The Gopher Women’s Hockey Team will host the 2017 WCHA Frozen Face-off this weekend at Ridder Arena, but will be far from the favorites to take home the title. The nationally fifth ranked Gophers are the #2 seed and will take on #2 nationally, but #3 seed UMD at 5:07 on Saturday. #1 Wisconsin takes on North Dakota in the first semi-final at 2:07.
The Gophers are considerable underdogs coming into the tournament. Minnesota was swept by UMD in Duluth in January, and is coming off of a two-tie performance against the Badgers two weekends ago. Minnesota struggled in their first round matchup against Bemidji State last weekend, going to a third and deciding game Sunday afternoon before finally ending the Beavers season 3-2. If Minnesota struggles again this weekend, it will be the last of Ridder Arena they see until the fall.
The Gophers are currently ranked #5 in the Pairwise rankings. The top four teams will get home ice for the NCAA Quarterfinals next weekend. The Gophers can still climb into the top 4, but it will not be easy. Based upon playing with multiple scenarios on BC Interuption’s pairwise predictor the only way that Minnesota jumps back up into the top four teams is by winning the Final face-off and defeating both UMD and Wisconsin. Even one loss to either team and Minnesota is guaranteed a road game next weekend. The worse or better part depending on your point of view is that due to the NCAA seeding and travel guidelines, we all ready know that if Minnesota has to play a road game it will be at UMD. The NCAA will bus Minnesota to the lowest seeded home team within 500 miles if possible...so with Wisconsin locked into the #1 overall seed it would mean the Gophers and Bulldogs would meet up for the second weekend in a row, and for the sixth time this season.
Minnesota and UMD split the season series this year 2-2. The Gophers swept a series at Ridder by 4-3 and 3-2 scores in October, while UMD returned the favor in Duluth in January by 5-3 and 3-2 scores. Minnesota has struggled at times in the second half of the season after losing senior Dani Camaranesi to an injury in December. Even though she has not played in the second half of the season she still finished 8th in the WCHA in scoring. Meanwhile, UMD has looked great in the second half of the year behind WCHA Player of the Year Laura Stalder. Goaltender Maddie Rooney has started all 34 games for the Bulldogs, and has excelled finishing the regular season with a 1.65 goals against average and a 94% save percentage.
Minnesota will need to get a big performance out of their top line. Kelley Pannek still leads the nation in scoring with 60 points, and Sarah Potomak is 8th in the nation with 1.43 points per game. The Gophers have the top two scoring defensemen in the WCHA in seniors Lee Stecklein and Megan Wolfe and will need both to make some plays in the offensive and defensive zones to push the Gophers past UMD.
In the first semi-final, #1 Wisconsin will fave North Dakota. The Badgers enter the weekend on a considerable streak. They have not lost a game since dropping one in Madison to the Gophers in December. Goaltender Ann-Renee Desbiens is playing out of her mind and was just named the NCAA Player of the Month for February. She is the odds on favorite to win the 2017 Patty Kazmaier Award as the best player in women’s college hockey. Meanwhile, North Dakota needs to pull off two massive upsets to avoid seeing their season come to a close. The Fighting Hawks were also pushed to three games in their first round series last weekend before defeating Ohio State in overtime in game three to advance to Minneapolis.
Barring several upsets in the other conference tournaments, Wisconsin, UMD and Minnesota will all play in the NCAA Tournament beginning next weekend. Those three teams along with five others will find out where and who they will be playing Sunday night at 8:00 PM. The selection show can be streamed here.
HOW TO WATCH
WCHA FINAL FACE-OFF—Ridder Arena, Minneapolis, MN
Semi-final #1 North Dakota vs #1 Wisconsin
When: 2:07 PM Saturday
Stream: WCHA.com (FREE)
Live Stats: HERE
Semi-Final #2 #2 UMD vs #5 Minnesota
When: 5:07 PM Saturday
Stream: WCHA.com (FREE)
Live Stats: HERE
When: 2:07 PM Sunday
TV: Fox Sports North
Stream: Fox Sports Go