All-division preview: WCHA title on the line for Minnesota, Wisconsin, others
The WCHA has been the nation's toughest conference this season with three top-10 teams, and this weekend it all comes to an end in Bemidji, Minn.
Friday features two semifinals, with No. 2 Wisconsin playing No. 9 North Dakota, followed by top-ranked Minnesota playing Minnesota-Duluth. The Golden Gophers have won the ttile the previous two years, and five times overall.
Here's how the contenders for the title look:
Minnesota: The Golden Gophers have dominated the league this year, going 26-1-1 in conference play and 34-1-1 overall. Eleven of their wins this season have come against teams in the WCHA Final Face-Off but so did its lone loss -- a 3-2 setback to North Dakota on Nov. 17. Minnesota's special teams has been lethal, leading the nation at 32.4 percent (46 of 142) led by Dani Cameranesi, who is tied for second in the nation with eight power-play goals.Two Gophers have surpassed the 50-point mark this season in Hannah Brandt (21 goals, 40 assists) and Rachael Bona (20 goals, 35 assists). Sarah Davis (19 goals, 28 assists) and Kelly Terry (17 goals, 27 assists) have surpassed the 40-point mark for the first time in their careers as well. Sophomore goaltender Amanda Leveille is tied for the national lead with 13 shutouts this season.
Minnesota-Duluth: While this season hasn't been kind for the Bulldogs against the Gophers (having been shut out in three of the four meetings), history is on their side. The last time the two teams have met in the WCHA Final Face-Off, the Bulldogs claimed a 5-3 win to earn the conference ttitle. Minnesota Duluth has welcomed back Olympic defensemen Lara Stalder, from bronze-medalist Switzerland, and Tea Villala, from Finland, to their lineup. Jenna McParland leads the Bulldogs with 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists) in 35 games. Jamie Kenyon (17 goals, 14 assists) and Zoe Hickel (13 goals, 14 assists) round out UMD’s top three scorers. Minnesota-Duluth averages 2.40 goals per game. The Bulldogs are led by sophomore Kayla Black in net. Black is 14-12-6 with a 2.26 goals-against average, a .920 save percentage and five shutouts.
North Dakota: North Dakota finds itself in a rematch with Wisconsin one year after knocking the Badgers out in the semifinals last year. In that 2-1 victory, Ashley Furia gave North Dakota a 1-0 lead in the first period and Monique Lamoureux scored six minutes into the the third period to give North Dakota a 2-0 lead. Shelby Amsley-Benzie made 26 saves despite giving up a late goal as North Dakota advanced to the finals. Both Lamoureux and Amsley-Benzie are on this year's North Dakota team which limped into the playoffs. Including a shoot-out loss on Feb. 9 to UMD, North Dakota lost its last five regular-season games.
Wisconsin: This marks the fourth consecutive year Wisconsin has advanced to the WCHA Final Face-Off. The Badgers sport one of the nation’s best special teams unit, as their power play ranks third with a 24.0 conversion rate, while the penalty kill has a conversion rate of 92.5, the fourth-best mark nationally. In fact, the Badgers have scored more short-handed goals (nine) than power-play goals given up (seven). Junior Blayre Turnbull is tied for the nation’s lead in short-handed goals with five, which is a single-season program record. Turnbull’s seven career short-handed goals rank third on the school’s all-time list.
Around NC: All other conference tournaments will be decided this weekend ahead of Sunday night's NCAA tournament field selection. ... In the CHA, No. 8 Mercyhurst takes on Syracuse in one semifinal before No. 10 Robert Morris faces Rochester Institute. The winners will decide the title on Saturday. ... Third-ranked Clarkson gets No. 7 Quinnipiac in the ECAC Hockey semifinals, and the winner there will face either No. 5 Cornell or No. 6 Harvard on Sunday. ... Fourth-ranked Boston College will try to win the Hockey East title on Sunday if it can get past Vermont on Saturday. In the finals will be the winner of the semifinal between Boston University and Northeastern.
Around DIII: Lake Forest, which just moved into the top 10 this week, will earn a trip to Saturday's NCHA title game with a win against Adrian on Friday. ... The WIAC title will be awarded to the winner of Saturday's championship game between No. 4 Wisconsin-River Falls and No. 5 Wisconsin-Stevens Point. ... The MIAC finals on Saturday features No. 7 St. Thomas (Minn.) facing No. 8 Gustavus Adolphus. ... Top-ranked Plattsburgh State and No. 2 Elmira can set up a showdown in the ECAC West finals with wins on Friday. The Cardinals face Utica in the semifinals while Elmira gets Oswego State. ... Norwich will play Castleton State on Saturday in the ECAC East final.