The second seeded Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s hockey team returns to the NCAA Tournament for the 12th consecutive season Saturday afternoon when they host the Princeton Tigers in a quarterfinal at Ridder Arena. Minnesota will be trying to get back to the Frozen Four for their seventh time in the last eight seasons and 14th time in program history.
The Gophers won the WCHA Regular season championship and then lost in the WCHA Final Face-off Championship game to Wisconsin 3-1. Wisconsin claimed the #1 overall NCAA seed while Minnesota had to settle for the #2 seed. The Badgers will host CHA Champion Syracuse in their quarterfinal game in Madison. They other two matchups will pit two-time defending NCAA Champion #4 seed Clarkson against Boston College and # 3 Northeastern against Cornell.
Minnesota is led on offense by senior Nicole Schammel. Her 49 points on the season include a WCHA leading 31 assists. Sophomore Grace Zumwinkle is second on the team in scoring with 41 points and a WCHA leading 25 goals on the season. Freshman Taylor Heise is third in the WCHA amongst freshmen with 35 points on the season and is a scoring threat from the third line.
Minnesota also will bring the Pots and Pan line to the party. Senior Kelly Pannek, junior Sarah Potomak and freshman Amy Potomak have not lived up to their scoring expectations that many had for them at the beginning of the year, but as a trio they still represent one of the most dangerous scoring lines in the nation. Add in a third line for the Gophers of Heise, Taylor Williamson, and Alex Woken and Minnesota has no problem scoring from three deep lines.
It will be interesting to see who starts in net for Minnesota. Brad Frost has been splitting time fairly evenly with Alex Gulstene on the first game of the weekend and Sidney Scobee on the second game. With only one game this weekend, will it be Gulstene’s net? She picked up the win over Ohio State in the WCHA Semifinal last weekend before Scobee picked up the loss against the Badgers—but only gave up two goals against one of the best offenses in the nation, We most likely will not know until warmups begin.
Princeton comes to town after finishing the season with a 20-7-5 record. They finished in a three-way tie for second place in the ECAC behind Cornell. The Tigers are led offensively by the nation’s leading scorer in Sarah Fillier. She has scored 20 goals and added 35 assists leading the Tigers top line. Joining her on that line are Maggie Connors who has 42 points and the second most goals in the country with 26. Carly Bullock is the third player on the top line and has also added 42 points on the season split evenly with 21 goals and 21 assists.
So we know the top line for the Tigers can be deadly. However, depth is where the Gophers should have the advantage. Princeton gets 28 points from their top defenseman in Claire Thompson, but the scoring drops off from there. The Tigers have one more 20 point scorer in Karlie Lund but then do not have another player over 16 points on the season. If Minnesota can neutralize the top line for the Tigers, their second and third lines should be able to outshine Princeton’s.
The Tigers will most likely start junior Stephanie Neatby in goal. She has started the last four games for the Tigers and has started nine overall this season with a 6-2-1 record. Her stats are impressive— a 1.87 goals against average and a .930 save percentage, but has not seen offenses like Minnesota’s.
The Gophers lead the nation averaging 4.25 goals per game. The Tigers are 4th with 3.56 goals per game. Minnesota’s defense is 4th in the nation giving up just 1.81 goals per game. Princeton is eighth giving up just 1.91. Even the special teams numbers are fairly even. Princeton has the best power play in the nation with a 27.6% success rate, while the Gophers are #2 with 25.3% success. On the penalty kill Princeton is 13th in the nation with a 85.4% kill rate while the Gophers are 11th with a 85.7% success rate.
Against common opponents this season Minnesota has a 5-3 record. The Gophers are 2-3 against the Badgers, swept Yale and are 1-0 against St. Lawrence. Princeton also has a 5-3 record. They were swept by Wisconsin the first week of the season, swept Yale, and then went 3-1 against St. Lawrence.
Minnesota does have history on its side. The Gophers are 9-0-1 all-time against Princeton and 4-0 at Ridder Arena. The Gophers and Tigers have met twice before in the NCAA Quarterfinals and both games were at Ridder Arena. The Gophers skated to a 6-2 win in 2016, and a 4-0 win in 2006. Sarah Potomak had both a goal and an assist in Minnesota’s 2016 win over the Tigers.
The key for the Gophers will be getting off to a good quick start. Minnesota is 20-0-0 when leading at the first intermission this season, and the Gophers improve to 25-0-0 when leading at the second intermission. Minnesota has the depth to defeat the Tigers, they just need to especially slow down Princeton’s top line. If the Gophers can do that they should be on their way to Connecticut for the Frozen Four next weekend.
HOW TO WATCH
NCAA WOMEN’S HOCKEY QUARTERFINAL
Princeton Tigers @ #2 Minnesota Golden Gophers
Where: Ridder Arena, Minneapolis, MN
When: 4PM Saturday
Audio: Gophersports.com (FREE)