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Minnesota Women’s Hockey: WCHA Final Faceoff Preview

The Gophers open up with a Border Battle rematch in the semifinals

The Minnesota Gophers women’s hockey team will try to use home ice advantage to win the WCHA Final Faceoff for the first time since 2018 this weekend. To do that the Gophers will need to figure out a way to get past their rivals to the east in the Wisconsin Badgers in the semifinals on Friday evening. Wisconsin took five of six points from the Gophers on the Ridder Arena ice just three weekends ago. The winner will advance to play the winner of Ohio State and Minnesota-Duluth for the Final Faceoff Championship Saturday afternoon.

Minnesota advanced to the Final Faceoff by eliminating St. Thomas in the first round in two games. Minnesota earned a 7-0 win on Friday behind a pair of goals each from Patty Kazmaier Top Ten Finalists Taylor Heise and Grace Zumwinkle. Heise would add another pair of goals in a 6-2 win on Saturday to earn the sweep.

Wisconsin swept Minnesota State in the first round last weekend. The Badgers won by scores of 3-0 and 4-1. Sarah Wozniewicz scored a pair of goals in the series and Cammie Kronish starred in goal.

When these teams faced off three weekends ago it was the goal scorers who went off. The Badgers picked up a shootout win in a hard fought 2-2 game on Friday before scoring a trio of goals in just over two minutes late in the third period to blow open what had been a 4-4 tie game. The series in Madison back in November was much of the same, with the exception that the Gophers took home the extra point in the first night’s tie before collapsing and losing to the Badgers in the second game 4-1.

This weekend will have key pairwise conidiations for both teams as well. While both Minnesota and Wisconsin are locks to make the NCAA Tournament field of 11 teams when they are announced Sunday morning, both teams can still earn a first round bye and home ice, or lose it depending on this weekends results, and results from elsewhere in the country.

Headed into the weekend the Gophers currently sit in the #4 spot in the pairwise and would open up with a home quarterfinal against the #5 team Northeastern. Wisconsin sits at #6 and would play a first round game at the lowest automatic seed—the winner of the NEWHA auto bid. They they would play the #3 seed Colgate Raiders on their home ice. But, the season does not end Friday morning.

Depending on the results and by playing with the What If tool on BC Interruption’s website it appears the Gophers can move up to as high as #2, but fall back as far as #5 and lose their home ice advantage for the NCAA Quarterfinals next weekend. Wisconsin can climb as high as #3 as well with the right combination of events—but one thing they would need to move that high is to win the WCHA Championship. Minnesota can move as high as #2 win a WCHA Championship and a Yale loss in the ECAC Tournament, but the bigger factor is Colgate. With one loss Colgate drops below the Gophers no matter what Minnesota does this weekend. Even with a loss to Wisconsin Friday if Colgate loses the Gophers jump the Raiders and are guaranteed home ice for a NCAA Quarterfinal. Minnesota are huge Quinnipiac fans on Friday.

Ohio State is guaranteed either the #1 or #2 overall seeds and Minnesota Duluth appears to be locked into the field most likely as either the #7 or #8 seed. The NCAA selection show is scheduled to air on ESPNU at 11:00 AM Sunday morning.

Here are quick previews of the four teams in the tournament:

#1 Ohio State Buckeyes:

Record against other teams in the field:

vs Minnesota: 1-2-1

vs Wisconsin: 3-1

vs UMD: 3-1

Players to Watch:

D Sophie Jacques-2023 WCHA Defender and Player of the Year (22 goals-24-assists-46 points)

F Jennifer Gardner-WCHA First Team, Patty K Top 10 Finalist ( 21-33-54)

G Amanda Thiele— 17-2-1, 1.90 GAA, .905 save %

#2 Minnesota Gophers:

Record against other teams in the field:

vs Ohio State: 2-1-1

vs Wisconsin: 0-2-2

vs UMD: 4-0

Players to Watch:

F Taylor Heise- 2023 WCHA Forward of the Year, Top 10 Patty K Finalist (29-33-62)

F Grace Zumwinkle-WCHA First Team, Patty K Top 10 Finalist ( 25-33-58)

G Skyler Vetter— 24-5-3, 1.90 GAA, .921 save %

#3 Wisconsin Badgers

Record against other teams in the field:

vs Ohio State: 1-3

vs Minnesota: 2-0-2

vs UMD: 1-3

Players to Watch:

F Casey O’Brien- WCHA 2nd Team (16-26-42)

D Caroline Harvey- WCHA Freshman of the Year ( 11-24-35)

G Cami Kronish— 17-7-2, 1.57 GAA, .931 save %

#4 Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs

Record against other teams in the field:

vs Ohio State: 1-3

vs Minnesota: 0-4

vs Wisconsin: 3-1

Players to Watch:

F Gabbie Hughes- WCHA 2nd Team (10-36-46)

D Ashton Bell- WCHA First Team ( 12-21-33)

G Emma Soderberg— WCHA Goalie of the Year 20-8-2, 1.36 GAA, .938 save %



#1 Ohio State Buckeyes vs #4 Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs—1 PM

#2 Minnesota Gophers vs #3 Wisconsin Badgers—5 PM

TV: Fox9+

Stream: BTN+ ($$)