Nicole Haase

NCAA Women's Hockey: What to Watch, Week 27 [FROZEN FOUR]

It's the last week of action for the 2017-18 season. By Sunday evening we will have a national champion.

Numbers listed in parentheses are the seeds given by the NCAA selection committee, who only seed the top four teams.

Ohio State vs. (1) Clarkson

Friday at 4:00 PM Cental

Watch: All three Frozen Four games will air live on Big Ten Network.

If I've learned anything this season, it's that things are super unpredictable and what I think I know often has little bearing on how things actually play out. Clarkson should be the favorite here after losing just four games all season and winning a share of the ECAC regular season title and the ECAC tournament.

But with the way each of these teams played last weekend, I certainly have a lot more questions. Clarkson struggled against Mercyhurst and needed a lot of the overtime period to eke out the win. The Golden Knights have owned up to that game all weekend, knowing they didn't play their best. They're saying all the right things about learning from that game, but the NCAA quarterfinals isn't a great time for a gut check moment. It says a lot about the squad that they could still pull off the win, but it also makes them seem more vulnerable to me.

On the other side, Ohio State dominated a Boston College team that we all assumed would be in the Frozen Four way back at the beginning of the season. They'd been offensively dominant, controlling puck possession and overwhelming opponents. Instead, the Buckeyes beat them a bit at their own game. They controlled the puck and totally stifled the Eagles. It was the most dominant start to finish game I'd seen from Ohio State.

When one team falters and the other looks better than they ever have in the week leading up to a game, it's not hard to wonder exactly how the matchup will play out. Clarkson has the benefit of having been in this position before. They're defending national champions and they're used to the hoopla that is the Frozen Four. They hopefully best know how to manage the distractions.

But there's something to be said for never having been here before. The Buckeyes are as loose as any team has been. They have already far exceeded expectations for their season, which allows them to be light in a way teams that are expected to win can't be. I've said it a few times, but they have nothing to lose and that can be incredibly freeing in the way you prepare for and play in a game. It lets you take risks. The Buckeyes aren't here by chance. They've got a very good, young team and a very good goalie. THey've shown they belong here, even if the appearance is a year or two ahead of schedule.

(3) Colgate vs. (2) Wisconsin

Friday at 7:00 PM Central

Watch: All three Frozen Four games will air live on Big Ten Network.

I like to think, especially at the end of the season, that I've got a pretty good grasp on women's college hockey. But here's my confession. I don't have any earthly idea what to expect from this game.

The Badgers weren't just dominant in their 4-0 win over Minnesota in the quarterfinals -- they looked better than any Wisconsin team has looked in years. Other than a few minutes of the teams feeling each other out at the very beginning, it was a masterclass. The Badger scored three of their goals as the result of forced turnovers, two in the offensive zone. They were relentless and focused. If they can continue to play like that, I am not sure anyone can stop them.

Of course, Colgate's watched that tape non-stop since Sunday night. And though the Badgers are clearly capable of a game like that, it doesn't mean they'll be able to repeat it.

One big thing that changes the Badgers' momentum are TV timeouts. They don't play with them during the regular season and their style of play is to possess the puck as much as possible and it wears their opponent down. All this weekend's games are being televised on Big Ten Network. All that stoppage of play makes it difficult to wear anyone down. It allows for top lines to get played more often and for players to get rest. Not adjusting for that is one of the reasons the Badgers struggled against Clarkson in last year's national championship game.

A team like Ohio State uses those measured breaks in a game to their advantage. The game gets played in 3-5 minute increments and that makes it really easy for the players to digest and helps them keep it simple. They're not thinking about 10 minutes from now or the next period. They just have to win the next few minutes.

Coaches will tell you that you don't change what's worked for you all season now that you're in the finals. But the Badgers will have to adapt things a bit to not have the same thing happen to them this year. The team's inability to adapt when what they had done all year wasn't working was a big part of their title game loss.

Colgate is a team that made splashes last season, but couldn't sustain it. They were ranked and sort of introduced themselves on the national scene, but they were just a step away. This season, they've had all the pieces come together. They were shared the regular season title with Clarkson. They lost to Clarkson in the ECAC tournament championship. They are a balanced sqaud that is actually quite similar to the Badgers. They play a similar fast-paced offense and they're a team without one big scoring powerhouse. It's a true team approach.

It's hard to know what we'll see from them this weekend beyond what they've done consistently all year long. We saw big performances from OSU and Wisco. We saw the struggles from Clarkson. Colgate was as even-keeled and successful as they've been all year. And that very well could be what carries them through this weekend. But it does make it harder to know what will happen in this game.

Stick Taps and Snark

↑Big Ten Network -- I complained for years about the women's Frozen Four not being televised while things like NCAA bowling and cornhole were. Big Ten Network signed a contract to air the Frozen Four through 2020 and I can only hope this is just the beginning.

↓Boston College -- A top three team all season, the Eagles came out flat in the quarterfinals and Ohio State took advantage. It's shocking BC isn't in the Frozen Four.

↑All-Americans -- Congratulations to Shea Tiley, Sydney Baldwin, Savannah Harmon, Victoria Bach, Loren Gabel, and Daryl Watts for being named first-team All-Americans; and to Kristen Campbell, Jincy Dunne, Toni Ann Miano, Elizabeth Giguere, Brittany Howard, and Caitrin Longergan on being named second-team All-Americans.

↓Minnesota -- This is the first time since the 2010-11 season that Minnesota was knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the quarterfinals. They had won four of the last six national titles.

↑Colgate and Ohio State -- Both schools had never made it to the NCAA tournament and now both are playing in championship weekend. Colgate's coach Greg Fargo was named ACHA Coach of the Year. It's been an incredible run for both teams.

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