Women’s college hockey: WCHA tournament first round preview

The best of the best face off in the first round of the WCHA Final Face-Off.

WCHA players and teams have dominated the headlines this year and more can be expected in the postseason. Minnesota-Duluth has been hot for much of this season, and they already have one win in the tournament thus far over St. Cloud State. Other matchups are a dominant Wisconsin taking on Minnesota State, Ohio State versus North Dakota, and Bemidji State at Minnesota. Three teams that have been ranked for most of the season, and three that have not; will the favorites dominate?

Take a closer look below (seeds in parenthesis).

St. Cloud State (6) at Minnesota Duluth (3)

The first game of this series was played at 3:00pm CST yesterday, and the Bulldogs dominated. Lara Stalder and Demi Crossman each had two goals, and Catherine Daoust had one in the 5-0 win. The Huskies did not win a regular season game against Minnesota-Duluth, and they’ll need a major turnaround to pull off a win today and stay alive in the tournament.

What can the Huskies do to play a competitive game against the Bulldogs? Generating more offense would be a good start. St. Cloud was outshot 44-21 on Thursday afternoon. Maddie Rooney, starting goaltender for Minnesota Duluth, has had an outstanding season, and the best chance to get one past her is to get a lot of shots away. St. Cloud also needs to find confidence in their goaltender. Every Bulldogs player has a good shot and a chance to net a goal every time they shoot the puck. Unless something goes horribly wrong, the Huskies need to keep their goaltender in the game and not switch her out for the backup.

The Huskies have had competitive games against WCHA teams this season, and it is possible that they give the Bulldogs a tough time tomorrow, but more likely than not, Minnesota Duluth will walk away with another win.

Prediction: Bulldogs in two.

Ohio State (5) at North Dakota (4)

When the season started, North Dakota found itself ranked for a couple weeks. It didn’t take long before they dropped off, and weren’t talked about much for the rest of the year. Ohio State can never seem to get much started, but despite a rollercoaster season, they’ve pulled off a few high profile wins.

The Buckeyes made major waves during the second week of the regular season when they managed to tie #1 Wisconsin 1-1 after a hard fought game. In the weeks following, Ohio State found more intra-conference wins against Bemidji State, St. Cloud State, Minnesota State, and North Dakota. In late January, they managed to tie Minnesota 1-1. The Fighting Hawks on the other hand had quite a few wins early in the season, but their momentum dropped off in the last weeks. They did win one of two games versus the Buckeyes last weekend, so this promises to be a good matchup.

Prediction: Ohio State in three.

Bemidji State (7) at Minnesota (2)

The current NCAA champions have had a few unexpected hiccups this season, and one would be a game against the Beavers early in the season. Bemidji State not only beat the Gophers, but they shut them out 2-0. This had many wonder if Minnesota was losing their touch, but they bounced back and continued on to a good season. Despite their seeding, Bemidji State also went on to have a pretty good year. They’ve managed to drum up a lot of offense, even in the games they have lost.

If any of the unranked teams in this tournament could get under Minnesota’s fingernails, it would be Bemidji State. The Gophers’ goaltending has been good but not incredible, and an offense heavy team like the Beavers could find a way to get the puck past Sidney Peters. This series should prove to be fast, hard, and competitive.

Prediction: Minnesota in three.

Minnesota State (8) at Wisconsin (1)

Wisconsin has been ranked No. 1 since before the season began. They have only lost two games in regulation: one against Minnesota and one against Minnesota-Duluth. It is going to take something huge to bring them down in the postseason, and it probably will not be Minnesota State.

The Mavericks have not had a good year to say the least. With only seven wins this season, they have been crushed offensively by most of their opponents. The most goals they’ve scored against Wisconsin in a single game is one. If Minnesota State wants to stay in these games, they need to focus on defense. If they could find a way to slow the Badgers’ offense, they might be able to do something creative to drum up some offense of their own.

Prediction: Wisconsin in two.

Misc. Notes: Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award Finalists

The top-10 finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award were announced today, and five of those players play in the WCHA. Two are from Wisconsin, goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens, and forwarded Annie Pankowski. Minnesota also has two finalists, forwards Kelly Pannek and Sarah Potomak. Minnesota Duluth’s Lara Stalder rounds out the top five, adding another honor to her already expansive list.