NCAA Frozen Four: Previewing the Field

It's down to the final four, and arguably the best four teams all year. Will we see a newcomer win, or the continuation of a dynasty?

NCAA Frozen Four: Previewing the Field
The Clarkson women's hockey team celebrates after Dominique Petrie's quadruple-OT game-winner against Minnesota in the NCAA quarterfinals on March 16. Clarkson is one of four teams left standing in this upcoming weekend's Frozen Four in Durham, N.H. (Photo by Schuyler Meyer as featured @ClarksonWHockey on X/formerly Twitter)

It's finally that time, folks – the showdown of four of the best schools NCAA Division I has to offer in the way of women's hockey.

The top two teams from each of (arguably) the top two conferences in the nation will show down with each other starting March 22 in Durham, N.H., with the championship set for March 24. For two teams, it's the chance to repeat last season's epic final showdown; for the other two, it's an opportunity to disrupt the storyline, with one potentially going all the way to win their first-ever title.

A Potential Rematch: Buckeyes, Badgers Repeating Success

Those first two teams, Ohio State and Wisconsin, are once again the top two nationally ranked, and going seeds 1 and 2 respectively means there is definitely a chance for the Buckeyes to enact some revenge on the reigning champion Badgers. Both these teams have swapped the first and second spots all year, with Ohio State finally grasping the top ranking for good with a couple of key wins against their conference rivals.

The top-seeded team in the nation is a well-oiled machine at this point. Under head coach Nadine Muzerall, the Buckeyes have evolved into a well-rounded team, with the highest-producing offense in the country at over 5 goals per game while maintaining a formidable team defense. They've only benefitted from gaining transfers Hannah Bilka and Cayla Barnes out of Boston College as well – both have fit right into the mix, with Bilka leading the team and Barnes ranked sixth in overall points on the roster. The Buckeyes are certainly primed to win what would be just their second title overall, as a late but lethal bloomer within the WCHA's elite squads.

The story is much the same on the Wisconsin side of the coin. Head coach and hockey legend Mark Johnson has coached the Badgers to another successful year, with a complete roster from top to bottom and their top two scorers (Kirsten Simms and Casey O'Brien) in the final running for the Patty Kazmaier Award. The Badgers have only lost 5 games this year and, after losing 3 games to them in the regular season, were all too happy to beat Ohio State in the WCHA championship. If they take it all once again, it'll be an unbelievable eighth championship ring for them.

The Upstart & The Rebirth: Raiders, Golden Knights Looking to Spoil

Colgate and Clarkson, meanwhile, represent a version of ECAC Hockey that has slowly and surely earned more representation in the tournament, particularly this season where they represented nearly half of the teams to make the first round. The Raiders have been dominant all year, winning both the regular season title and the ECAC championship. But the Golden Knights have never been far behind; in fact, Clarkson was able to beat Colgate several times this year, beating them in the national polls as well on their way to runners-up in the ECAC.

Both teams are similar on the back end, with stellar bluelines and talented netminders, but Colgate's real strength is on offense. They've forced 4.7 goals per game and have a great mix of upperclassmen (Danielle Serdachny, Kristýna Kaltounková) and younger players (Emma Pais, Elyssa Biederman) contributing. In addition, they've got one of, if not the best power play in the nation at 35 percent accuracy. If they can pick off Wisconsin, they'll have made it to the Frozen Four for just the second time in their D1 history, their first run being in 2017-2018 (where they lost to, who else, Clarkson). If they win it all, it'll be an historic first-ever national championship – and they may just be ready for it.

For the Golden Knights' part, they narrowly lost to Colgate in the final and aren't as prolific on the front end, but are just as dangerous if given time and space. Their top two scorers, Nicole Gosling and Haley Winn, are both defenders, and goalie Michelle Pasiechnyk is once again a finalist for Goaltender of the Year with statistically her best season-long performance to date (1.29 GAA, .945 save percentage). If anyone can be a difference-maker in any of these matchups, it's Pasiechnyk, who made an unbelievable 61-save effort to compel the Knights past Minnesota in quadruple OT – yes, four OTs – in the quarterfinals last weekend. The run the Knights have enjoyed is reminiscent of where they had been in the 2010s, where they were last dominant as the only non-WCHA school to have a national championship under their belt (they have three, in fact – 2014, 2017, and 2018).

The Storylines Are Much the Same

As you've probably gathered by now, because you're very smart, all four of these teams have lots in common – amazing regular-season records, bitter conference rivals, and rosters stacked with more awards and National Team experience than you can shake a flag at. These have been the four best teams all year in my opinion, and so it's not surprising they're all about to duke it out for the top honor. I think we can expect three amazing games from this weekend, whatever the outcomes are – conference rivals or not in the final.

How to Watch

The semifinals will be streamed live on ESPN+ Friday, March 22, at 4 and 7:30 p.m. respectively. The championship game will be aired on ESPNU Sunday, March 24, at 4 p.m.