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Women’s college hockey: WHEA tournament semifinals and finals preview

Walter Brown Arena hosts the Hockey East Championship weekend

Picard and the Vermont Catamounts have a tough task in a field of four competitive teams.
Vermont Athletics

On Sunday, March 5, one team will walk out of Walter Brown Arena crowned the 2017 Women’s Hockey East Champions.

Before that, four teams will play two games on Saturday, March 4 to determine who will be in that final game.

The WHEA Championship weekend kicks off with a contest between the Boston College Eagles and the Vermont Catamounts, followed by another cross-town duel of the Boston University Terriers and Northeastern Huskies. The winners of each game will then face each other on Sunday for all the marbles.

Let’s jump right in.

#1 Boston College vs #4 Vermont

The 1:30 pm match features the Eagles and Catamounts in what could be one of the tightest 1 vs 4 games in a while. Vermont lost their opening game to Providence 5-4, with a rare showing from Madison Litchfield, who gave up 4 of the 5 Friar goals in the third period. She rebounded strongly as the Catamounts shut the down the Friars with 5-1 and 5-2 victories on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

Boston College swept Merrimack 4-0 and then 1-0, moving on to the semifinals for the seventh consecutive year. The last time they did not make the semifinals was 2010, also the only year the Eagles did not advance past the quarterfinal round. Boston College has the pedigree in this tournament to put fear into other teams, but the Catamounts will need to face this team like any other opponent they have faced this year.

Katie Burt continued to put on a show for the Eagles, earning her 30th career shutout on Friday. Megan Keller, who was named as one of the ten Patty Kazmaier Award nominees, scored two goals and two assists, adding to her impressive senior season. At the end of the first round, Keller was named WHEA Player of the Month for February and her teammates Delaney Belinskas and Caitrin Lonergan were named to the 2017 Pro Ambitions All-Rookie Team.

Meanwhile, Litchfield made 83 saves over three games as the Catamounts’ offense netted 14 goals to send Vermont to the semifinals. The last time Vermont faced BC in the WHEA playoffs was, coincidentally, the 2014 semifinals. Vermont lost that matchup, however. This time, the Catamounts not only have one of the top goaltenders in the conference in Litchfield, but one of the top rookies in Eve-Audrey Picard, who tied for most goals scored by a rookie this season. Alyssa Gorecki had three goals and three assists across the series, including a two-goal performance in the final game.

Boston College swept the season series (3-0-0) including a 3-2 OT victory in Vermont, but something about the way the Catamounts have been playing lately leads me to believe they are going to give the Eagles a run for their money.

Prediction: Vermont narrowly pulls out a 2-1 victory. I know: Boston College; Katie Crowley; Megan Keller; Andie Anastos; Lonergan; the list goes on and on. But the wheels have been turning smoothly for far too long, and if Merrimack was able to fight tooth and nail in the quarterfinal finale, I would expect Vermont to play BC even tougher.

#2 Northeastern vs #3 Boston University

The Huskies would like to forget their last trip to Walter Brown to play the Terriers. BU laid down a 7-2 thumping, with six different skaters scoring a goal. The Huskies were able to return to form after the embarrassing regular season finale, sweeping Connecticut at historic Matthews Arena. The Terriers found themselves struggling a bit against New Hampshire, as they dropped the opening game with the Wildcats before winning two one-goal contests to secure a semifinal berth.

Northeastern’s sweep of Connecticut was clinched with an overtime goal from Denisa Krizova, extending her point streak to nine games. Brittany Bugalski made 29 saves in the second game for her 20th win of the season, making her the first goalie in program history to win 20 in two seasons. Northeastern has three thirty-point scorers on their team, after Hayley Scamurra earned her 31st point of the year on Saturday. She trails only McKenna Brand, tied for 2nd most goals in the nation, and Krizova for point totals among Huskies. Scamurra was also named the Best Defensive Forward in Hockey East for her plus-19 rating in league play, 41 blocked shots, and team leading 321 face-off wins.

BU topped New Hampshire in three games, including a thrilling come-from-behind victory on Sunday. Rebecca Leslia potted a pair of goals, including the game winner, to send the Terriers to the semifinal round. BU was tested heavily in the third, as they had to kill a 5-on-3 advantage for the Wildcats in the second period and ended the game with a defensive stand against a 6-4 attack. Victoria Hanson made 27 saves, including 10 power play shots from New Hampshire, and did not allow a goal on any of the 12 shots she faced in the third period. Maddie Elia extended her point streak to 10 games and has not been held without a point since returning to the lineup on January 28. There are five Terriers with over 30 points, including Victoria Bach, the Hockey East scoring leader, who has 22 goals and 48 total points.

BU and Northeastern have a long history in the post-season. This will be the fourth year they have faced each other in the playoffs and the third straight year they meet in the semifinals. BU holds a 3-1-0 all time record over the Northeastern in the WHEA semifinals; the last time the Huskies won was 2011, coincidentally in Walter Brown Arena, following a sweep of Connecticut.

Prediction: Boston University wins 3-2. Northeastern has their problems with BU late in the season, including the 7-2 loss this year, a 3-2 loss last year on BU’s senior night, and a 4-3 loss in the semifinals in North Andover. The Terriers’ offense is just too overwhelming.

Finals Prediction: Vermont wins 4-3. One goal games seem to be the trend with my picks through the playoffs. Do not let that distract you from my notion that the #5 seed might win this year. Here me out: if Vermont beats BC in Boston, there is no stopping the Catamounts. Litchfield has hit her stride, the Catamounts’ offense has been clicking, and BU’s Hanson has given up three or more goals five times in her last nine games.

Barbito’s Brutal Truth

I picked a #5 seed. Go ahead, call me ridiculous, but I firmly believe this is the year of the Catamounts. I guess I hedged my bets by calling these all one-goal games, because if I am wrong I can say, “But I picked close games! Anything can happen!” Every one of these games can go either way. Any combination of teams in the final could result in anyone coming away with the championship.