The University of Minnesota Women's Hockey team will begin their playoff push this weekend at home against Minnesota State-Mankato trying to win a fourth consecutive WCHA Final Faceoff Championship and third NCAA Championship in four years.
The Gophers are the regular season WCHA Champions, and will play a best-of-three series against MSU-Mankato at Ridder Arena. The Gophers should have no trouble with the Mavericks who went 1-26-1 this season in the WCHA. The Gophers went 4-0 this season against Minnesota State, winning 5-1 and 4-0 in November and 7-3 and 7-1 wins in January both in home and home series. The Gophers hold a 69-3-3 record all time against the Mavericks.
One reason why the Gophers are flying so high into the playoffs has been the play of their defensemen. The Gophers' D corps lead the nation in scoring, averaging 3.43 points per game. Rachel Ramsey leads the WCHA and ranks third in the nation with 0.89 points per game, and Milica McMillen is third in the WCHA and seventh in the nation with 0.78 points per game. The Gophers are fourth in the nation as a team giving up on average 1.2 goals per game, so not only can the Gophers defensemen score, but they can play defense as well.
Of course when you are also second in the nation averaging 4.46 goals per game, you have to be getting great output from your forwards as well. Hannah Brandt leads the WCHA and is second in the nation with 62 points. Right behind Brandt is Dani Cameranesi who is second in the WCHA in goals assists and points with 21, 34,and 55 respectively. Those totals are good enough for 7th in the nation in goals, third in the nation in assists, and fourth overall in total points. Not too shabby. The Gophers are also getting production from their second line as well. Kelly Pannek has 39 points on the year for the Gophers wile senior co-captain Rachael Bona has 35.
The Gophers have a 12-game home unbeaten streak, which is good considering five of their next seven potential games will be in the cozy confines of Ridder Arena. Assuming the Gophers sweep the Mavericks as would be expected, they will advance to the WCHA Final Faceoff next weekend in Grand Forks. The semi-finals will be played on Friday, and the Championship game on Saturday afternoon. The Gophers have won three consecutive Final Faceoff titles, and have six total championship of the 15 that have ever been played. In fact, only Minnesota, Wisconsin and UMD have ever won a Final Faceoff championship.
After the WCHA playoffs, will be the NCAA Tournament. From there it is home-ice advantage the rest of the way. The Gophers have locked up a top two seed, and will host a home game the first weekend of the tournament. Win that game and the Gophers will play at home for the NCAA Frozen Four just like in 2013 when Minnesota took home the title.
Their quest to add to their list of championships begins Friday night. The Gophers and Mavericks will face-off at 7:00 Friday, and then come back for game 2 of the best-of-three series at 4:00 Saturday afternoon. If Mankato can somehow pull an epic upset on wither Friday or Saturday, game three would be Sunday at 4:00.
The Rest of the WCHA Playoff First Round matchups look like this. (My prediction in parentheses)
#8 Minnesota State-Mankato at #1 Minnesota (Gophers sweep 2-0)
#7 St. Cloud State at #2 Wisconsin (Badgers sweep 2-0)
#6 Ohio State at #3 North Dakota (North Dakota wins 2-1)
#5 Bemidji State at #4 UMD (Bemidji wins 2-1)
Good luck to the Gophers this weekend! I will be in attendance for Saturday afternoon's game, so feel free to follow me on twitter at @yorka1982 for live updates.