NCAA Women’s Hockey: Conference Championships Preview: Part Two

Current PairWise Rankings, via USCHO (as of Thursday, 3/7):

  • 1. Minnesota
  • 2. Cornell
  • 3. Boston College
  • T-4. Harvard
  • T-4. Boston University
  • T-4. Clarkson
  • 7. Mercyhurst
  • T-8. North Dakota
  • T-8. Wisconsin
  • T-8. Northeastern
  • 11. St. Lawrence
  • 12. Quinnipiac

Hockey East Championship

Semifinals (Saturday, March 9th):

#1 Boston University (24-5-3) vs. #5 Providence (15-15-5), 12:30 PM E.T.

#2 Boston College (26-5-3) vs. #3 Northeastern (22-10-2), 3:30 PM E.T.

Championship Game: Boston University/Providence vs. Boston College/Northeastern on Sunday, March 10th, 1:00 PM E.T.

Boston University advanced to the semifinals after a dominating 5-1 victory over Connecticut. The Terriers have a great cast of offensive players; any one of their top-six players is a threat to put the puck in the net at any time. Not many other teams have that kind of potent scoring ability. Their blue line is less skillful, but they’ve gotten good goaltending out of Kerrin Sperry for the most part and have been able to hide their weaknesses. Their semifinal against Providence will be a rematch of last year’s championship game, which Boston University won 2-1 in double overtime.

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After losing a very productive and influential senior class last year, Providence has made it back to the Hockey East semifinals. They’ve had some growing pains this season but they’ve gotten it together at the right time. One of the Friars’ biggest strengths is the puck-moving abilities of their defensemen, specifically Rebecca Morse, Maggie Pendleton, and Lexi Slattery. Because of that, Providence is able to mount their offense quickly and efficiently and keep control of the puck in the offensive zone. They battled back from a 3-0 deficit to defeat New Hampshire 5-4 in overtime in their quarterfinal game. This is a team that does not quit, and they’ve shown that they can get timely goals from a few different players.

Boston College won an absolutely exhausting quarterfinal game against Maine last week. To say that they outplayed the Black Bears would be an understatement, but the Eagles still found themselves down 1-0 heading into the third. They managed to tie the game and win in overtime, but the fact that they had to battle that hard and for that long while putting up 74 shots on goal is significant. Boston College showed grit and determination, which speaks volumes about the character of this team. They’ve already got a dominant offense, balanced defense, and capable goaltender, but it looks like the Eagles have all the intangibles that are needed to win a championship as well.

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Of course, if Northeastern’s got anything to say about it, it will be no easy task for Boston College to advance to the championship game. The Huskies are coming off of a 5-1 quarterfinal victory over Vermont. They’ve really hit their stride over the past few weeks. They’re battling back after giving up goals and finding ways to shift momentum their way. Northeastern’s offense is clicking much more consistently now then it was during their times of struggle this year. Forward Kendall Coyne continued her stellar play in the quarterfinals with a goal and three assists against the Catamounts, and whether she’s racking up points or giving the opposing defense a headache in every other way possible, she’s sure to play a huge role this weekend for Northeastern.

**Both semifinal games will be streamed online at Sunday’s championship game will be shown on tape delay at 4 PM E.T. on NESN.

ECAC Championship

Semifinals (Saturday, March 9th):

#1 Cornell (25-5-1) vs. #5 St. Lawrence (19-13-5), 1:00 PM E.T.

#2 Clarkson (28-8-0) vs. #3 Harvard (23-5-3), 4:00 PM E.T.

Championship Game: Cornell/St. Lawrence vs. Clarkson/Harvard on Sunday, March 10th, 1:00 PM E.T.

After losing to St. Lawrence in last year’s ECAC final, Cornell welcomes the Saints back for a semifinal rematch this year. The Big Red have been a bit difficult to gauge this season. At times, they’ve been on fire, torching teams with a lethal offense and giving up zero quality chances. Other times, their offense has seemed out of sync and their defense has looked patchy at best. Mostly, I think this is a team that has its flaws, especially on the defensive side of the puck, but has the ability to create offense no matter what and generally win most match-ups. Cornell had issues handling Colgate last weekend, though, and they’re going to really need to limit their defensive lapses if they want to win the ECAC crown.

St. Lawrence is a dangerous underdog in this tournament for a few reasons. They were pretty inconsistent on the whole this year, which is why they earned the fifth seed, but that’s mostly due to not having the same depth as those above them in the standings. The Saints, in my opinion, have a good amount of potential. And they looked to be just as opportunistic in their quarterfinal series against Quinnipiac as they were last season when they made a postseason run and won the ECAC Tournament. Look for goaltender Carmen MacDonald to have a huge impact on St. Lawrence’s success; she posted a .979 save percentage along with two shutouts last weekend against the Bobcats.

This season has been huge for Clarkson’s program, but I don’t think the Golden Knights will be content in any way if they don’t win a few more games. Rookie defenseman Erin Ambrose has been a big part of their success, stepping up as a true leader and making her presence felt on both sides of the puck. With Erica Howe in net and an assorted cast of talented skaters, Clarkson’s got the right pieces this year to really make a run at the title. They just need to stick to their game plan against Harvard in the semifinal; it’s especially important that they cash in on their opportunities, because their offense has gone cold at times this season.

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The Crimson, like the Golden Knights, look poised to make some noise here. Head coach Katey Stone has them playing extremely well in their system; their team defense has been just impenetrable at times this season. Led by the tenacious Jillian Dempsey, Harvard’s cast of top-six forwards can score and forecheck well, and are deeply committed to two-way play. Their defensive corps isn’t the flashiest, but they’re one of the most solid groups in the country overall and they know how to win battles. This Crimson team is all about hustle and determination, and combined with their skill, they make a very worthy contender for the ECAC title.

**All three ECAC Tournament games this weekend will be streamed live on ESPN3.