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.
All games stream for free live on NCAA.com. Instead of hosting the quarterfinals at campus sites, they brought all the tournament teams to the Frozen Four site and are holding the tournament over the course of a week in Erie, Pennsylvania. I am on site to cover the tournament from start to finish.
Seeds shown are tournament seeds.
(1) Northeastern vs. (8) Robert Morris - Monday at 2:00 PM Eastern
Northeastern has cruised through the year with just one loss and one tie. They weren't really challenged in their conference tournament and come to Erie riding high, but without having experienced much pushback this season. They won their fourth-straight Hockey East tournament title with a 6-2 win over this tournament's seventh seed, Providence.
Robert Morris finished third in the CHA after the regular season, but defeated Mercyhurst and Syracuse to win the conference tournament and earn the auto-bid. They had ended the regular season with a pair of losses to the Orange – and got revenge with a 1-0 win in the title game to extend their season.
This is a tough matchup for the Colonials. Aerin Frankel is poised to set all-time records in net for the Huskies and they have a potent top line that has a tendency of making opposing defenses look silly. RMU has peaked at the right time, but there's a big jump from eking out wins in their own conference tournament to taking on the top team in the country.
That being said, Robert Morris has nothing to lose while I think the Huskies feel pressure to cash in on all the potential and buildup they've had over the past two seasons. The teams play different styles of hockey and it will be interesting to see how they've prepared for each other. The Colonials are physical and strong on the puck while Northeastern tends to be speedier, especially in transition. If RMU can either slow them down or match their pace, they'll have a good chance of pulling the big upset.
(4) Colgate vs. (5) Minnesota Duluth - Monday at 7:00 PM Eastern
If you aren't familiar with the controversy of this year's field, check out the columns I wrote at USCHO last week. Grant Salzano, Chris Dilks, and Nate Wells all also tried to make sense of it, as well, if you want to check out their takes on it.
I won't rehash it here except to say that with a week of everyone in women's college hockey talking about how someone else should have been in the field, I'd imagine Minnesota Duluth feels like they have a ton to prove. Though they were inconsistent at times this year, they have all the pieces to put together a really great tournament. COVID-19 issues affected the Bulldogs' schedule a lot, and as a result, it took them a little time to get everything happening at once.
While UMD's toughness as an opponent stems from their defense, Anna Klein and Gabbie Hughes both have the ability to put a game out of reach very quickly. Emma Soderberg got her first chance as the starter in goal this season and has been brilliant. She should get a lot of credit for providing a solid back to build from as the rest of the team found their footing through this weird season.
Minneota Duluth will block a ton of shots and create what will feel like an impenetrable presence in front of the net. They aren't going to overwhelm with shots at the other end, but they pick their spots and tend not to miss when they do. They're great at a quick transition and taking advantage of how stymied and frustrated their opponents can get by the defense.
It should be really interesting to see how their style matches up with Colgate's. The Raiders are a creative, free-flowing team that really moves as a unit more than as forwards and defenders. That means they're dangerous from pretty much everywhere on the ice and everyone has a great sense for picking their shot. They aren't easy to pin down or get a read on thanks to their free style of play.
I think we'll see a lot of puck movement from Colgate as they look to find lanes around the UMD defense. They tend to push forward quickly, so I'll be interested to see if or how they adjust to try and take away cross-ice passes and breakouts from the Bulldogs.
This is a particularly hard matchup to predict without the benefit of some inter-conference play or mutual opponents. It's difficult to foresee how their different approaches will affect the outcome. A big key for Colgate would be scoring early. UMD's defense will close in even more if they get on the board first.
(2) Wisconsin vs. (7) Providence - Tuesday at 2:00 PM Eastern
The Badgers were about 90 seconds away from losing the WCHA regular season crown before mounting a ridiculous comeback in Duluth. Then they bounced back in the conference tournament, taking down Minnesota and Ohio State to win their ninth tournament title. They had something of a similar gut check in 2019, tying Ohio State both games of the final regular season series and missing out on the regular season title before going on a run to the title.
It's a stretch to tie that too closely to this year, but the point that the Badgers have a history of struggling that final weekend and recovering pretty well stands. Basically, I wouldn't hold that series against them too much. Wisconsin seems to need that little bit of gut check to keep them focused and not let them get too far ahead of themselves.
In the past few weeks, the Badgers have shuffled lines, putting Britta Curl, Sophie Shirley, and Brette Pettet on the first line and Daryl Watts, Lacey Eden, and Delaney Drake on the second. That's a potent one-two punch. Wisconsin proved that even if teams have an answer for those two lines, the third line doesn't really constitute much of a let up and can lead the team in scoring if need be.
Providence does have the advantage of heading into this game after playing Northeastern. It'll be their second straight game against a team with a lot of speed that moves the puck quickly and passes well. The Friars didn't have much of an answer for Northeastern this year, losing by three or more goals in each of their four meetings.
But they are hyped to be the second team in program history to have earned an NCAA bid and they are making certain that they're not just happy to be there. There's an advantage to knowing what didn't work last week and being able to tweak that instead of starting from scratch with prep.
On offense, Providence has to put pressure on the defense – they can be prone to mistakes. If the Friars can force some bad passes or turnovers and take advantage, it'll go a long way to helping them win this game.
(3) Ohio State vs. (6) Boston College - Tuesday at 7:00 PM Eastern
My co-writer of Wednesday Women on USCHO thinks this is the game most likely to have an upset. Ohio State has had difficulty all year focusing in their shots on net. They were much better in the WCHA tournament, but Boston College's defense is quick and physical and could really frustrate the Buckeye shooters.
What Ohio State did so well this year, particularly in the post-season so far, is playing a relentless game. They were pushy and pesky and in everyone's face in both games they played. They forced players into making quick decisions – often mistakes – because they were in their faces and didn't give them any space. And they are fit enough to keep that up for a whole game. They are aggressive on the forecheck and opportunistic with the chances they create for themselves.
While OSU is pushing the pace and decision-making, Boston College has to be smart with the puck. This style is in a lot of ways a bit of their own medicine. The Eagles are great in transition and getting the jump on their opponents. Their defense can be as deadly in the offensive zone as their forwards and they have very good vision to see things develop before the other team. But they're going to have to be careful to not get caught up without hedging their bets too much and losing the parts of their own game that can be so successful and confounding for the teams they play against.
Boston College is usually very strong in front of their own net and that battle for position may be where this game is won or lost. The Buckeyes are going to look for second-chance opportunities and screens and how well the Eagles hold their ground may be the difference.
(Photo: Erie Sports Commission)
Filed under: NCAA; NCAA postseason; northeastern; Robert Morris; providence; wisconsin; ohio state; Boston college; colgate; minnesota duluth; ice hockey
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