NCAA: Frozen Four Down to Two After Semifinal Round

The top four teams in the NCAA faced off in Durham on Friday, and delivered in two of the best games of the year.

NCAA: Frozen Four Down to Two  After Semifinal Round
Wisconsin and Colgate face off for the opening puck drop at center ice. (Photo featured on @BadgerWHockey on X/formerlyTwitter)

DURHAM, N.H — The second highest attended NCAA semifinal in history did not disappoint Friday evening, as the top four teams in the nation squared off at the University of New Hampshire's Whittemore Center in Durham. Let’s take a look at all the action, before the championship trophy is handed out on Sunday. 

Game 1: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Clarkson 

Final Score: Buckeyes 4, Golden Knights 1 

For a third straight season, Ohio State has a spot in the national championship game. Clarkson, though, did not make their path to the final easy. 

The Golden Knights came out in the first with a spring in their step, and were able to score the opening goal just 2:25 into regulation thanks to senior Anne Cherkowski. The forward, after a spin-o-rama move out front, slipped the puck past senior netminder Raygan Kirk’s outstretched left skate and into the back of the net. 

From there, to put it bluntly, the Buckeyes stifled any momentum Clarkson had from opening the scoring. By the end of the first period OSU led the shot count 24-5, and had another 11 opportunities blocked by the Knights. They notched their own goal thanks to senior forward Makenna Webster, who took advantage of an inopportune defensive zone turnover to bury the puck with six minutes left in the period.  

Defense was never going to be a problem for Clarkson. Overall this season they’ve allowed on average just 1.2 goals against per game. If there was anything to be wary of, it was the offense – of the four teams in Durham, they averaged the lowest goals per game with 3.4. They were able to capitalize early thanks to the brilliant play in front of Kirk, but otherwise they couldn’t break the puck out of the zone long enough to convert again in the first. 

In the middle period, Clarkson was able to maintain puck possession for long stretches of time. Kirk was forced to make 11 saves throughout the course of the period, though her defense in front of her kept the Knights to the perimeter and limited the high danger chances, aside from their lone tally scored right on the doorstep.

On the opposite end, the Buckeyes were largely kept off the shot chart until the last five minutes where they really turned on the jets, but senior goaltender Michelle Pasiechnyk stood tall against the onslaught. 

A similar story followed in the final frame, but this time OSU capitalized on any mistake Clarkson made and found the back of the net three more times. Sophomore forward Sloane Matthews scored the eventual game winner, before NCAA Rookie of the Year Joy Dunne notched her 23rd of the season to extend the lead to 3-1. Graduate student defender Hadley Hartmetz secured the game with an empty-netter 66 seconds after that. 

“It’s tough,” said Clarkson head coach Matt Desrosiers on the final result. “I thought we played a pretty good game.” 

OSU head coach Nadine Muzerall, after her team was kept off the score sheet for so long, credited the squad's ability to stick to their game plan for their eventual success. 

“We thought [Clarkson] did a very good job of transitioning out of their d-zone quickly,” she said. “But we had faith in the girls… We believed in each other, and we just had to change the mindset of not playing afraid to lose and play to win and represent all the work that they had all year.”

The loss ends Clarkson’s season just short of their first national title game berth since 2018. After sticking in Friday’s game for so long, and just missing on some key chances, a loss like this stings – a point Desrosiers made sure to touch on post-game. 

“We had a few opportunities right in the slot that we weren't able to capitalize on, a couple of bounces too,” he said. “So there's definitely opportunities there for us to take that game and, you know, to lose it towards the end of the third period, that’s obviously difficult.”

The clear standout for the Knights was Pasiechnyk. The National Goaltender of the Year was rock solid all afternoon, even with three goals against. In total she saved 49 shots in regulation, her second highest mark of the season (and of her career) behind last weekend's quadruple-overtime win of 61. 

“[Pasiechnyk’s] play allows everyone in front of her to play a certain way and play with a lot of confidence and that's what you need, especially in games like this,” Desrosiers said. “To know that you have a goaltender like Michelle behind you, that's gonna be able to make those big saves like she has time and time again, you know – it just gives your team a ton of confidence to play with.”

For the victors, the win marks the 34th of the season for the Buckeyes, the highest win total for a single season in program history. But they still have one game left to win – and it’s the biggest of the year. 

“There's always some, like you mentioned, milestones each year and I'm excited for more,” Muzerall said. “At the end of the day, they're great little milestones to motivate you and have growth. But at the same time, the end goal is to win it all. And it’s gonna be a dog fight.” 

Game Two: No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 3 Colgate 

Final Score: Badgers 3, Raiders 1

The second semifinal started as a much harder, back-and-forth matchup than the one seen earlier in the afternoon. Colgate and Wisconsin matched each other's speed and skill well, and it showed for the full 60 minutes. 

Neither side was afraid to throw a hard check hit or there, which did come back to bite them. Three penalties were called by the end of the first period, with Colgate taking two – but the NCAA's second-best penalty kill stood strong both times.

The Badgers jumped out to the 1-0 lead halfway through the frame, thanks to sophomore Kirsten Simms firing a shot from the middle lane past senior netminder Kayle Osborne. 

“I didn't have a lot of time and I just kind of thought ‘shot’ in that moment because I knew the D was cheating over,” said Simms, talking through the goal post-game. “It was just me and the goalie.” 

Credit to Colgate, they did not back down throughout the game. By the end of the night they’d outshot the Badgers 26-21, even after getting turned away for nearly 58 straight minutes before they were able to convert. For a substantial period of time in the second period, Wisconsin clung to their one-goal lead while getting outplayed offensively.

“It was a great hockey game,” Colgate head coach Greg Fargo said. “I think the more time goes on, the more we'll look back and be proud of our effort tonight.” 

What made the difference was the blocked shots and the defensive pressure from the Badgers. 

“Our D-zone was super solid from start to finish,” Simms said. “From blocking shots and getting the puck out just little chips and stuff.” 

Through 60 minutes, the team blocked a combined 24 shots from freshman goaltender Ava McNaughton’s net. Seniors Britta Curl and Chayla Edwards tied for the lead with four blocks apiece. 

“The thing as a team you have to focus in on is, you know, doing things that are gonna help you keep the puck out of the net,” said Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson. “Obviously tonight, we blocked a lot of shots and I give the players a lot of credit for doing that because it's not an easy job.” 

The blocked shots were especially important after the Raiders received a 5-on-3 power play opportunity almost halfway through the period. Colgate’s power play, which had been operating at a 35.4 percent clip all season, went 0-for-5 on Friday, including on the two-skater advantage. 

“Looking back on [the 5-on-3], it was a key moment of the game where we wish we could have got at least one there to tie it up," Fargo said. "But I thought Wisconsin did a really good job of blocking shots all night and that was a key both on the power play and 5-on-5. 

“Had we been able to get one there, I think it would have been different,” he added. 

The loss signals the end of the NCAA careers for multiple players at Colgate, including Danielle Serdachny, one of the biggest difference makers at the collegiate level throughout her five seasons. After going down hard thanks to a hit in the third period, the Raiders’ captain had to leave the bench for a few minutes, but showed her resilience and returned before the end of the game.

“I feel like Danielle and I, for a long time, we kind of have this relationship on the bench where it's like I just kinda give her a look and say, ‘hey, you good?’, and it's a quick ‘yup’ and she'll be right back out there,” Fargo said. “Even when you see her go down and come off holding her, her shoulder, you know, she's gonna find a way to go back on the ice… It's just indicative of who she is as a person, how much she cares about her team and how much she wants to help the team succeed.” 

For Wisconsin, Sunday will be the fourth time in five tournaments in which they will play in the final game of the year. The reigning national champions have been a dominant force all season, and Sunday’s game will showcase the two best squads of 2023-24. It doesn’t hurt they’ve played each other five times so far this season – the most recent being the Badgers 6-3 victory in the WCHA championship game just two weeks ago. 

“They know us well,” Johnson said. “We know them well and, you know, it's gonna be a real good championship game.”

How to Watch

No. 1 Ohio State will face off against No. 2 Wisconsin at 4 PM on Sunday in Durham. Full coverage of the game will be streamed on ESPNU. 

(ED: A previous version of this story indicated Colgate led the nation in penalty killing percentage. We have corrected this error.)