Since 2016, a lower-seeded team has beat a higher seed in the first round of the NC women's ice hockey tournament every season.
Minnesota Duluth did it to Colgate last March. In 2019, it was Cornell taking down Northeastern. Ohio State beat Boston College in 2018. In 2017, Minnesota upset Minnesota Duluth. Clarkson stunned Quinnipiac back in 2016.
And that was only with eight teams in the tournament.
This season sees the first with 11 teams. Four conferences are granted an automatic qualifier — CHA, ECAC, Hockey East and WCHA. The other seven spots are filled with at-large bids.
At the time of writing, the favorites are Minnesota, Ohio State, Northeastern and Wisconsin. They are far from dark horse teams come the tournament.
Here are the five dark horse teams who could make a lot of noise in the tournament.
1. Yale (24-7-1)
It's no secret that a great defense is vital in tournament success. "Defense wins championships" has been tossed around the sports world forever and while it's long been debated if the statement is true, what is 100 percent factual is a great defense can position you well to compete for a championship, and Yale certainly has that.
For starters, the Bulldogs boast the best goaltending tandem in the nation in freshman Pia Dukaric and senior Gianna Meloni. Dukaric sports the sixth-best goals against average (1.36) in the country and the 19th-best save percentage (.929). Meloni counters with the 10th-best GAA (1.50) and 12th-best save percentage (.934).
Here's a look at Hartje's 15th of the season to extend the Yale lead!! pic.twitter.com/aKk0LhwkLW— Yale Women’s Hockey (@YaleWHockey) February 27, 2022
The Bulldogs' stingy defense and ability to hold opponents to a low amount of shots is a perfect recipe to rank second in the nation in fewest goals allowed at 48. It helps that sophomore Elle Hartje, the team-leader in points with 48, is also one of the best two-way forwards in the country.
Despite falling in Game 1 to St. Lawrence in the ECAC playoffs, 4-2, the Bulldogs rattled off two-straight wins and face Princeton in the semifinals.
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2. Colgate (28-7-1)
The Raiders are one of the top offensive teams in the nation. Sophomore Kalty Kaltounkova is tied for ninth in the country in points with 51, while junior Danielle Serdachny ranks 11th with 50. Those two have led Colgate to become the third-best offense in the nation with 140 goals for.
Another sign that Colgate is a team who could produce real results in the tournament is it ranks second in the country in even-strength Corsi For percentage at 64.2 percent. The Raiders are doing a great job at out-chancing the opposition. That will be very important come the tournament.
Colgate cruised through the ECAC quarterfinals with a sweep of Cornell. The Raiders will face Quinnipiac next.
3. Minnesota Duluth (24-10-1)
Minnesota Duluth has two of the top point-getters in the nation in seniors Elizabeth Giguere (55) and Gabbie Hughes (54). The Bulldogs rank sixth in the country in goals-for with 126. Sophomore goalie Jojo Chobak has also been terrific, sporting a 1.63 GAA and .932 save percentage.
The Bulldogs have what it takes to beat good teams because, well, they've done so multiple times this season. The Bulldogs beat Ohio State twice, Minnesota twice, Harvard twice and shut out Wisconsin for a late-season victory.
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The Bulldogs snuck past Minnesota State in the first round of the WCHA playoffs with a 5-4 win in Game 1 and a 3-2 win in Game 3.
4. Quinnipiac (25-8-3)
Along with Yale, Quinnipiac is one of the most well-rounded teams in college hockey. The Bobcats rank top-10 in both goals for (112) and goals against (52). The balanced, offensive production comes from players like senior Lexie Adzija, junior Sadie Peart and sophomores Olivia Mobley and Nina Steigauf.
Coop throws it on net & Steigauf tips it in!! We are FLYINGGG 😤 pic.twitter.com/fqWhAytjrg— QU Women's Hockey (@QU_WIH) February 26, 2022
Quinnipiac has also enjoyed some of the best play in net this season, getting elite goaltending from senior Corinne Schroeder. Her .951 save percentage ranks third in the country and her 1.34 GAA ranks fifth.
The Bobcats are red hot at the moment, as they're fresh off a convincing sweep of Clarkson in the ECAC quarterfinals.
5. Harvard (22-9-1)
Yes, Harvard was upset in the first round of the ECAC playoffs, losing to Princeton in three games. But that doesn't take away from the solid season the Crimson had to that point.
Also, talk about some serious motivation going into the big dance.
The Crimson sport a great offense headlined by senior Becca Gilmore and junior Kristin Della Rovere. Gilmore leads the team in points with 45, while Della Rovere lands second with 40. As a team, they're tied for ninth in the nation in goals for at 107.
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Harvard has five wins over ranked opponents this season, so it wouldn't surprise anyone if the Crimson added some more in the tournament.