It’s the day all of the women’s hockey community have long awaited: NCAA playoff time. However my happiness is not unalloyed. Readers will know I don’t use screens on Saturdays, except when they coincide with the NCAA tournament and/or the Frozen Four. Having to do so makes me both guilty and cranky. The past few years the opening round games have been played back-to-back-to-back-to back, eight-ish hours of hockey in a row, which generally gives me a migraine but at least allows fans to watch the damn things. This year, they have chosen to schedule two of the games at the same time, and they also overlap with one of the others, which overlaps with the fourth. Gosh, can’t imagine anyone will actually be watching, let’s just stack ‘em. So now there is stress about where to tune in. Nevertheless, these are three interesting match-ups and one dud. I am adding predictive scores for the first time, although wincing as I do so, because those can go so wrong, so fast. Don’t use me for wagers is all I’m saying.
*Harvard at BC. If the ECAC-tournament-version Harvard plays the Hockey East-tournament-version BC, advantage Harvard. The key here is for Harvard to score first. The Crimson had some trouble finding the net against Cornell, plus some bad luck (a hit post), and early goals were the key to their victory over Clarkson. That said, it would be wrong to sleep on Alex Carpenter’s skills, plus the other potential offensive weapons for the Eagles, who averaged 4.4 goals a game this year. Perhaps playoff urgency will help them find their form. Harvard 3 – BC 1
*Clarkson at BU. This is a Clarkson squad that has beaten Mercyhurst, North Dakota (!), Cornell, and Harvard twice times before finally succumbing to them in the ECAC field. However it dropped match-ups with Hockey East foes Northeastern (a team I would have loved to see in the NCAAs) and BC (giving up five goals in that one). Although Poulin did not score in bunches this year, the number one goal of any opponent is still to contain her as she could go off at any time. Kohanchuk is an overlooked player. Howe is the better overall goalie by a large margin. Sperry has something of a history of turning into a different player during the post-season, however. BU 4-Clarkson 2
Mercyhurst at Cornell. Almost certain that this game will be decided by special teams, as these are among the most penalized groups in the NCAA. On paper, ‘Hurst has a significantly better Power Play, while Cornell has the slight advantage on the PK. But we must recall that ‘Hurst has historically had a strength of schedule problem, and Cornell beat them handily in their one meeting this year. Jenner scored twice, and Laura Fortino was on the ice for three of the Big Red’s goals in that one. If ‘Hurst can contain those two, they have a shot. Cornell 4 – Mercyhurst 3
North Dakota at Minnesota. God almighty. Has this team not suffered enough? Now they get the famed ‘no money to send them anywhere’ slot as well? And they have to face a Minnesota squad whose only competition at the moment is history? The numbers, they are ugly. UND was outscored 23-9 in the five prior meetings, including a shut-out in the WCHA final. Sometimes, when teams have played this many times, familiarity breeds enough contempt that the stronger team loses focus and the weaker team finds a way to crack the code. I just don’t see this happening. UMN 4 – UND 1.
Bonus Kaz prediction: I feel Raty will be given the nod. However, here are the reasons the committee could choose one of the other finalists: Bozek is team captain, and Notions of Leadership ™ drive this award. She is also a top scorer among defenders, and that’s the one defensive metric really valued by the committee. Kessel led the nation in scoring, and that is always a good predictor, but I don’t know whether she is considered A Leader. I suspect not. I’d still bet on Raty.