The University of Minnesota's Women's Hockey Team's quest for a third national championship in four years begins Saturday at Ridder Arena as the #1 seeded Gophers will host #8 Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in a NCAA Quarterfinal. The winner will advance to the NCAA Women's Frozen Four held next weekend back at Ridder Arena.
The Gophers earned the #1 seed even with a 1-0 loss to Bemidji State in the WCHA semifinals last weekend. Minnesota has only three losses on the season, two coming to Bemidji State, and the other to North Dakota. Thus, the Gophers were very happy to see Wisconsin eliminate both teams from NCAA Tournament contention by winning the WCHA Final Faceoff last Sunday over the Beavers. Had either Bemidji or UND won the WCHA Tournament, they would e playing the Gophers on Saturday. Instead, the Gophers get a RIT team who was the sixth seed in the CHA Tournament but upset top-seeded Mercyhust and Syracusde to earn the first automatic bid for the CHA.
The Gophers and RIT have never faced one another. In fact, RIT is in just their third year of Division I, having jumped up after winning the D3 title in 2012. While it is the NCAA Tournament, and you can't afford to take any team lightly, the Gophers do have by far the easiest route to the Frozen Four. RIT has a record of 15-18-5 on the season, The Tigers went a total of 1-6-1 against teams the Gophers have played this season. Minnesota's record against those common opponents? 6-1 with the only loss to North Dakota. RIT's only victory over a common opponent came in one of the Tigers four games against Penn State. The Gophers defeated Penn State 8-0 in their first game of the season. Definite advantage, Minnesota.
RIT is strongest playing a tight defensive game of hockey. The Gophers have had some struggles against a similar team in Bemidji State this season, but from all that can bee seen the Beavers are better than RIT. The Tigers are led by senior goalie and CHA MVP Ali Binnington. Binnington has a 94 % save percentage and a1.69 goals against average. Both are impressive numbers, but the strength of schedule that the Tigers see is not even remotely close to what the Gophers have played. RIT has the #13 ranked defense in the country. Meanwhile, the Gophers have are ranked #3, and have played and defeated the #1, #5, #7, #9 and #11 ranked defenses in the country this season. Minnesota definitely has a scoring advantage with Hannah Brandt and Dani Cameranesi being the #2 and #4 scorers in the nation this season. The Gophers Have the #2 offense in the country, meanwhile Mercyhurst who won the CHA is ranked #11.
The Gophers also have a stud goalie i Amanda Leveille. In fact, while Binnington is ranked #8 in the nation in save percentage, and 11th in goals against average, Leveille is even better. She is #2 in the nation in save percentage and 4th in GAA. Advantage Minnesota.
Offensively, the Tigers have a fairly balanced scoring attack. Lindsey Gregg leads the team with 18 points. Celeste Brown leads the Tigers with 10 goals. But, RIT is not an offensive team. They have only the 28th ranked offense in the nation, averaging 1.78 goals per game. If Minnesota can score a few goals early in the first period, this one could be over before it even starts.
The Gophers also have a HUGE edge on special teams. The Gophers have the #1 ranked power-play in the nation at just over 30%. RIT is dead last in the nation with just a 7.19% success rate on the season. Good luck scoring on the Gophers who have the #8 penalty Kill at just under 89%. RIT is 17th at just over 84%. If RIT takes a few early penalties, this could get ugly quickly.
As you can see, Minnesota has a definite edge in this match-up, and should win easily and advance to the Frozen Four. We all know that doesn't always happen in March, however. But if Minnesota does not win and advance, this will be one of the biggest upsets in women's college hockey history. You thought Holy Cross was bad.....this would be 10x worse.
Three other NCAA Quarterfinals will be played just prior to/ at the same time as the MInnesota/RIT game on Saturday. They are:
Noon CST: #7 Clarkson @ #2 Boston College--The Green Knights defeated the Gophers in the NCAA Championship game last season and defeated Boston College in the quarterfinals to get there. The Eagles have been the #1 ranked team for most of the season, but lost to Boston University in the Hockey East Championship game last weekend. It should be a very good game, but I see BC puling out a tight one winning 5-3.
2:00 PM CST #5 Boston University @ #4 Wisconsin--The winner of this game will matchup in the Frozen Four with the Minnesota/RIT winner, and you can be sure that both Gopher and Badgers fans want to see another classic MN/WI matchup. BU won the Hockey East Championship last weekend on the shoulders of Marie-Phillip Poulin, Canadian Hockey Hero, and a finalist along with Alex Carpenter and the Gopher's Brandt for the Patty Kazmaier award given to college hockey's best female player. BU is a formidable threat to the Badgers, but Wisconsin is very good at home, and have a great goaltender in Ann-Renee Desbiens. Both teams are coming in on a roll but I see the Badgers pulling out an OT squeaker, 4-3.
3:00 CST #6 Quinnipiac @ #3 Harvard-- These two ECAC rivals will meet again, a week after Harvard defeated QU 2-1 in OT in the ECAC semifinals. In face, Harvard has won 2-1 over Quinnipiac three times this season. Lets just go with that for the hell of it.
he Gophers will know by the middle of their game on Saturday who else has made it to the Frozen Four. Hopefully they also will take care of business, and make one hell of an atmosphere at Ridder Arena. I will be live from Ridder Saturday afternoon, so follow the game thread here, and follow me on twitter for live updates!
#8 RIT @ #1 Minnesota
What: NCAA Quarterfinal
Where: Ridder Arena, Minneapolis, MInnesota
When: 4:00 PM Saturday
Live Video: FREE at Gophersports.com
Live Audio: 105.1 FM in the Twin Cities or stream free HERE
Live Stats: HERE