The Gopher Women's Hockey team will enter this weekend's WCHA Final Faceoff trying to be the first team in history to win it four consecutive seasons. The Gophers will also be trying to solidify themselves as the #1 team in the pairwise and garner the #1 overall NCAA seed when they are announced Sunday night.
The #2 ranked Gophers will play #10 Bemidji State in the first semi-final in Grand Forks Saturday afternoon. The Gophers easily advanced to the Frozen Faceoff after a sweep of Minnesota-State Mankato at Ridder Arena last weekend. Bemidji State has a much tougher route upsetting #4 seed UMD on their home ice in three games. The Gophers have a 2-1-1 record against the Beavers this season, and a lot of the credit has to go to Bemidji State goalie Brittini Mowat who was named to the All-WCHA First Team on Wednesday. Mowat has an 18-12-1 record with a 1.66 goals against average this season. She has six shutouts on the season, one coming in the Beavers win at Ridder Arena in November. The Gophers went to Bemidji and swept the Beavers in February. Bemidji State is making just its second ever appearance in the WCHA Final Faceoff. They lost in the semifinals in 2010.
The Gophers are the obvious favorites in the tournament, and a lot of that has to do with their offense. Hannah Brandt who was named the WCHA Player of the Year for the second consecutive season led the WCHA in pretty much every offensive statistic, and her linemate Dani Cameranesi was second. The Gophers also have great offensive and defensive leadership on the blue line thanks to two time WCHA Defensive Player of the Year Rachel Ramsey and All-WCHA First Team member Lee Stecklein.
The late semifinal on Saturday pits #3 Wisconsin against #8 North Dakota. The Badgers will be trying to get over the UND hump as they have lost in the semifinals to them the last two years. Wisconsin is safely in the NCAA Tournament, however North Dakota is playing for their lives on their home ice. It appears when looking at the pairwise that the only way that UND makes the NCAA Tournament is by winning the WCHA Final Faceoff. If this happens, due to the NCAA's rules for assigning pairings based upon geography, UND would come to Ridder Arena for a Quarterfinal matchup against the Gophers. While Gopher players and coaches might not say publicly that they would like to avoid this, just seeing what happened in 2013 when UND and the Gophers went to three overtimes before the Gophers finally won tells you all you need to know.
The Gophers have had success against both the Badgers and North Dakota this season. They are 3-0-1 against Wisconsin, continuing an unbeaten streak against Wisconsin that has now extended to 15 games. In fact, no member of the Gophers who is not a senior has ever lost to Wisconsin. The Gophers are 3-1 this season against UND, sweeping at home and splitting a series in Grand Forks. The reason both North Dakota and Wisconsin are so dangerous are their goalies Shelby Amsley-Benzie for UND and Ann-Renee Desbiens for Wisconsin. Both SAB and ARD are near the top of the nations ranks in goals against average and save percentage.Amsley-Benzie leads the nation in save percentage at .954, is 4th in goals against average at 1.145 and is fifth in shutouts at nine. Desbiens is sixth in save percentage at .941, third in GAA at 1.139 and second in the nation in shutouts with 13. Both can steal a game for you, and will play huge roles this weekend.
The action gets underway Saturday at 2:00 for the Gophers. The Badgers and North Dakota will square off at 5:00 in the second semifinal. The two winners will come back Sunday afternoon at 1:00 to determine who will get the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA Tournament selection show will air live on NCAA.com at 6:00 PM Sunday night.
How to watch?
TV: Midco Sports in Northern MN and North Dakota
Live Stream: Fast Hockey.com (FREE!!)
Radio: Gopher games will air on 105 FM The Ticket
Good luck to the Gophers. We will have a full recap and tell you who Minnesota will host in the NCAA Quarterfinals on Monday!