The Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s hockey team hosts the WCHA Final Faceoff at Ridder Arena this weekend with two main goals. One, they will try and win the WCHA Tournament for the second time in three seasons and hang a banner at Ridder Arena. Secondly, the Gophers will look to improve their NCAA seeding before the NCAA Tournament pairings are announced Sunday night. They will begin to shape their future destiny by facing #3 seed Ohio State in one of the semifinals at 5PM. #1 Wisconsin and #4 seed UMD will open play at 2PM on Saturday.
The Gophers head into the weekend as the #2 seed in the conference, and currently are ranked #3 in the pairwise. Minnesota is assured a spot somewhere between the #2 and #4 national seeds and a home NCAA quarterfinal next weekend, but what happens on the ice both at Ridder and in rinks out east will shape greatly who the Gophers may face.
The Gophers and Buckeyes have been evenly matched this season. Both teams are 2-2 against one another this season with weekend splits in Columbus in October and in Minneapolis in January. It’s been two seasons in a row that the Buckeyes have played the Gophers tough. That is probably aided by the fact that the Buckeyes have a full coaching staff of Minnesota alums including head coach Nadine Muzerall who was named the WCHA Coach of the Year earlier in the week.
Minnesota enters the Final Faceoff off of a sweep of St. Cloud State in the first round. Minnesota got off to a slow start on Friday before coming back in the third period with three straight goals to win 4-2. Saturday was more of a typical Gopher game winning 7-3 after taking a 2-0 lead less than two minutes into the first period. Ohio State enters after a sweep of Minnesota State in Columbus. The Buckeyes won 4-2 on Friday and 1-0 on Saturday.
The semifinal matchup will bring together several of the WCHA season end award winners. Minnesota senior goalie Sidney Scobee was named the WCHA Goaltender of the Year earlier in the week. Scobee led the WCHA with a 1.63 goals against average, 17 wins, and six shutouts in 24 WCHA league games. Her eight total shutouts ranks #3 in the NCAA this season. Meanwhile the Buckeyes bring in potentially the hottest goalie in the league in Andrea Braendli. She was named the WCHA Goalie of the Month for February after recording a record of 5-0-1 with two shutouts. She also had the best goals against average (1.12) and the best save percentage (.960) in February. Included in those totals were two games against #1 seed Wisconsin where the Buckeyes took four out of six points from the Badgers. Ohio State also has senior defense Jincy Dunne who was named the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season.
Minnesota Freshman defense Madeline Wethington was named the WCHA Rookie of the Year earlier in the week, the ninth ever Gopher to win that award. She led WCHA rookies with 29 blocked shots and recorded nine points (3g-6a) in 24 conference games to tie for fifth in scoring among WCHA rookies in league play. Senior Alex Woken was also named the WCHA Student-Athlete of the Year. Woken is having a career-best season, having reached career-highs for points (32), goals (16), and assists (16). The Gophers are 20-0-2 when Woken records a point this season. Woken also is a star in the classroom. A 2017 AHCA All-American Scholar, Woken is a three-time WCHA Scholar-Athlete, WCHA All-Academic Team and Academic All-Big Ten honoree. She is on track to graduate with her degree in Neuroscience this spring.
The game between Minnesota and Ohio State has NCAA Tournament significance as well as WCHA significance. Minnesota currently sits in the #3 spot in the pairwise while the Buckeyes sit in the #5 spot. Minnesota can move up as high as the #2 seed in the tournament with a WCHA Championship victory over Wisconsin. But, the Gophers can drop to the #4 spot with a loss to the Buckeyes on Saturday and a Northeastern win in Hockey East. A win over Ohio State locks the Gophers into no lower a seed than #3. Meanwhile Ohio State can bounce between the #5 or #6 seeds depending on how they do against Minnesota and how some of the other eastern games shake out. The #5 seed should be safely in the NCAA Tournament, but the #6 seed sits precariously on the bubble hoping that Northeastern wins Hockey East and either Cornell or Princeton wins the ECAC.
What may be likely to happen thanks to the way that the NCAA works the pairings is that Minnesota and Ohio State may very well be matching up once more next Saturday at Ridder in an NCAA Quarterfinal. It’s definitely not the matchup the Gophers would like to see, but unless Minnesota can defeat Wisconsin to jump ahead of them in the seeding line, or the Buckeyes drop out of the tournament its almost certain to happen. We will know for sure Sunday night.
The semifinal matchups can be streamed for a fee on FloHockey or BTN+. The WCHA Championship Game faces off at 2PM tomorrow and will air live on Fox Sports North and will stream on Fox Sports Go. The NCAA Selection show will stream live at 8 PM Sunday night on NCAA.com.