It's the playoffs! Yesterday's semifinal games certainly provided some excitment. By tonight, we'll know which eight teams get berths into the NCAA tournament. The selection show will be at 9:00 PM Eastern on NCAA.com.
Minnesota is playing for its life. Connecticut is on a dream run while Northeastern hopes to win it's first Hockey East Championship. Clarkson looks for its second-straight ECAC Championship while Colgate makes their first-ever appeareance in the Championship Game. Wisconsin is looking to win its fourth-straight conference championship.
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 from the previous week.
Connecticut at Northeastern
Sunday at 1:30 PM Eastern
Watch: The Championship game will air on NESNplus.
This matchup between the four-seed and the seven-seed ensures the lowest seeded champion in Hockey East history. Northeastern has made three other appearances in the title game, but has never won it all. Connecticut has made two championship appearances without winning. It will be a historic conference championship regardless of the final result.
Hockey East has been chaotic from top to bottom all season, and it has carried over into the tournament. UConn didn't win their first conference game until January, but they had six ties -- always coming close to an upset, but never quite pulling it off until Saturday. They took down Boston College thanks to outstanding play from Hockey East Goaltender of the Year Annie Belanger. Freshman Natalie Snodgrass scored twice and junior Nora Maclaine's first career postseason goal was the game-winner.
Belanger will be the key for UConn again on Sunday. Despite their 16-13-9 record, she's third in the country with a 0.937 save percentage. She gives them the confidence to find the offense that can be lacking at times. All three of the games between these two this season have been high-scoring, featuring four, six, and eight total goals. Whichever team can manage their defense will have an advantage.
(4) Colgate at (2) Clarkson
Sunday at 2:00 PM Eastern
Watch: All ECAC tournament games will stream live on ESPN3. They can also be found on ECACHockey.com.
Colgate won a 4-3 overtime thriller over Clarkson early in the year and the Golden Knights took the second game 5-3. The Raiders have a nine-game winning streak dating back to that loss to Clarkson in late January.
Clarkson has a potent offense with Loren Gabel, Elizabeth Giguère and Michaela Pejzlová all in the top-ten in scoring nationally. Goalie Shea Tiley is second in the country with a 1.30 GAA and 0.939 save percentage.
The Raiders will look to counter that with an arguably deeper scoring attack. Top scorer (and Saturday's game-winner with a single second left on the clock) Jessie Eldridge played on Colgate's third line in the semi-finals. They have 10 players with 20 points or more this season. They'll have to contend with Clarkson's Savannah Harmon, who's a scoring threat from the blue line as well as one of the toughest defenders in the country.
Colgate let Cornell back in the game on Saturday, giving up three straight goals in the third. If they're able to build a lead on Clarkson, they need to be much better at protecting it on Sunday if they want to have a chance to win.
(7) Minnesota at (1) Wisconsin
Sunday at 2:00 PM Central
Watch: The Championship Game will air of Fox Sports Wisconsin and Fox Sports North and stream on Fox Sports North. A radio broadcast can be heard on IHeartRadio here.
Yesterday I said there aren't a lot of scenarios in which Minnesota doesn't make the NCAA tournament with an at-large bid, but thanks to Connecitcut's upset of Boston College, that's now the case. The Gophers are in "win or go home" territory. They either get the WCHA auto-bid or they miss just their third NCAA touranment in program history (they missed in 2007 and 2001).
Wisconsin won all four meetings between these two in the regular season for the first time in their history. Each of those four games was decided by a single goal. After Saturday's semifinal win, Minnesota goalie Sidney Peters talked about a need for their team to play a complete game -- the full 60 minutes, something the she said the Gophers had struggled with during the season, especially during their losses to the Badgers.
Both teams are led offensively by young players. Wisconsin sophomore Abby Roque was named WCHA Offensive Player of the Year and Minnesota freshman Grace Zumwinkle was the conference scoring champion. Badger sophomore Kristen Campbell is the top goalie in the country.
Zumwinkle and fellow rookie Taylor Wente have the look of an offensive duo that will be quite concerning for the rest of the league in the coming years, but that haven't yet developed the confidence to be as lethal as they could be. Zumwinkle's shot alone is enough to put fear in opponents, but she's as likely to pass the puck as she is to take an open shot right now.
The Badgers won against Bemidji State yesterday thanks to a hat-trick from senior captain Baylee Wellhausen, who scored five of her season's 10 goals so far at Ridder Arena.
One interesting element could be special teams. Not one penalty was called in Minnesota's semifinal while the Badgers and Beavers combined for seven infractions. These games tend to be very physical and with Minnesota's season on the line, Sunday's game will be no different. Neither the Badgers nor the Gophers have a particularly threatening power play, scoring at about 17% and 20% respectively. They're both in the range of 86% on the kill.
After the games complete, be sure to check out the NCAA selection show tonight at 9:00 PM Eastern on NCAA.com.
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