Women’s NCAA tournament first round preview: Clarkson vs. Cornell

NCAA tournament draw runs back the ECAC title game.

Who: SB Nation No. 3 Clarkson (29-4-5 overall, 19-1-2 ECAC) vs. No. 7 Cornell (20-8-5 overall, 13-4-5 ECAC)

When: Saturday, March 11, 2017 (3:00 p.m. ET)

Where: Potsdam, NY (Cheel Arena)

How to Watch: Clarkson Athletics TV

The Skinny

It’s tourney time! Thanks to the NCAA’s overwhelming desire to minimize travel costs, second-seeded Clarkson’s reward for a hard-fought season is a replay of an even harder-fought ECAC title game just a week after beating Cornell 1-0. Neat!

For as good of a season as Clarkson has had, the Golden Knights have to be on upset alert this week. Cornell beat Clarkson 2-1 at Cheel back in January, took them to overtime before losing 5-4 on the last day of the regular season, and nearly won last week in the ECAC title game. The Big Red have obviously found the formula for hanging with the Golden Knights and won’t be intimidated going into the tournament.

Clarkson, playing in its fifth consecutive NCAA tournament, is a strong, balanced team. Led by senior forwards Cayley Mercer and Genevieve Bannon, the Golden Knights are fourth in the country in scoring offense, averaging 3.58 goals per game.

ECAC Hockey Best Defenseman Award winner Savannah Harmon and ECAC Goaltender of the Year finalist Shea Tiley (.928 SV%, 1.60 GAA) anchor the Clarkson defense. The Golden Knights allow just 1.55 goals per game, good for fifth nationally.

Cornell has been on a tear since the new year, though two of the Big Red’s four losses in 2017 have come against Clarkson. Cornell likes to ugly up games, and do so to great effect - the Big Red allow just 1.64 goals per game, seventh in the country. For much of the season, Cornell split netminder minutes between senior Paula Voorheis and sophomore Marlène Boissonnault. Voorheis (.944 SV%, 1.59 GAA) got the nod in the semis and finals and should get the start Saturday.

The Big Red have the worst offense of any tournament team. Cornell averages only 2.92 goals per game, the only participant to tally less than three goals a contest. To compound issues, Cornell will be a player short on Saturday - talented freshman Kristin O’Neill, Cornell’s leading goal scorer and the nation’s leader in short-handed goals (5), was suspended by the ECAC for a third period cross-check in the conference title game and is ineligible for the game.

Clarkson Players to Watch

#18 - Cayley Mercer, F

Patty Kaz Top-3 finalist Cayley Mercer leads the nation in goals scored (26) and is tied for second in the country in total points. Mercer, the winner of the ECAC Player of the Year Award and Best Forward Award, had four points in the ECAC tournament, including a goal and an assist in the Golden Knights’ 4-0 win over Princeton in the semifinals.

#14 - Savannah Harmon, D

The Golden Knights’ captain, Harmon has 32 points this year, including nine goals, the most of any defender in the ECAC and second only to Boston College’s Megan Keller for most by a defender in the country. The junior had three assists against Cornell back in February during Clarkson’s 5-4 win over the Big Red in Ithaca.

Cornell Players to Watch

#31 - Paula Voorheis, G

The Big Red are probably going as far as Voorheis takes them this week. After splitting time with Boissonnault most of the season, Voorheis has gotten the reps when they counted, playing the last game of the regular season and all four ECAC tournament games. Voorheis is 0-2 against Clarkson this year - Boissonnault was in goal for the Big Red’s victory back in January.

#9 - Hanna Bunton, F

With O’Neill out, scoring will have to come from somewhere and Bunton is one of only three Cornell players to tally double-digit goals scored this year. Bunton has only scored one goal in her past nine games, but she did grab points in both of Cornell’s first-round series games against Colgate.

The Pick

These teams are as familiar with each other as they come. Cornell has to bus back to Potsdam for the third time in four weeks and this time they do it without their leading goal scorer. It’s been an amazing second half of the season for the Big Red, but they fail to get on the board, losing to the Golden Knights 3-0.

Pick Record for the Season: 10-7-4