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.
It's the second-to-last week of action for the 2017-18 season. 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.
Numbers listed in parentheses are the seeds given by the NCAA selection committee, who only seed the top four teams.
Mercyhurst at (1) Clarkson
Saturday at 2:00 PM Eastern
Mercyhurst is a team that wasn't on the radar much to start the season, as their record wasn't great. But that's mostly because they played some of the top-ranked teams in the country, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, St. Lawrence, and Clarkson. I think we all assumed that Robert Morris would repeat as CHA champions and took the Lakers' early record as confirmation... but Mercyhurst went 13-4-3 in the CHA and sort of quietly crept up on RMU until the end of the season. They won the confernece touranment and earned their 11th appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Clarkson are the defending national champions. They won the ECAC regular season and tournament titles. They own the country's longest winning streak right now, with seven straight victories. They have a wealth of weapons up front, a stellar blueliner in Savannah Harmon, and Shea Tiley in net. They're not going to be easy to beat.
This scenario is exactly why the Lakers scheduled those early games against tough opponents. The CHA doesn't provide the same level of competition, but Mercyhurst coach Michael Sisti got his players the experience they needed. Now they have to see if they can bear it out.
This should be a win for Clarkson -- they're just too good. The last time these two met was in the 2014 Frozen Four, where Clarkson won 5-1.
Minnesota at (2) Wisconsin
Saturday at 2:00 PM Central
By the time Saturday evening comes around, Wisconsin will have played four of their last five games against the Gophers.
Wisconsin had the better of the series during the regular season as they swept all four games, which is something that no other Badger squad has ever been able to do. But Minnesota was playing for their life in the WCHA Championship and they took that win, as all five games were decided by a single goal. There are no teams more familiar with each other than Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The Badgers had a disappointing outing at last year's Frozen Four, and not just because they lost the title game. They didn't play like they thought they were capable of playing, and that's something that's definitely stuck with the players throughout this year. Add in losing to Minnesota in the WCHA title game and the fact that the Badger players aren't thrilled that the committee sent the Gophers to them in the first round, and you can bet that Wisconsin is fired up for this game. They also get the luxury of playing at home, where they are virtually unbeatable. Over the past three seasons, they've amassed an unbelievable 55-1-2 record at LaBahn Arena. The sole loss was to Minnesota last season.
Minnesota looked to be out of the post-season picture, but has improved by leaps and bounds over the final few weeks of the season. They knew they had to win the WCHA's auto-bid or their season would be over. They lost series to both Ohio State and Wisconsin near the end of the regular season, but have put together a string of games to find themselves back in the NCAA tournament.
Senior goalie Sidney Peters came up big for Minnesota in the title game, and they'll need that from her again. They also got scoring contributions from their second and third lines. With no TV timeouts in this game, how these two teams match up down the line sheet could be big.
Northeastern at (3) Colgate
Saturday at 3:00 PM Eastern
Watch: The game will stream free on NCAA.com. We'll add in the link when it is provided.
These two teams met earlier this season for a pair of games that Colgate won. The Raiders have set all kinds of history for their program this year, and it's their first-ever NCAA bid. It's only the second ever bid for Northeastern. Whoever wins will set another record by making their first trip to the Frozen Four.
Northeastern is a team that can be incredibly good, but they were so inconsistent over the course of the season. They're an older, experienced team, but that didn't always translate on the ice. The Huskies were the only team to beat both Wisconsin and Boston College this season, and that alone should be enough to give Colgate some pause.
The Raiders lost to Clarkson during the regular season and playoffs and have sort of lived a bit in their shadow. Despite sharing the regular-season title with the Golden Knights, it's almost like folks aren't ready to believe Colgate is for real.
I expect Colgate to take this game, but Northeastern has already shown that if they do show up and play to the best of their abilities, they're a team to be afraid of.
Ohio State at (4) Boston College
Saturday at 1:00 PM Eastern
Watch: All of BC's home games have aired on ESPN3, but no specific details about Saturday's game have been released.
This has the potential to be the most interesting game of the weekend. The Eagles made an early exit out of the Hockey East tournament in a stunning loss to Connecticut. A few times this season, they've been stymied by a great game from a goaltender -- and Ohio State definitely has a good goaltender. The problem is, she hasn't played the past two weekends for the Buckeyes. If Kassidy Sauve is in net for OSU, they could give the Eagles some fits.
Boston College is a squad that's well-versed in making the NCAA Tournament and the Frozen Four at this point, but they've never won it all. At this point, it's all or nothing for them, and that's a lot of pressure. They're a squad with a ton of offensive capabilities, but a weak defense, and they have to figure out how to mitigate that. As a result, they're going to try to hold the puck as much as they can.
Ohio State is a bit of an upstart who's made a run at the post-season a year or two ahead of schedule. They've got nothing to lose here, and that can be dangerous for anyone they play.
This game will come down to goaltending and puck possession. Whomever does well in those two spots is likely going to come out as the winner. Note that these two teams have never played each other before.
Stick Taps and Snark
↑Minnesota -- When Boston College lost to Connecticut, the Gophers knew they were no longer in mathematical contention for an at-large bid. They were in win-or-go-home territory, and they got their first win against Wisconsin all season to earn the WCHA title and auto-bid.
↓Wisconsin -- After spending nearly the entire season as the number-one seed in the country, that loss to Minnesota dropped them to the number-two seed in the NCAA tournament.
↑Connecticut -- The Huskies set new standards for their program (and for Hockey East), as they were the first seven seed to advance to both the semi-final and final rounds. They made a heck of a run at the end of the season and had a big impact on how the final games played out.
↓The NCAA -- As the rules are written, this is the correct set of tournament games, but the rules are bullshit. That minimizing travel is the number one concern when setting up a national championship field, and the words "bracket integrity" appear nowhere in those same rules is abhorrent and shameful. I've yet to find another NCAA DI sport whose post-season is so tied to cost. This week, it was announced that the NCAA made $1.1 billion in revenue last year. Women's hockey deserves a better bracket.
↑Mercyhurst's Emma Nuutinen -- The Finnish national missed six games with the Lakers to play in Pyeongchang and earn a bronze medal. Then, she returned to her team to tally a career-high three points in the CHA final, including the overtime, game-winning goal.
↑Likelihood of a new champion -- With the way the quarterfinals are laid out, two squads who have never won a national championship will be playing in the Frozen Four with a chance to advance to the title game.
Filed under: Boston college; NCAA; wisconsin; clarkson; northeastern; minnesota; colgate; NCAA postseason; savannah harmon; Robert Morris; ohio state; mercyhurst; shea tiley; emma nuutinen
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