The 2021-22 women's college hockey season has been a fun one so far and we've still got a lot of hockey left. Lots of goals left to be scored, pucks to be stopped and games to be won. It'll be a blast.
On March 21st, the national tournament bracket will be released. Since we're roughly two months out, let's predict the bracket.
It'll be even better this year since the bracket was expanded from eight to 11 teams. Now even more teams are gunning for spots in the big dance.
Before we dive in, let's lay a few ground rules. Four conferences are granted an automatic qualifier — CHA, ECAC, Hockey East and WCHA. The other seven teams make it on at-large bids. To pick those seven teams, the committee looks at win-loss record, strength of schedule and eligibility and availability of student-athletes for the championships. Three other stats taken into consideration are RPI, head-to-head competition and results against common opponents. The best way to track this is through PairWise.
When it came to seeding, I had to do my best to avoid first-round conference matchups. However, according to the pre-championship manual, if four or more teams from one conference are selected for the final six spots, the integrity of the bracket is protected. This happened in my case, as you'll see below. I also had to take into consideration the committee's focus on the student-athlete experience and ensuring that teams are playing in front of their fans.
Let's jump into the bracket.
Here are my top four seeds:
- Ohio State
These top four seeds shouldn't surprise anyone. The only big omission is Quinnipiac, and the Bobcats are my first No. 2 seed.
Wisconsin is the best team in college hockey. With only one regulation loss on the season, the Badgers have been nothing short of dominant. Three of the top 10 point-getters in college hockey belong to Wisconsin — sophomore Casey O'Brien (38), sophomore Makenna Webster (35) and senior Daryl Watts (19). Had its Jan. 15 and 16 series not been postponed against St. Thomas, there's a good chance Wisconsin would still be No. 1 in goals for, too. Even without those games, the Badgers rank third in the nation in goals for (100) and second in fewest goals allowed (25). Wisconsin three-peating wouldn't be a shock.
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Coming in at No. 2 is Ohio State, and the Buckeyes score a lot of goals. They've only played 20 games and still lead the nation in goals for with 109. Defenseman Sophie Jaques is tied for fourth in the nation in points with 37, and she's easily been college hockey's best defender so far. Along with Jaques, junior Jennifer Gardiner has 33 points, sophomore Jenna Buglioni has 31, graduate student Clair DeGeorge has 29 and senior Paetyn Levis has 27.
Then comes Northeastern. While the Huskies don't have those gaudy scoring numbers, they do boast the best goalie in the nation in graduate student Aerin Frankel. The 2021 Patty Kazmaier Award winner leads the country in both goals against average (0.89) and save percentage (.964). She's only given up more than two goals in one appearance this season and that came back on Oct. 9. She's the main reason why Northeastern has allowed the fewest goals in the nation (20).
Minnesota has a similar strength to Wisconsin and Ohio State in that the Gophers also score a bunch of goals. At the time of writing this, they rank No. 2 in the country in goals for with 104. Senior forward Taylor Heise leads the country in points with 41 and has been the heartbeat of one of the league's best offenses. Since losing three of its first four games, Minnesota has rattled off 16 wins in their last 20.
- CHA: Mercyhurst
- ECAC: Quinnipiac
- Hockey East: Northeastern
- WCHA: Wisconsin
Now, let's dive into the regionals.
Regional No. 1: Wisconsin
- First round: No. 2 Colgate vs. No. 3 Minnesota Duluth
- Second round: No. 1 Wisconsin vs. Colgate-Minnesota Duluth winner
In the Wisconsin regional, a Colgate-Minnesota Duluth matchup in Round 1 would be a good one. Why? For starters, these two squads played each other in last season's tournament, with the Bulldogs coming out on top, 1-0. Ashton Bell was the one who scored the winner in overtime. This year, Colgate and Minnesota Duluth currently rank No. 4 and 5 in goals for. Both have immense fire power up front. Minnesota Duluth sports three of the top 10 point-getters in the country in senior Gabbie Hughes (40), senior Elizabeth Giguere (37) and senior Anna Klein (33). The Raiders have junior Danielle Serdachny (34), sophomore Kalty Kaltounkova (32) and Dara Greig (28).
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But does either team's scoring match up evenly to Wisconsin's? Probably not. It would take a lot for either squad to beat Wisconsin. While Colgate hasn't played the Badgers, the Bulldogs were swept by them in mid October.
Still, this is the national tournament we're talking about. How does the saying go? Something like..."Anything can happen?" That's more like it.
Regional No. 2: Ohio State
- First round: No. 2 Clarkson vs. No. 3 Mercyhurst
- Second round: No. 1 Ohio State vs. Clarkson-Mercyhurst winner
Clarkson and Mercyhurst wouldn't be as close of a first-round matchup. The Lakers enter into this tournament by way of winning the CHA while Clarkson has consistently been a top-10 team in the nation all season. Clarkson goalie Michelle Pasiechnyk has been a brick wall in net all year, ranking fifth in the country in GAA (1.35) and eighth in save percentage (.940). The offense, which ranks eighth in goals for with 71, is led by senior Caitrin Lonergan and her 33 points on the season. So far this season, Mercyhurst is 0-3 against ranked opponents.
Both Clarkson and Mercyhurst aren't on Ohio State's schedule during the regular season. With an Ohio State-Clarkson matchup, the Golden Knights would need Pasiechnyk at her absolute best to squeak past the Buckeyes. There's a very real possibility that could happen.
Regional No. 3: Northeastern
- First round: No. 2 Yale vs. No. 3 Harvard
- Second round: No. 1 Northeastern vs. Yale-Harvard winner
There's no doubt this regional would be full of fans. With Harvard and Northeastern near each other, plus Yale only about a two-hour drive to Boston, Northeastern would be rocking.
Yale and Harvard as a first-round clash would be an even, ECAC matchup. Yale hosted Harvard on Nov. 12, beating the Crimson, 3-1. Harvard hosted Yale on Jan. 15, beating the Bulldogs, 3-1. Offensively, the two teams are fairly similar, with Yale only having three more total goals than Harvard. In net, Yale's Gianna Meloni and Harvard's Becky Dutton have both been reliable this season. Again, this is an extremely even matchup.
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The question comes down to can the winner beat Frankel in the Northeastern net? That'll be a brutally tough task for any team lining up against the Huskies this spring.
Regional No. 4: Minnesota
- Second round: No. 1 Minnesota vs. No. 2 Quinnipiac
Minnesota would enter this matchup as one of the top offensive teams in the nation. As stated earlier, the Golden Gophers rank second in the nation in goals for with 104. Heise and senior Abigail Boreen are two of the nation's biggest threats with a puck on their stick in the offensive zone. On the other hand, Quinnipiac is top five in fewest goals allowed with 30. Senior netminder Corinne Schroeder ranks second in the country in save percentage (.955) and third in GAA (1.22). A battle between these two teams would be a classic great offense vs. great defense.