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2021 NCAA Women’s Frozen Four Preview

Northeastern vs. Minnesota Duluth, Wisconsin vs. Ohio State are your Frozen Four matchups in Erie

Britta Curl #17 of the Wisconsin Badgers controls the puck under pressure from Brooke Becker #17 of the Providence Friars in the first period during the NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals game at the Erie Insurance Arena on March 16, 2021 in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Justin Berl

After an exciting quarterfinal round, the 2021 Women’s Frozen Four field is set. Here’s a preview of what to expect from today’s games:

#1 Northeastern (21-1-1) vs. #5 Minnesota Duluth (12-6-0)

Both teams are relatively new to this stage, which should make this an interesting one. Northeastern turned in a really strong performance against Robert Morris on Monday to reach the Frozen Four for the first time in program history. Minnesota Duluth beat Colgate in overtime in their quarterfinal, and though as a program they’re no stranger to playing for national championships, this is the Bulldogs’ first trip back to the Frozen Four since 2010 and the first under head coach Maura Crowell.

I think both Northeastern and Minnesota Duluth played to their strengths in their respective quarterfinals. In UMD’s case, they were strong defensively against Colgate and turned the game into more of a slugfest in the middle of the ice. Clean shots weren’t easy to come by, and the Bulldogs built pressure when they could off the rush. But I’m not sure they’ll want to get into the same back-and-forth matchup against the Huskies, a team that is absolutely lethal in transition themselves, as they showed multiple times against Robert Morris.

Northeastern’s speed and game-shifting abilities were on clear display in the quarterfinals. They got the scoring started off a 3-on-2 shorthanded rush, and later in the game, added a goal right after Robert Morris first scored to double their lead going into the third period. This is a team that is very good at snuffing out chances for their opponent to grab momentum, and they are dangerous in any situation, no matter which line is on the ice.

Keys for Northeastern: If the Huskies are able to dominate possession and their PK comes up big, as it has all season, they’ll be in great position to head to their first national championship game. They’ll be relying on their D to be active as well and really put pressure on Minnesota Duluth to keep plays alive in the offensive zone and win pucks in the neutral zone. If they’re able to generate grade-A chances in transition, it’ll be hard for the Bulldogs to keep them off the board.

Keys for Minnesota Duluth: The Bulldogs really need their best players to be their best players in this one. If the Gabbie Hughes line can hold its own and go toe-to-toe with Northeastern’s top line, that’s excellent news for them. Look for a big game in net from junior Emma Söderberg as well. If UMD can make things choppy for the Huskies’ offense and get things going quickly the other way, they’ll have a good chance at building momentum. Also, a couple of power-play goals would really help swing things in their favor.

#2 Wisconsin (15-3-1) vs. #3 Ohio State (13-6-0)

The Badgers and Buckeyes are pretty familiar with each other by now, and are especially familiar with playing each other when everything is on the line. In the 2020 WCHA Final Faceoff championship game, Ohio State beat Wisconsin in overtime. In this year’s WCHA title game, it was the Badgers who came away with the overtime win.

Both teams turned in similarly strong performances on Tuesday in the quarterfinals. Wisconsin completely controlled play against Providence through the first half of the game, though the score stood at 1-0 for a while, and then Britta Curl and Sophie Shirley teamed up to put the game out of the Friars’ reach in the third. Ohio State came out a little slow against Boston College but was dominant through the final 40 minutes to get back to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2018.

Although this is a rematch from just a couple of weeks ago, this should be an exciting one to watch, because we typically get each team’s very best when they face off against each other. While Wisconsin might have a little more star power up front, the Buckeyes have some excellent talent themselves, and I think their defense is stronger all around. These teams are so evenly matched, and I expect a really close game between them with a championship berth on the line.

Keys for Wisconsin: The Badgers can get back to the national title game by sticking to their strengths and controlling the flow of play. They were only up 1-0 on Providence after one period despite dominating, and it took them another full period to score again. If they have dominant stretches in this one, they need to cash in. Wisconsin also seemed a little rattled when Providence got a few good chances and started to bring some energy of their own. From facing the Buckeyes so often, I’m sure they’ll be a little more prepared for that this time around, but staying patient through those flurries and creating turnovers to get out of the zone will be crucial.

Keys for Ohio State: If the Buckeyes played the way they did through the final 40 minutes against BC, they’re going to have a great chance to move on to play for a national championship for the first time. Tatum Skaggs and Emma Maltais are great players, and they’ll need them both on their games, but it would really help OSU to continue to get scoring from a few different lines. I also think their blue line can be a huge strength in this one; they’re a very reliable group that does a great job of holding possession and generating chances for the Buckeyes.

How to Watch

Semifinal #1: Northeastern vs. Minnesota Duluth, 2 p.m. Eastern — ESPN3/ESPN App

Semifinal #2: Wisconsin vs. Ohio State, 7 p.m. Eastern — ESPNU/ESPN App