Wisconsin vs. Boston College
DULUTH, Minn. – Making its second consecutive Women’s Frozen Four appearance, Boston College will quickly get an opportunity Friday to exact revenge on the team that knocked the Eagles out of the postseason a year ago.
Fourth-ranked BC (24-9-3) faces No. 1 Wisconsin (32-4-2) in Friday’s first national semifinal. It was at this point last year that UW ended the Eagles’ 2010-11 campaign, with the Badgers winning a 3-2 semifinal thriller.
Two days later, Wisconsin went on to win its fourth national championship by way of a 4-1 victory against Boston University.
The Eagles were able to dig out of an early 2-0 hole in that semifinal tilt, eventually equalizing through a Taylor Wasylk goal 11:23 into the third period. A go-ahead goal for BC wasn’t to be, though, as Badger star forward Brianna Decker scored the game-winner with only 48 seconds remaining in the game.
It’s not something the Eagles have forgotten.
Both teams come into this season’s Frozen Four with different looks from what they displayed in their meeting 12 months ago, but BC head coach Katie King Crowley is set to use the Eagles’ agony from last year as a motivational tool this time around.
“The two teams are very different from how they were last year, even after only 12 months, but I think any time you get into that semifinal game, it gets to be pretty intense and a pretty competitive game,” Crowley said. “If we can draw on having played them at this point before, then that’s great. If that’s what it takes to get our kids ready and fired up, then that’s what we’ll use.”
Of course, however, inspiration from coaches only gets a team so far.
Crowley’s Eagles will have to turn their game up Friday in order to knock off a Wisconsin team that has held the No. 1 ranking for all but one week in the 2011-12 season.
Whereas many wondered where BC’s goals would come from this season following the departure of Vancouver Olympian Kelli Stack, UW came back loaded at the start of this campaign and has since made its experience and returning talent count.
Decker, the junior forward and 2012 Patty Kazmaier Award finalist, leads the country in goals scored with 37 and has 80 points to her name coming into the Frozen Four. She has combined this season with linemates Brooke Ammerman and Carolyne Prevost to form arguably the most lethal attacking trio in women’s college hockey.
Decker has picked up an average of 2.11 points per game in 2011-12, and Ammerman (32 G, 42 A, 1.95 GPG) and Prevost (26 G, 30 A, 1.81 GPG) aren’t far behind. When asked about their scoring output, though, Decker was quick to give all the credit to her linemates.
“Points and goals come from the team standpoint and what the team does,” Decker said. “And playing with players with the quality Brooke and Carolyne have has made it easy for our line to become so successful. That’s what puts the points up on the board, and I don’t really look at myself much in terms of being successful. It’s the team’s success that carries us.”
The Badgers’ talent doesn’t only show itself at their opponents’ end of the ice, though. Sophomore goaltender Alex Rigsby has been a revelation this season in the UW net, conceding just 1.36 goals per game and posting a .952 save percentage.
BC counters with stars of its own, though, and it’s the Eagles’ youth that leads the way up front.
Freshman forwards Alex Carpenter (20 G, 18 A) and Emily Field (12 G, 19 A) stepped up immediately and made their mark on the Kelley Rink club, entering the Frozen Four as the two leading scorers for the Eagles.
BC has also benefitted from solid goaltending from Corinne Boyles. Goaltending was a question mark for the Eagles following the departure of Molly Schaus, who had shattered many BC netminding records in her time in net, but Boyles has been a rock for the Eagles in 2011-12.
Boyles redshirted last season but has thrived this season, starting in all of BC’s contests and posting a single-season school record 24 wins.
It’s difficult to beat the same team twice in similar scenarios, and the numbers BC’s stars have put up prove that UW will have to work hard to get past the Eagles again and reach Sunday’s national championship game.
The Badgers have justified their high ranking throughout the season, though, and UW head coach Mark Johnson felt that such consistency will help see his team through difficult situations like the one it faces Friday evening.
“You’re going to get tested every weekend and you’re going to learn from those experiences and move onto the next practice and the next weekend,” Johnson said. “And if you’re consistent in those efforts and your habits, and you work every day, generally you improve as a team and collectively, as a group, you’re going to get better. Put yourself in a position, be prepared for your opportunity and go after it.”
It’s pertinent advice for both his Badgers and their opponent on Friday.
Cornell vs. Minnesota
DULUTH, Minn. – In its NCAA tournament quarterfinal game, third-ranked Cornell had to outlast Boston University for 119 minutes and 50 seconds before the Big Red emerged with an 8-7 win in triple overtime.
Having watched tape of that game, Minnesota head coach Brad Frost decided that that sort of marathon isn’t something he’s overly keen to participate in when the second-seeded Gophers (32-5-2) meet Cornell (30-4-0) in Friday’s second Women’s Frozen Four semifinal.
“One of our best abilities this year has been for our team to defend, and that’s obviously going to be a focus here tomorrow for our goaltender out to our defenders and our forwards,” Frost told reporters on Thursday. “All [of our] players on the ice have been doing a tremendous job all year, but I don’t think we’re looking for an 8-7 game like Cornell played last weekend.”
Granted, a repeat of Cornell’s grueler from a week ago isn’t likely. However, with two high-powered offenses squaring off, both the Big Red and the Gophers will have their hands full Friday.
The encounter promises to be a tale of irresistible forces taking on immovable objects at both ends of the ice. Cornell (4.71 goals per game scored, 1.71 goals per game conceded) and Minnesota (4.46 for, 1.31 against) boast two of the country’s best scoring offenses and defenses.
It’s a challenge Frost and his Gophers are looking forward to trying to meet.
“One of our best abilities this year has been for our team to defend,” Frost said. “And that’s obviously going to be a focus here for our goaltender out to our defenders and our forwards. We want to get up and down the rink and use our speed as much as we can.”
Minnesota hasn’t had much trouble navigating through the 2011-12 season, and making things happen at both ends of the rink certainly hasn’t been a problem. The Gophers have scored more goals (174) than any other program in the country in 2011-12, and five Minnesota skaters have surpassed the 40-point mark on the season.
Gopher goaltender Noora Raty has shined in the Minnesota net this season. Raty, who played for Finland in the 2010 Winter Olympics, has posted a 1.34 goals against average this season and has only conceded two goals in Minnesota’s five postseason games so far.
Many of those players made their mark on the Gophers’ comfortable 5-1 win against North Dakota in their NCAA tournament quarterfinal game. Junior forward Jen Schoullis had a goal and an assist in that game, and she’s confident that the Gophers can boost their current winning streak to seven games when it meets Cornell on Friday.
“Our speed and adrenaline and our chemistry with each other is there,” Schoullis said. “Once one line goes [on a roll], another line follows, and that’s what happened last Saturday. Hopefully it’ll happen again [Friday] night.”
The Big Red won’t make things easy for the Gophers, though. Cornell’s program has transformed from something of a national afterthought into a new perennial powerhouse under head coach Doug Derraugh, and the ECAC runners-up have won 11 of their last 12 games.
It’s night and day from when Derraugh, a Cornell graduate himself, took over at Lynah Rink in 2005. The Big Red team won four games in the season prior to Derraugh’s return to Ithaca, N.Y., and this year’s appearance at the Women’s Frozen Four is Cornell’s third in a row.
Leading the way on the ice for the Big Red has been senior forward Rebecca Johnston. The 2010 Olympic gold medalist from Canada is averaging 1.91 points per game, placing her in seventh place in the nation.
Talking to reporters on Thursday, Johnston said she looks fondly back on what she and her senior classmates have been able to accomplish in their time at Cornell.
“It’s amazing to be able to look back to four years ago and just see how much the program has progressed. In my first year, we were nothing compared to where we are now, and it’s just an amazing feeling to feel like I’ve been part of that and a part of changing this program around.”
A win against Minnesota on Friday would give this year’s Cornell squad a tie with last season’s for the most wins in school history (31), and it would also put Big Red above the .500 mark in terms of the team’s all-time record.
Derraugh said that the changes he’s made to the program have come in — and still are coming — in phases, but he was also quick to emphasize that players’ development on the ice is only part of what he’s trying to instill.
“You hear a lot about changing the culture [of the program], but it’s not just about getting to the Frozen Four,” Derraugh said. It’s about building young women and knowing that these young women are growing as teammates, growing as people, and becoming strong, young, independent women ready to face the world. That’s what our university is about, and what our team is about.”
It’s his hope that it’s those women that make it to and beyond Sunday’s national championship game.