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The Takeaway: Princeton and Ohio State win first-ever conference titles

Northeastern takes home another Hockey East championship; Mercyhurst is your CHA winner

Princeton’s players, coaches, and staff members pose on the ice with the ECAC Championship trophy following their 3-2 overtime victory over Cornell. Cornell Athletics

Various things happened in NCAA Division I play this weekend between various teams.

5 Things to Know

Princeton upsets No. 1-ranked Cornell to win the ECAC championship: The Tigers came into the weekend as the ECAC’s No. 2 seed, but were 0-4 in conference semifinal games up to this point. They faced off against Clarkson in the semifinals and promptly put up four goals on an excellent goaltender to take a 4-0 lead in the second period. The final was 5-1.

Cornell, who hosted the tournament, advanced after defeating Harvard 4-0. In the ECAC championship game, the Tigers found themselves down 2-0 just three minutes in, after Kristin O’Neill and Gillis Frechette scored for the Big Red. But Princeton goaltender Steph Neatby shut down their offense the rest of the way, and the Tigers chipped away at the lead, eventually tying it up 2-2 in the second period.

The teams remained deadlocked at the end of regulation and went into overtime (because it’s the 2020 ECAC Tournament, and of course they did), but that didn’t last very long. 58 seconds in, Mariah Keopple took a shot from the blue line that popped over Cornell’s Lindsay Browning and into the net. It was Princeton’s first ECAC title game appearance, and they made it count, going home with their first-ever ECAC championship.

While I think Princeton’s shown themselves to be a championship-caliber team all season long, they had some adversity to overcome during this playoff run. First, they needed three games and double overtime to get past seventh-seeded Quinnipiac. They were also left with only five defenders this weekend, four of whom are underclassmen. That hardly mattered in the end, as three of those four (Keopple and freshmen Kate Monihan and Solveig Neunzert) got on the board this weekend. The Tigers got the scoring they needed from their top guns (Sarah Fillier and Carly Bullock) and their secondary scorers to move past Clarkson and hand Cornell their first loss in ECAC play all season.

Ohio State knocks off Wisconsin in overtime to win the WCHA Final Face-Off: The Buckeyes needed overtime in both games, but they came away from the weekend with their first postseason title as well. They faced off against host Minnesota in the semifinals, and came back from a 2-0 deficit to tie it up in the second period. Towards the end of that frame, Taylor Heise put the Gophers up 3-2 on the power play, and OSU spent most of the rest of the game looking for an equalizer.

They got it from Jennifer Gardiner with only 7:27 to play. Less than five minutes into overtime, Tatum Skaggs scored the game-winner to send the Buckeyes to the WCHA championship game. Wisconsin also advanced after knocking out Minnesota Duluth, 4-1. The Bulldogs pushed hard to keep pace with the Badgers, outshooting them 30-15 in the final two periods, but a valiant effort on their part to earn an NCAA Tournament bid came to an end Saturday.

In the WCHA title game, both offenses were completely stymied through regulation. The game went to overtime locked in a 0-0 tie, with Wisconsin outshooting Ohio State 40-23. The Buckeyes, for their part, did a really good job of keeping the Badgers’ offense to the perimeter, which was key for them in their regular-season series win over Wisconsin in February, too. It was another quick ending once overtime got underway, with Skaggs scoring her second winner of the weekend less than five minutes in.

Mercyhurst wins the CHA Tournament: The Lakers are the lone team outside of the top-eight in the PairWise to receive an automatic bid this year. Mercyhurst earned a bye to the College Hockey America semifinals after winning the regular season title, and they faced off against Penn State in that round on Friday afternoon. The Lakers skated away with a pretty convincing 4-1 victory to advance to the title game.

On the other side of the bracket, second-seeded Robert Morris found themselves in a 2-0 hole against Syracuse in the semifinals, with Lindsay Eastwood and Mae Bratherson coming up big for the Orange. But the Colonials went on to score five unanswered. Within 44 seconds of each other, Jaycee Gebhard and Anjelica Diffendal scored to tie it up midway through the second period. Emily Curlett added one from the blue line for a 3-2 lead a few minutes later.

RMU scored twice more in the third to advance with a 5-2 victory, ending Syracuse’s hopes of a repeat championship. The CHA title game was as tightly contested as you could expect from the number one and two seeds in the conference, who were very closely matched all year. Michaela Boyle put the Colonials up early, just two minutes in, and they were ahead for most of the rest of the game. Rachel Marmen scored her fourth goal of the season to tie things up for the Lakers about halfway through the third period and force overtime.

The Lakers were outshot on the whole for the game, 32-22, but came out swinging during overtime. Just four minutes into the extra period, Summer-Rae Dobson collected a puck in the slot and snapped it home to win the CHA championship for Mercyhurst and secure the NCAA Tournament autobid. Kennedy Blair came up big in net, stopping 31 shots from the Colonials to keep it a one-goal game most of the way. She was named Most Outstanding Player for her efforts.

Northeastern three-peats as Hockey East champions: Maine came very close to making this a very interesting weekend for the NCAA Tournament picture, but in the end, it was the Huskies skating away with their third-straight conference championship. In their semifinal game against the Black Bears, Northeastern actually trailed from about four minutes in until the third period. Ida Press scored on the power play to give Maine a 1-0 lead early.

The Black Bears did a good job of limiting Northeastern’s offense for the first 40 minutes, but the Huskies came out in a frenzy in the third period and ended up scoring three unanswered to advance. They put up 18 shots on goal in that final frame and got goals from Skylar Fontaine and Alina Müller within the first four minutes to tie and then take a 2-1 lead. Fontaine added an empty netter to close it out.

UConn’s Wabick twins came up big in the other semifinal, with Morgan Wabick scoring twice and Taylor Wabick tallying once in the 4-0 victory over New Hampshire. Viki Harkness also added a goal and Morgan Fisher had a 20-save shutout in net. That set up a rematch of the 2018 Hockey East title game between UConn and Northeastern, except this time, Northeastern was not an upstart to win it all.

The final score line on Sunday was 9-1 in favor of NU. Eight different players scored goals for Northeastern, with Jess Schryver scoring twice. They broke the game open in the third period, scoring five goals in that final frame.

New faces at the top of the hill: It feels like for as long as time itself, parity in women’s hockey has always been called into question. At the college level, it’s probably fair to say we’ve seen some huge strides made in that department over the last few years. We’ve seen new teams insert themselves as regular contenders in the top-10 rankings. We’ve seen lower seeds pull off upsets in the postseason to advance and live another day. But the actual trophies still tend to be dominated by the same handful of schools.

Every once in a while, though, we get a new name or two engraved on those plaques. This year, it’s Ohio State and Princeton. Both are programs with relatively new head coaches. Nadine Muzerall is in her fourth season coaching the Buckeyes; Cara Morey is in her third for Princeton. These were programs that were good before, but under the helm of Muzerall’s and Morey’s leadership, they’ve each reached unprecedented levels of success. Nobody in Ohio State history has racked up more wins faster than Muzerall. Nobody behind the bench at Princeton has led the team to more wins than Morey this year.

It’s especially cool to see both teams not only aim for these new heights, but actually reach them, because it’s so damn hard to do. I’m not a player or a coach and I’ve never even been a paid team staff member, so my authority on this is limited, but I do know this: you can do every single thing right, you can instill a brand new culture, you can build your program up and up and up with some of the best players in the world. It doesn’t ever mean you’re going to win. So it’s special to see both Princeton and Ohio State get over that hill, and for their players to leave something definitive and permanent behind for whoever comes next.

Top Performers

Emma Nuutinen, Senior, Forward, Mercyhurst: Named the 2020 CHA Player of the Year, Nuutinen hit the 100-career-point mark in the semifinals of the CHA Tournament on Friday.

Skylar Fontaine, Junior, Defender, Northeastern: Over the course of the playoffs, there was a stretch where Fontaine scored or assisted on eight goals in a row for the Huskies. She also hits dingers, can confirm.

Sarah Fillier, Sophomore, Forward, Princeton: Fillier was named the ECAC Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. She posted two goals and an assist this weekend after a two-goal, six-point performance in the quarterfinal series against Quinnipiac.

Alina Müller, Sophomore, Forward, Northeastern: Müller took home Hockey East Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors after posting two points against Maine, four points against UConn, and nine points throughout the tournament.

Tatum Skaggs, Junior, Forward, Ohio State: After scoring back-to-back overtime winners at the WCHA Final Face-Off, Skaggs was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

Liliane Perrault, Sophomore, Forward, Mercyhurst: Perrault had one goal all season coming into the weekend. She scored two in the Lakers’ 4-1 semifinal victory. This is, objectively, the single best thing about playoff hockey. Do not at me.

Reece Hunt, Freshman, Forward, Bemidji State: In the longest game in WCHA history, Hunt scored on this unreal shot in quadruple overtime to force a game three against Minnesota Duluth.

Abbie Ives, Senior, Goaltender, Quinnipiac: Ives finished her Bobcats career with a hard-fought effort to help her team get to the ECAC semifinals. She made 38 saves in Quinnipiac’s overtime win against Princeton in game two last week, and then piled up 47 more in the series-ending double overtime loss.

Claire Thompson, Senior, Defender, Princeton: I fear I’m running out of opportunities to tell you all how great Thompson is (in an NCAA column, at least). She made the ECAC All-Tournament Team after anchoring a shorthanded Princeton blue line all the way to the title.

Natalie Heising, Junior, Forward, Penn State: Heising netted three goals against RIT in the quarterfinals to push the Nittany Lions through to the semifinal game against Mercyhurst.

Victoria Klimek, Junior, Forward, Syracuse: Klimek had a hat trick in the Orange’s quarterfinal victory against Lindenwood to help them advance.

Maddie Mills, Junior, Forward, Cornell: Purely because of this:

Don’t Miss It

Upcoming games to watch for:

It’s now time for the NCAA Tournament. Here are the quarterfinal games we’ll be seeing on Saturday:

Princeton at No. 3 Northeastern (1 p.m. ET): If you are someone who even remotely cares about watching very talented players face off against each other, then this is a dream matchup. Alina Müller, Chloé Aurard, and Skylar Fontaine against Sarah Fillier, Carly Bullock, and Maggie Connors (to name a very small few). A dream.

Mercyhurst at No. 1 Cornell (2 p.m. ET): The Big Red will try and make it two straight trips to the Frozen Four. They’ve only lost twice all season, but the Lakers are not a team to overlook. The last time they made the NCAA Tournament, they took top-seeded Clarkson to overtime in the quarterfinals.

Clarkson at No. 2 Wisconsin (2 p.m. CT): This is an intriguing matchup, in large part because of how the past weekend went for both of these teams. Both squads are coming off of a loss. This will also be a rematch of last year’s Frozen Four semifinal game, which Wisconsin won, 5-0.

Ohio State at No. 4 Minnesota (4 p.m. CT): The Buckeyes will head right back out to Minneapolis to take on the Gophers again. Both teams are more than familiar with each other by this point, after playing five times already this season. I think we can expect another very tight game. Minnesota is the home team and the high seed, but this is about as evenly matched as you can get in the quarterfinals.