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 playoffs! By Sunday evening, all the conference tournaments will be concluded and 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.
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.
As we head into the final weekend before the NCAA tournament, there are currently more than 4,000 possible outcomes for which eight teams will receive bids. By tonight, that number will be down to something around 500. While that's a more manageable number, it's still an incredibly massive number of possibilities. Wisconsin, Minnesota and Northeastern are locked in. Teams like Boston University, Colgate, Providence, Princeton, Ohio State, and Minnesota Duluth are playing for their lives. Each conference tournament winner receives an auto-bid into the tournament, so for all the bubble teams, that's obviously the best path, even if it might be the toughest.
(8) Boston University vs (6) Boston College
Saturday at 4:35 PM Eastern
There are a number of teams that will be fighting for one of the final few spots in the NCAA tournament. Each team's fate is directly impacted by who well those other teams perform. For Boston University, to even have a chance, they have to win this semi-final game over their biggest rival. For Boston College, they only way they don't get a bid is if they lose this game to BU and Princeton wins the ECAC Tournament. There's a lot on the line this weekend, but maybe no more in a single game than this one.
That BU is even in this position can be directly traced back to their two-game, weekend sweep of the Eagles back at the beginning of December. They started the season 3-3-4, but the first sweep in program history propelled the Terriers and they've been picking up momentum ever since. They won the program's second-ever Beanpot, which was the first as an NCAA DI program.
Calling a season a roller coaster may be a cliche, but I can't think of a better way to describe Boston College. They had the only-ever freshman Patty Kazmaier Award winner returning, brought back a number of gold-medal-winning Olympians, and looked like the might be unstoppable. Instead, they've had a number of fits and starts. Their leading scorer is blueliner Megan Keller. They had 12 losses combined over the three seasons before this, but have 10 this year alone. But they're on a seven-game unbeaten streak and have lost just one game dating back to mid-January.
This is also one of those rivalry games where not much of how things look on paper will make a difference. There's a ton on the line and the teams don't really like each other. This is for the NCAA tournament and for ending someone else's season. It's the type of game that might come down to one pass or one shot or one bounce of the puck and that's what makes it must-watch, in my opinion.
(9) Ohio State vs (2) Wisconsin
Saturday at 5:00 PM Central
In one of the better rematches of this season two weeks ago, Ohio State went to Madison, where the Badgers have been practically unbeatable, and prevented Wisconsin from winning their fourth-straight WCHA regular-season title by earning two ties.
I don't know that anyone would go so far as to say it was a blessing, but having to play last weekend in the WCHA quarterfinals as opposed to earning the bye as the top team was likely one of the best things that could have happened to the Badgers. They struggled mightily to put the puck away against Ohio State and it was an incredibly demoralizing weekend for them. In recent years, Wisconsin has struggled against opponents when coming out of a bye week. Instead of having too much time to think, the Badgers scored 13 goals against St. Cloud State in two games. They were relaxed and having fun, and now have major motivation to get back at the Buckeyes by ending their season.
In order to earn their second-ever and second-straight NCAA berth, Ohio State has to, at a minimum, win this game. They'd need help from Princeton to get there, but OSU will have their eyes on winning the whole tournament to secure their future.
This was already becoming a pretty tetchy rivalry before that regular season finale weekend, but now both teams have a ton to prove. There's a lot of pride on the line for the Badgers. The season is on the line for the Buckeyes. It should be a very good game.
(7) Princeton vs (5) Cornell
Saturday at 1:00 PM Eastern.
Cornell struggled last weekend against RIT and the strong goaltending of Lovisa Selander. They also managed to get just one point out of their two games against Princeton this season, losing 5-0 and playing to a 2-2 tie. They're the top seed in the tournament, but get an incredibly tough draw since Princeton was leading the conference before the final weekend.
This was the closest conference in the regular season and each of the four teams left had a chance to win the conference as the regular season went into its final weekend. No one is really a favorite here and every game could go any way.
Princeton will be looking to Sarah Fillier, who's racking up awards after having a freshman season one could only dream of. Cornell's offense stems from an older group and that experience might make the different for them. Princeton's season hangs in the balance while Cornell would have to have a lot of things line up for them not to make the NCAA's. Having their back against the wall after being in a very different position just a few weeks ago should prove to be powerful motivation for the Tigers.
Also worth a look:
- Minnesota Duluth vs (1) Minnesota – Saturday at 2:00 PM Central
- (4) Clarkson vs (10) Colgate – Saturday at 4:00 PM Eastern
- (3) Northeastern vs Providence – Saturday at 1:35 PM Eastern
Stick Taps and Snark
↑Princeton's Sarah Fillier – The freshman is the first player in history to be named both Ivy League Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year.
↑Wisconsin's Annie Pankowski – With four goals this weekend, became only the third Badger ever to score at least 20 goals in each of their four seasons, joining Hilary Knight and Meghan Duggan. She is one point shy of becoming the sixth player in school history to reach 200 points.
↑Collegians named to World Championships Rosters – There will undoubtedly be more once the other countries release their rosters. But so far: BU's Jesse Compher; Minnesota's Kelly Pannek; Wisconsin's Annie Pankowski; BC's Cayla Barnes and Megan Keller; UMD's Sydney Brodt and Maddie Rooney; and St. Cloud State's Emma Polusny have been named to Team USA. Wisconsin's Emily Clark; Clarkson's Loren Gabel; and Cornell's Jaime Bourbonnais and Micah Zandee-Hart have been named to Team Canada.
↑Ohio State – The Buckeyes have back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time in program history.
↑Boston College's Megan Keller – Set a new program record for goals by a blueliner in a single season. Keller now holds the points, goals, and assists records in both career and single-season for BC defenders.
(Photo credit: Minnesota Twitter)
Filed under: NCAA; NCAA postseason; minnesota; Minnesota-Duluth; wisconsin; Princeton; megan keller; iihf women's world championships; ohio state; providence; Boston college; boston university; northeastern; Cornell; colgate; clarkson
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