The Gopher women's hockey team found out Sunday evening that they will host the Princeton Tigers in the NCAA Quarterfinals. The Gophers and Tigers will play next Saturday at 4:00 at Ridder Arena. The winner will advance to the NCAA Frozen Four in Durham, New Hampshire where the #3 overall seeded Gophers will most likely have another date with the #2 overall seed Wisconsin Badgers in the NCAA semi-finals assuming both seeded teams advance.
The Gophers lost 1-0 to the Badgers in the WCHA Frozen Face-off Championship Game at Ridder on Sunday afternoon. Minnesota had several great chances but could not get the puck past WCHA Player of the Year and Patty Kazmaier Award Top 3 Finalist Ann-Renee Desbiens. It was a bit of redemption for Desbiens who played her worst two games of the season two weeks ago in the regular season finale series against the Gophers. Dani Camaranesi had a great look to tie the game with just under five minutes left in the third period, but Desbiens made a great pad save stretching out across her goal crease to deny the potential game-tying goal. The Badgers would go on the celebrate their second consecutive Frozen face-off Championship, and their first win over the Gophers at Ridder Arena since March 5, 2011.
Earlier in the day, it appeared the Gophers would end up with a match-up against Hockey East runner-up Northeastern, as the Gophers were #3 in the pairwise, Northeastern was #6. Fairly straight-forward...right? Yeah...this is the NCAA we are talking about. Here us the one key sentence in the NCAA's Women's Hockey Handbook that the NCAA decided to take very literally this season:
1. The top four teams according to the selection criteria will be seeded 1-4 at the time of the selection call. The remaining four teams will be placed in the bracket based on relative strength as long as these pairings do not result in additional flights. These teams will not be reseeded and the committee will not change the bracket once the tournament has begun.
2. Assuming it meets the committee’s hosting criteria, the highest seeded team will be given the opportunity to host the quarterfinal game.
Pairings in the quarterfinal round shall be based primarily on the teams’ geographical proximity to one another, regardless of their region, in order to avoid air travel in quarterfinal-round games whenever possible. Teams’ relative strength, according to the committee’s selection criteria, shall be considered when establishing pairings if such pairings do not result in air travel that otherwise could be avoided.
So Boston College was seeded #1, the Badgers #2, Gophers #3, and Quinnipiac #4. The general assumption would be that since Mercyhurst would need to fly to any potential opponent, they would fly to Madison any play the Badgers since any of the remaining eastern teams could bus to Boston College. And that did occur as the Lakers will play the Badgers in a quarterfinal next Saturday. The assumption then would be to place the next lowest team in the pairwise at Boston College, which would have been Princeton. However, this is where statement #2 comes in.
Instead of bussing Princeton to Boston, and having to pay for additional hotel costs, the committee decided to instead put the 6th ranked team in the pairwise, Northeastern up against the Eagles. What was a bus trip from New Jersey to Boston now becomes a bus trip from....Boston to Boston. Doing that meant that the #7 ranked team in the pairwise, Princeton would then travel to the next seeded team, which is the Gophers. Finally #5 Clarkson will to to Quinnipiac to play the Bobcats.
So...in deciding to keep costs as low as possible, the #1 seed now plays a conference opponent ranked #6, and the #3 Gophers get #7 Princeton. Four games, two conference rematches in the NCAA Quarterfinals. Ew. But while not great for the sport, it does make a much easier match-up for the Gophers.
The Tigers finished third in the ECAC and lost in a quarterfinal series to St. Lawrence. The Gophers and Tigers had two common opponents this season in Yale and Penn State, and both teams went 4-0 against them. Minnesota has dominated previous games with the Tigers, holding an 8-1-1 all-time record, including knocking Princeton out of their only other NCAA Tournament in 2006.
The Tigers are led in scoring by freshman Karlie Lund with 39 points. Lund will be looking to make an impact with a large rooting section in the Ridder Arena crowd as she is from Eden Prairie, and played high school hockey at Blake. the Tiger's goaltender is Senior Kimberly Newell who enters the NCAA Tournament with a 18-7-2 record, a 1.72 goals against average, and a .941 save percentage.
If the Gophers get past Princeton, they will most likely see a very familiar foe in the semi-finals. If the Gophers and Badgers do match up again in the semi-finals, it will be the 6th game this season between the two teams, and the third year in a row where one team would end another;s season in the NCAA Semifinals. It has been Minnesota doing the ending the previous two years, and one can only hope they can make it three in a row.
A full preview of the Gophers game against the Tigers will appear later in the week here at The Daily Gopher.