The Gopher Women’s hockey team is back in the NCAA Frozen Four for the sixth consecutive season. To get to their sixth consecutive NCAA Championship game, the Gophers will have to get past the team that gave Minnesota their only blip in an otherwise perfect record in Frozen Fours since 2012—the Clarkson Golden Knights. Clarkson defeated Minnesota 5-4 in the 2014 NCAA Championship Game splitting a pair of back to back title runs. The Gophers still have a chance this season to become only the second women’s hockey team ever to win three titles in row. But they need to get past Clarkson first before they can worry about that.
The Gophers got to the Frozen Four after upsetting #3 seed UMD on their home ice 1-0 last Saturday. Patti Marshall scored the only goal of the game on a gorgeous pass from All-American Kelly Pannek, and Gopher goalie Sidney Peters stood tall for the shutout to send Minnesota to St. Charles, Missouri.
Clarkson got an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament as the champion of the ECAC. They then defeated conference foe Cornell 3-1 in a rematch of the ECAC Championship game last weekend. Sophomore Loren Gabel scored all three goals for the Golden Knights, and goaltender Shea Tilly made 22 saves to send Clarkson back to their second consecutive Frozen Four.
The Golden Knights come into the Frozen Four with a record of 30-4-5. They are currently riding a nine game winning streak coming into Friday’s semifinal. The #2 seeded Golden Knights are led by senior forward Cayley Mercer. The Top 3 Patty Kazmaier Award Finalist was named the ECAC Player of the Year. She leads the nation in goals with 28 and has 58 total points on the season. She is the second leading goal scorer in Clarkson history. She is also the sister of Carly Mercer, the captain of the 2014 team that defeated Minnesota.
Loren Gabel is second on the Clarkson team in goals with 21, and has 40 points on the season. Her 21 goals is the most ever by a sophomore in Clarkson history breaking the record set by Jamie Lee Rattray—the 2014 Patty Kaz winner.
Genevieve Bannon is second on the team in points with 48 on the season including a team high 34 assists. She is a co-captain with Mercer. She is the fifth all-time leading scorer in Golden Knight history.
The Golden Knights best defenseman is Savanah Harmon. A Top 10 Patty Kazmaier Award Finalist, Harmon was named the ECAC best Defenseman. She is third in the country in points from a defenseman with 33.
In goal Clarkson is led by Shea Tilly. She has given up just four goals on 102 shots in postseason play. She recorded a 1.58 goals against average and a .929 save percentage on the season.
As a team, the Golden Knights will be a tough matchup for the Gophers. They are the nation’s second highest scoring team averaging 3.56 goals per game, and are the third stingiest team in the country giving up only 1.54 goals per game. Minnesota averages 3.18 goals per game, and gives up 1.71. One place where Minnesota will need to take advantage will be the power play. Clarkson averages almost four more penalty minutes per game than the Gophers, and Minnesota has the #2 power play in the country at 23.8%. Meanwhile, Clarkson only kills penalties at an 87.7% rate. Minnesota is better when they are shorthanded as well, killing 90.1% of their opponents power play chances, while Clarkson scores on 16.7% of their opportunities.
The Gophers will need to try and get scoring from their top line of Kelly Pannek, Dani Camaranesi and Sarah Potomak. Arguably the most dangerous line in the country, all three women can score at will, and Pannek led the nation in points with 61. Camaranesi was leading the nation in goals before suffering a pair of injuries that kept her out for most of the second half of the season before returning two weeks ago. However, as Minnesota has shown in other NCAA appearances, and just last weekend, it can take a goal from an unusual source to let a team advance.
A big game from a good goalie can let a team advance as well. Gopher goalie Sydney Peters is getting hot at the right time. She shut out UMD last weekend after holding them to two goals in the Gophers double overtime loss in the WCHA Tournament. Peters only gave up one goal to a potent Wisconsin offense in the last regular season series between the two teams. She has waited a long time for her shot to be in the spotlight, and is taking the most of it as Nicole Hasse of the Victory Press showcases in this great piece on Peters.
Most importantly, the Gophers have the intangibles coming into the Frozen Four. Minnesota has won four of the last five NCAA Titles, with the lone exception coming via the Golden Knights defeating Minnesota in 2014. Minnesota is 5-1 all-time against Clarkson and 1-1 in NCAA Tournament play after winning 3-2 in overtime in the 2010 Quarterfinals. The Gopher players and coaches have been here before, and know what routines work and how to get ready to play.
The Gophers know all four teams in the Frozen Four well—in fact its the exact four teams as a year ago. The other semifinal pits last year’s runner up Boston College against Wisconsin. The Badgers are happy to finally have ended up on the other side of the bracket as the Gophers who have ended their season in the NCAA Semifinals the last three years. Minnesota also defeated the Badgers for their title in 2012. Wisconsin is the outright favorite to take home the crown this season, but if they see the Gophers in the final—anything goes. Minnesota has been the one team that Ann-Renee Desbiens has never dominated, and the Gophers have the psychological edge. But, the Gophers need to get past the Golden Knights first..a task that will not be easy.
HOW TO WATCH
NCAA FROZEN FOUR— Family Arena—St. Charles, Missouri
When: 5:00 PM
Stream: NCAA.com (Free)
Minnesota Golden Gophers vs Clarkson Golden Knights
When: 8:00 PM
Stream: NCAA.com (Free)
Audio: Free Stream