It’s a familiar cast of characters in Duluth, Minn. this weekend at the 2012 NCAA Women’s Frozen Four. Of the four teams competing for the NCAA National Collegiate women’s ice hockey title this weekend at Amsoil Arena, three were in the Women’s Frozen Four last year in Erie, Pa., while the fourth, Minnesota, last appeared in the Frozen Four in 2010.
The faces may be familiar, but a little reminder never hurts, so here are the players to watch this weekend at the Women’s Frozen Four.
WISCONSIN: The Badgers are led by a pair of Patty Kazmaier Award finalists in senior forwards Brianna Decker and Hilary Knight, but the Badgers are just getting started there. Two more seniors, Brooke Ammerman and Carolyne Prévost, are also among the nation’s top-10 scorers, driving forces behind the nation’s second-most prolific offense.
Decker is one of three players who could receive the Kazmaier on Saturday as the nation’s top player, with 80 points (37 goals, 43 assists) in 38 games this season. One of five Wisconsin natives on the team, Decker is third in the nation in points per game, and first among participants in this weekend’s Championship. Knight, meanwhile, is a 2010 U.S. Olympian who’s been to the national title game in every year of her Badgers career. She hasn’t scored at the same level as she had in previous seasons, when she played alongside 2011 Kazmaier winner Meghan Duggan, but she’s been more than dangerous enough. Ammerman has taken advantage of first-line minutes to record a career-best 74 points (32g, 42a), while Prévost has posted 56 points playing alongside Decker and Ammerman.
At the other end of the ice, sophomore goaltender Alex Rigsby has anchored a defense that has given up just 54 goals this season. She ranks first in the nation in save percentage and second in goals-against average behind Minnesota’s Noora Raty.
BOSTON COLLEGE: A year after saying goodbye to a pair of Olympians in Kelli Stack and Molly Schaus, the Eagles are right back in the Frozen Four with a team that’s much more balanced. There aren’t any Kazmaier finalists on this young BC team, but there’s plenty of young talent that’s ready to challenge the Badgers.
A pair of Massachusetts natives lead the way for the Eagles in their freshman season in Alex Carpenter and Emily Field. Carpenter, from Reading, Mass., is the Eagles’ top goal-scorer with 20 (and 18 assists), while Field has excelled in a setup role, handing out 19 assists to go with her 12 goals. Senior Mary Restuccia leads BC in assists with 22.
In goal, junior Corinne Boyes has returned to a starting role after yielding to Schaus last season. After a year behind the Olympian, she’s emerged as a stronger netminder, going from a 2.90 goals-against average and .907 save percentage as a freshman to a 2.04 GAA and .925 save percentage this season, ranking her 12th and 15th in the nation in those categories, respectively.
MINNESOTA: The Golden Gophers are back in the Frozen Four after a one-year absence, led by Kazmaier finalist Amanda Kessel. The younger sister of former Gopher and current NHL All-Star Phil Kessel is fourth in the nation in scoring with 76 points (36g, 40a) in 39 games, leading a Minnesota team that ranks third in the nation in scoring offense. Kessel has had a hand in nearly 44 percent of Minnesota’s goals in 2011-12, with three seniors following her lead in Jen Schoullis, Sarah Erickson and Emily West.
The Gophers’ back end boasts one of the nation’s top-scoring defensemen in junior Megan Bozek, who has racked up 41 points (14g, 27a) in 37 games while anchoring the nation’s stingiest defense (1.31 goals per game). That stinginess can be chalked up to junior netminder Noora Raty, who leads the nation with a 1.34 goals-against average and ranks third in save percentage at .941.
CORNELL: The Big Red is in the Frozen Four for the third consecutive season after surviving an 8-7 triple-overtime thriller against Boston University in the quarterfinals. That means that a senior class that includes Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Johnston and top goaltender Amanda Mazzotta gets one more shot at an NCAA championship.
Johnston leads Cornell with 61 points (30g, 31a) in 32 games, ranking seventh nationally in points per game. She’s one of two Kazmaier finalists on the Big Red along with junior defenseman Laura Fortino, who leads all full-time defensemen in scoring average with 1.16 points per game (Monique Lamoureux-Kolls has split time between forward and defense).
In goal, Mazzotta is 15-3-0 with a .921 save percentage and a 1.69 goals-against average. Lauren Slebodnick was Cornell’s primary goaltender in conference play, starting 13 ECAC Hockey games to Mazzotta’s nine, and in 17 total appearances this season, she’s 15-1-0 with a 1.45 GAA and a .924 save percentage.