The conference playoffs are over, which means one thing: the 2022 NC women's ice hockey tournament is finally here.
Sunday night, the bracket was released and there are lots of interesting definite and potential matchups throughout. And with the addition of 11 teams involved in the big dance instead of just eight, it's a sure bet that this tournament will be filled to the brim with exciting action.
Let's jump into the five biggest takeaways.
1. Ohio State is a deserving No. 1 seed
It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that the team who won the WCHA final — Ohio State or Minnesota — was going to be the No. 1 seed in this tournament. The Buckeyes narrowly edged out the Golden Gophers, 3-2, in overtime, so they get to be the No. 1 seed, and rightfully so.
BRACKET 2022: Click here to see the full bracket
Ohio State has the second-best offense in the nation with 166 goals for. Defensively, the Buckeyes are top-five with only 52 goals against. They've been college hockey's most consistent teams from start to finish, which is the biggest reason as to why they enter the 2022 dance as top dog.
It goes without saying that Ohio State's player to watch will be senior defenseman Sophie Jaques. She's been the difference-maker for the Buckeyes all season long at both ends of the ice. Her 57 points in 35 games — good for third in college hockey — mixed with her league-leading plus-48 rating makes her arguably the most effective force in the tournament.
🏆 @_sophiejaques called game ‼️#GoBucks pic.twitter.com/Rp1ziepLz4— Ohio State Women's Hockey (@OhioStateWHKY) March 6, 2022
It was only fitting that she was the one who notched the OT-winner against Minnesota in the WCHA final.
2. Is Wisconsin a sleeper pick?
The Badgers had a tough second half of the season, going 9-6-2 once the calendar flipped to 2022. Some of that was due to injuries and playing some games with only three lines of forwards. Still, Wisconsin was ranked No. 1 in the USCHO poll as recently as Jan. 17.
The reigning national champs will face Clarkson in the first round of the Boston seeds. If they win that, they face a very good Northeastern team in the second round. The road won't be easy. But with stars like fifth-year Daryl Watts, sophomore Casey O'Brien and sophomore Makenna Webster, the Badgers surely have the firepower to go on a run.
Most recently, Wisconsin lost to Ohio State, 2-1, in the WCHA postseason. Even though the Badgers lost, they still outshot the eventual WCHA-champion, 34-18.
Wisconsin has all the potential to make a run even though the odds are against it.
3. The potential Minnesota-Northeastern matchup has all the must-watch factors
If you're a fan of heavyweight fights, a Minnesota-Northeastern matchup on one side of the Frozen Four would be right in your wheelhouse.
On one hand, there's Minnesota. The Gophers boast the top offense in the country headlined by seniors Taylor Heise and Abigail Boreen. Heise leads the nation in points with 66. While Boreen's points per game of 1.52 ranks ninth, her 58 total points place her second only to her teammate. As a team, the Gophers lead the country in goals for with 168. They seldom have trouble lighting the lamp.
This never gets old. #HowlinHuskies pic.twitter.com/EJcMCVg4Be— Northeastern Women’s Hockey (@GoNUwhockey) March 6, 2022
Then there's Northeastern. The Huskies averaged only 1.0 goals against per game, which is by far the best mark in the nation. Allowing 36 goals in 36 games is quite the statement on your defense. A large part of that is graduate student and last season's Patty Kazmaier award-winner Aerin Frankel.
THE BIG DANCE: Click here to follow the entire 2022 tournament
Frankel dazzled in between the pipes this season, carrying the nation's second-best goals-against average (1.03) and save percentage (.957). Her 24 wins ranked No. 1.
If there's any team who can stop Minnesota's high-flying offense, it's Northeastern. If there's any team who can break through Frankel and Northeastern's stingy defense, it's Minnesota.
4. Colgate-Yale matchup is a battle of the strengths
The game in Hamilton between Colgate and Yale is similar to what Minnesota and Northeastern would be — a really good offense trying to score on a really good defense.
Colgate has the third-most goals for in the country. With offensive forces like sophomore Kalty Kaltounkova and junior Danielle Serdachny, the Raiders are an easy pick to score lots of goals. Not to be forgotten is their tandem in net, freshman Hannah Murphy and sophomore Kayle Osborne.
Yale is tied with Wisconsin for allowing the second-fewest goals in the country with 51. The tandem in net of freshman Pia Dukaric and senior Gianna Meloni worked wonders this season. Meloni got the bulk of the starts and posted a GAA of 1.50 and save percentage of .937. Both rank inside the top 10. Dukaric's 1.36 GAA ranks fifth. As for offense, the Bulldogs get a lot of it from sophomore Elle Hartje and junior Claire Dalton.
Colgate and Yale both come from the ECAC and faced off against each other three times this season. In the two regular-season meet-ups, Yale took the first one, 4-0, and the second one, 3-0. But in the ECAC tournament championship game, Colgate got the best of Yale, 2-1.
Some things just never get old 🏆#WePlayFree pic.twitter.com/SzkebrsTP8— Colgate Women’s Hockey (@ColgateWIH) March 7, 2022
Still, the trend through three games was Yale's defense edging out and shutting down Colgate's offense. The fourth and final battle between the two rivals will be on full display March 12 at 3 p.m. ET.
5. Minnesota Duluth and Harvard are familiar with each other despite not being in the same conference
While Colgate and Yale met a bunch this season due to both schools dueling it out in the ECAC, Minnesota Duluth and Harvard are the opposite. Minnesota Duluth plays in the WCHA and the Crimson battle for wins in the ECAC.
But, this season saw Harvard and Minnesota Duluth take the ice against each other in Cambridge back on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. Minnesota Duluth swept the series, winning Game 1, 5-2, and Game 2, 4-3.
Harvard followed up those losses with a seven-game win streak and went 13-4-1 in the second half. Minnesota Duluth also went 13-4-1 after that series in Massachusetts. Both teams are extremely even.
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Leading the way for Minnesota Duluth are forwards Elizabeth Giguere and Gabbie Hughes. Both forwards rank inside the top 10 in terms of points per game. Harvard has senior Becca Gilmore and juniors Kristin Della Rovere and Anne Bloomer taking the reins on offense.
These two teams take the ice on March 10 at 7 p.m. ET.