This year’s Frozen Four matchups have left WCHA fans wondering if they will see a Border Battle championship between Wisconsin and Minnesota. Before that can happen, the defending champion Gophers take on a Clarkson team that has shown its power throughout the season.
Familiar landscape, different setup
Fans of women’s hockey will notice something interesting about this semifinal round: it contains the same teams as last year, just with different matchups. Last year, Minnesota topped Wisconsin to make it to the championship, and Clarkson fell to Boston College. The way the matchups work this year are particularly interesting as Minnesota and Clarkson have not met this season, so no one fully knows what to expect for this playoff battle. With Clarkson looking to make up for last year’s loss and Minnesota hoping to repeat as champions, there are sure to be a lot of emotions flying throughout the game.
Two dominant teams
Both Minnesota and Clarkson have been dominant this season as they look to add another NCAA title to their impressive resumes. Clarkson’s season got off to a rocky start, as they lost three of their first six games. But when a team has a winning mindset, they know how to recover from a stumble, and that’s exactly what Clarkson did. Head coach Matt Desrosiers made just a few tweaks, and the Golden Knights took off. They finished the season as ECAC champs with a 30-4-5 record. While all teams carry momentum from having made it this far in the tournament, Clarkson may have the most momentum of all: they’re on a nine game winning streak.
The Gophers had almost the inverse of Clarkson’s season. They won nine of their first 10 games and looked like early shoo-ins for the playoffs. However, as the season went on, the injury bug hit hard and took a toll on the team. Head coach Brad Frost tried scrambling lines to make up for the losses in the lineups, and the younger players stepped up to keep the team ranked in the top five throughout the second half of the season. Minnesota finished the year 26-7-5, but had a disappointing loss to Minnesota-Duluth in the WCHA Final Face-Off. However, the Gophers would rebound to top the Bulldogs in the NCAA quarterfinals last weekend, helping to swing the momentum back in their favor.
Both Clarkson and Minnesota had impressive games in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA tournament. The Golden Knights faced a tough opponent in Cornell, but they came out on top 3-1 thanks to a hat trick by sophomore Loren Gabel. The Gophers had a tense meeting with the Bulldogs, but a stellar performance by goaltender Sidney Peters and freshman Patti Marshall’s lone goal proved to be enough to take Minnesota to the next round. It also didn’t hurt that senior forward Dani Cameranesi made her return to the ice after missing several games with an ankle injury.
The Gophers and the Golden Knights are both very familiar with postseason play and have demonstrated themselves as being more than capable of making it to the championship round. This semifinal game is sure to be tight and masterfully played on both sides; a true showcase of the best of the best in NCAA women’s hockey.
The Clarkson Golden Knights face off against the Minnesota Gophers at 8:00pm CST on Friday in St. Charles, MO.