NCAA Women's Hockey Conference Tournament: What to Watch, February 24-26
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NCAA Women's Hockey Conference Tournament: What to Watch, February 24-26

NCAA Women's Hockey Conference Tournament: What to Watch, February 24-26 by Nicole Haase

Come back each week for a preview of interesting NCAA games coming up and some thoughts on what happened in the previous week's action.

St. Lawrence at (8) Quinnipiac (ECAC Quarterfinal)

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (if needed) at 3:00 PM Eastern

Watch: Paid stream on ESPN+

This is probably the most intriguing first-round matchup of the weekend as the two teams are moving in opposite directions as the season comes to a close. The Saints took a big win off the Bobcats last Friday and lost just one of their final seven games – to Colgate, who they also tied. It took St. Lawrence a bit of time to find their footing this season, but they are peaking at the right time, have a ton of confidence and very good goaltending. Now, they have the chance to play spoiler.

Quinnpiac started the season as one of the most impressive teams in the country, losing just three games in 2022. But in their final eight games of the season, they went 4-4, including an 11-3 loss to Princeton that seems to have really thrown them for a loop and derailed all the positive things they'd been doing.

That being said, the Bobcats were the most impressive team that didn't make the Frozen Four last year, particularly in the postseason. They were resilient and impressive and for their performance against Ohio State in the NCAA quarterfinal alone I would give them the benefit of the doubt. But they've got a lot to unscramble before they can make a run at the national championship and a three game series against a known opponent where you can gain steam and confidence and maybe a little revenge is a good place to start.

(12) St. Cloud State at (7) Minnesota Duluth (WCHA Quarterfinal)

Friday at 3:00 PM, Saturday at 5:00 PM, and Sunday (if needed) at 3:00 PM Central

Watch: Paid stream on BTN+.

When these teams played a few weeks ago, St. Cloud State earned a tie in the first game and UMD won the second game 2-0. Back in November, the Bulldogs swept, 5-1 and 2-0. But SCSU is the most dangerous fifth-ranked team in any conference and if they win this series, they'd force some very difficult selection committee conversations about whether a fifth team from a conference should make the tournament, since they currently sit 12th in the Pairwise.

The Huskies can be absolutely smothering on defense. They lead the NCAA in blocked shots (552) and have a pair of goalies whose combined saves total (1022) is good for second most in the country. SCSU can count on both Sani Ahola and Jojo Chobak to be absolutely stellar while facing an incredible amount of shots. But the defense has also stepped up in a major way to make sure fewer pucks make it to their backstops. Not only is that good for their goals against, but St. Cloud has become incredible good at turning the puck in the other direction and creating chances in transition. Their ability to turn a scoring chance from an opponent into a dangerous play going the other way is a big part of why they've been such a threat this season.

Minnesota Duluth have a stellar goalie of their own, some top-tier goal-scorers, and a supporting cast of players that seem to come up big when you'd least expect it. The Bulldogs have a knack for finding ways to get players who don't normally light up the scoresheet an opportunity with the puck in front of the net. Their depth and their resiliency took them from the eighth seed to the national championship game last season and most of that roster has returned, but now with even more hunger for the trophy.

I imagine this series will be fought til the bitter end of game three and it should be incredibly entertaining to watch.

New Hampshire at (11) Vermont (Hockey East Quarterfinal)

Friday at 12:00 PM Eastern

Watch: Paid stream on ESPN+

Hockey East changed the format of their tournament this year and are playing a single-elimination tournament. This is usually the most volatile of the tournaments, with upsets and narrow escapes every year. That should be even more prominent in a one-and-done situation.

Vermont is sitting on the cusp of the NCAA tournament, but at the moment would be on the outside looking in. They need to go as far as they can in the Hockey East tournament to keep their hopes alive.

These two teams played three times in the last two weeks and two of them ended in 3-3 ties, with the Catamounts taking a shootout win. They won the third game 3-1. This is one of those matchups where a three game series and single-elimination game might have wildly different outcomes. New Hampshire has nothing to lose and the confidence to know they've hung with UVM lately. For Vermont to get the win, they'll need to be as on their game as they have all season. They have some incredibly dynamic scoring and a goalie that can be one of the best in the country. The problem has been hitting all of their highs at the same time and consistently.

Syracuse at Mercyhurst (CHA Semifinal)

Friday at 1:00 PM, Saturday at 2:00 PM and (if needed) Sunday at 1:00 PM Eastern

Watch: Paid stream on FloHockey

The season has not gone the way the Orange would have liked after a couple of very strong seasons before it. Now they'll face a Mercyhurst team who are on an eight game unbeaten streak and who took three wins and a tie in the season series against Syracuse.

Mercyhurst has two of the most interesting young players in the country in Swedish freshman Thea Johansson and sophomore Vanessa Upson. While Penn State sort of took over the CHA this season, the Lakers have a strong base and dynamic scorers and I wouldn't count them out of the running for this tournament crown and NCAA bid.

Sacred Heart at Franklin Pierce (NEWHA Semifinal)

Friday, Saturday and (if needed) Sunday at 4:00 PM Eastern

Watch: Free stream on Franklin Pierce TV

The Ravens took three of four from Sacred Heart this season, outscoring them 13-6 over the course of those four games. FPU has been on a roll in the second half, losing just three games – two of which came directly after the break. They closed out the regular season with a pair of big wins over regular season champion LIU and have put themselves in a very good position to vie for the conference's first ever auto-bid. They'll rely on their scoring depth to try and put the game out of the Pioneers' reach early.

Sacred Heart also closed out the season strong, splitting a series with LIU and winning in overtime and tying against St. Michael's. They'll be counting on the leadership of grad student Delani MacKay, who has gone through the NCAA gauntlet with Colgate and leads the team in scoring.

This quarterfinal series will feature some of the best goaltending in the league with Carly Greene for SHU and rookie Jill Hertl, who won the starting role for Franklin Pierce and never looked back.

Also worth a look:

  • (13) Cornell at (9) Clarkson – Friday at 3:00 PM, Saturday at 2:00 PM and Sunday (if needed) 2:00 PM Eastern
  • Connecticut at (15) Boston College – Saturday at 2:30 PM Eastern
  • Minnesota State at (6) Wisconsin – Friday at 7:00 PM, Saturday at 3:00 PM and Sunday (if needed) 3:30 PM Central

Stick Taps and Snark

Ohio State and Yale – Congratulations to each program on winning their first-ever regular season conference championships.

↓  Quinnipiac – The Bobcats went from being solidly in position to get a first round bye and host an NCAA regional to having to play in the regional semifinal.

Hockey East Awards – Congratulations to Northeastern's Megan Carter and Vermont's Sini Karjalainen on being named co-Defenders of the Year; New Hampshire's Annie Berry on winning the HEA Sportsmanship Award; Providence's Sara Hjalmarsson on being named Best Defensive Forward; Northeastern's Alina Müller on winning the conference scoring championship; and Boston College's Abigail Levy on winning the Three Stars Award.

↓  Providence – The Friars have been in the hunt for an at-large bid since the winter break, but went 4-5-3 in the second half and are 14th in the Pairwise.

(Photo: UMD Women's Hockey/Twitter)