Women’s college hockey: ECAC tournament semifinals and finals preview

The ECAC looks to crown a champion in Potsdam.

It should be a great weekend of hockey in Potsdam, NY.

With four of the top eight teams in the SB Nation Women’s College Division I Poll, this weekend’s ECAC tournament semifinals and finals should not only determine one or more NCAA host sites, but also who from the conference will receive the tournament’s final at-large bid.

During last weekend’s first round, the ECAC did itself (and the rest of the country) a big favor as the top four seeds all advanced. Going into this Saturday’s semifinal play, SB Nation No. 3 Clarkson and No. 4 St. Lawrence look like NCAA tournament locks, with the conference winner nearly assured a first round host bid. No. 7 Cornell appears to have the inside track on an at-large bid, but No. 8 Princeton could jump over the Big Red with a win against Clarkson on Friday.

Here are the semi-final match-ups (seeds in parenthesis):

(1) No. 3 Clarkson (27-4-5 overall, 19-1-2 ECAC) vs. (4) Princeton (20-9-3 overall, 14-6-2 ECAC)

Clarkson made short work of RPI last week in the first round and look the favorites to take the conference crown. The Golden Knights swept the season series against the Tigers, including a 3-1 win against Princeton on February 11.

The Golden Knights boast the nation’s fourth-ranked scoring offense, averaging 3.64 goals per game. Senior forward Cayley Mercer is a Patty Kaz finalist, and she, along with junior defender Savannah Harmon, are finalists for the ECAC Player of the Year.

A well-balanced team, Clarkson has the sixth-ranked scoring defense in the country, allowing only 1.64 goals per game. Junior goaltender Shea Tiley, an ECAC Goaltender of the Year finalist, has been excellent (.924 SV%, 1.70 GAA).

Princeton has displayed tremendous resiliency this year. Starting the regular season 5-6-1, Princeton went 13-2-2 the rest of the way to finish fourth in the conference. The hot streak coincided with the rise of freshman goaltender Steph Neatby, an ECAC Player of the Year, ECAC Rookie of the Year and ECAC Goaltender of Year finalist.

After losing in triple-overtime to Quinnipiac last Friday, the Tigers bounced back to win the next two games, advancing to meet the Golden Knights.

In a year of outstanding goaltending in the ECAC, Neatby is third in the country in goals against average (1.38) to go along with a .953 saves percentage. She backstops the Tigers’ eleventh-ranked scoring defense - Princeton allows just 1.84 goals per game - that also boasts senior defender Kelsey Koelzer, a Patty Kaz finalist and the NWHL first-overall draft pick last June.

Sophomore forward Karlie Lund, along with ECAC Rookie of the Year finalist and reigning ECAC Rookie of the Month Carly Bullock, leads the Princeton offense which averages 3.25 goals per game.

Prediction: Clarkson 3-1

(2) No. 4 St. Lawrence (26-4-4 overall, 16-3-3 ECAC) vs. (3) No. 7 Cornell (19-7-5 overall, 13-4-5 ECAC)

The fourth-ranked Saints rocked Yale last weekend to advance to the semi-finals. St. Lawrence was neck-and-neck with Clarkson for the regular season conference crown all year long before a couple of slip-ups in the final two weekends dropped the Saints off the pace.

During the regular season, St. Lawrence beat Cornell in Canton 5-2, but the teams tied the last weekend of the regular season 2-2 in Ithaca.

St. Lawrence boasts a pair of Patty Kaz finalists - senior forward Brooke Webster and junior forward Kennedy Marchment. The pair are second and third in the country in points scored, respectively, while junior forward Hannah Miller sits tenth. Overall, the Saints have the seventh-ranked scoring offense in the nation, averaging 3.35 goals per game.

The Saints are stingy on defense, allowing just 1.44 goals per game, good enough for a tie for third in the country and second in the ECAC. Sophomore goaltender Grace Harrison (.930 SV%, 1.47 GAA) has been a rock and is a finalist for ECAC Goaltender of the Year. St. Lawrence kills penalties at 89.4%, which is second in the ECAC.

Cornell rode a hot second half to an Ivy crown and third place in the ECAC. Starting the year 6-4-1, the Big Red took off in December and never looked back, finishing the last three months of the season 11-3-4. Overall, four of Cornell’s seven losses have come against teams currently in the SB Nation top four.

The Big Red have played a pair of excellent goaltenders all year, senior Paula Voorheis and sophomore Marlène Boissonnault, but only Voorheis (.942 SV%, 1.66 GAA) got the nod in last weekend’s first round sweep of Colgate. She looks to be the starter against the Saints though Boissonnault looked good against St. Lawrence just two weeks ago.

Cornell struggles to score at times, averaging just 2.92 goals per game. The Big Red are strong on the power play, however, converting at nearly 20 percent. Cornell is alright on the kill (86.9%), but ECAC Rookie of the Year finalist Kristin O’Neill leads the country in short-handed goals (5).

The Big Red will look to keep the match-up with St. Lawrence low scoring; Cornell only allows 1.68 goals per game, good enough for eighth in the country.

Prediction: St. Lawrence 4-2.

Finals Prediction: St. Lawrence 3, Clarkson 2.