluth in order to try and extend their season.
↑Cornell -- The Big Red played themselves into the post season with a heck of a second half. They didn't make the polls until January 16. In less than two months they went from unranked to an NCAA bid. Well done, Big Red!
↓Tournament pairings -- Not everyone agrees with me, but I find no joy in seeing two conference pairings that are also repeats of games from last weekend. The NCAAs are one of the few times we get to see teams play outside their area. I don't find these repeat match-ups good for the game.
↑Wisconsin's Sarah Nurse -- The Badgers won back-to-back WCHA Offensive POW honors after dominating the two weekends of conference tournament play. She led the country with 11 points, five goals, six assists (matching Pankowski), 1.25 goals per game, 2.75 points per game, three power-play goals (tied), one short-handed goal (tied) and a plus-8 rating over that time.
↑Minnesota's Dani Cameranesi -- The senior had ankle surgery in January and her college career looked to be over, but she returned to the ice for the Gophers in the WCHA Final Faceoff.
Stick taps to the five college players named to Team USA's Women's World Championship roster (Maddie Rooney, Kali Flanagan, Megan Keller, Kelly Pannek, and Lee Stecklein) and three named to Hockey Canada's Roster (Emily Clark, Sarah Potomak, and Halli Krzyzaniak).
Snark to both Team USA and Hockey Canada for leaving off some incredibly talented collegiate players.
(Photo credit: @CUKnights/Twitter)
Filed under: NCAA; NCAA postseason; Cornell; clarkson; wisconsin; minnesota; Minnesota-Duluth; Boston college; st. lawrence; Robert Morris; Sarah Nurse; cayley mercer; lara stalder; dani cameranesi; Ann Renee Desbiens
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