The NCAA Women’s Hockey Tournament is set to kick off on Saturday. No. 1 Cornell, which lost to Princeton in the ECAC Championship, still earned the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will face Mercyhurst at home in the first round. Here is a look at the other top seeds in the tournament.
No. 1 Cornell (28-2-3, 19-0-3 ECAC)
Ever since the NCAA Tournament’s inception in 2001, only four different teams (Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Clarkson) have claimed the national title. Cornell will look to buck that trend this year with the No. 1 seed in hand. 2020 may be the year for the Red to make a run.
Anchored by junior goaltender Lindsay Browning, Cornell boasts the top-scoring defense in the country (0.914 goals allowed per game). The Red also has a potent offense led by senior captain and forward Kristin O’Neill, who ranks third in the nation with 0.83 goals per game. If O’Neill, who scored six goals in the ECAC Tournament, can maintain her hot streak, the Red can keep pace with some of the best offenses in the Tournament.
Last season, Cornell clinched an appearance in the Frozen Four and could make it back to that stage with a victory over Mercyhurst on Saturday. If the Red makes it back to the Frozen Four, it will face either No. 4 Minnesota or Ohio State. Aside from ECAC foes Clarkson and Princeton, Ohio State is the only other team in the field that Cornell has previously faced this season.
In its weekend series, the Red suffered a 3-1 loss initially before rebound with a 5-1 win, one that spurred a 22-game unbeaten streak. No longer carrying that burden following the loss to Princeton, Cornell will attempt to craft a run that culminates in its first national title appearance since 2011.
No. 2 Wisconsin (28-5-3, 17-4-3 WCHA)
One of the national powerhouses in the sport, Wisconsin has won five national titles since 2006. The Badgers are in a strong position to repeat as champions. After acquiring Boston College transfer Daryl Watts, Wisconsin boasts the most lethal offense in the nation.
Watts leads the charge, having compiled a ludicrous 2.11 points per game. The Badgers lead the nation in both goals and assists per game and have the ability to outshoot any opponent that they face.
The lone vulnerability for the Badgers lies between the pipes. Goaltender Kristin Campbell has allowed 1.85 goals per game, the third-worst mark of the eight netminders in the field. While Campbell’s numbers may pale in comparison to Browning, she can perform in big moments. Last season, she earned a 27-save shutout against Minnesota to help the Badgers clinch 2019 National Championship.
While the Badgers have dominated on offense, they have appeared to cool down recently. In four of its last seven games, Wisconsin has been held to one goal or fewer. Granted, those four times occurred against vaunted foes such as Ohio State and Minnesota State. But with only eight of the best teams left competing, the Badgers’ struggles on offense may continue.
No. 3 Northeastern (32-4-2, 24-3-0 HEA)
Like Cornell, Northeastern has been attempting to crack the upper echelon in recent years. The Huskies belong to the Hockey East, which has never seen one of its teams come away with a title.
In the last three, Northeastern has won three consecutive HEA titles, but it has yet to crack the Frozen Four. Last year, the Red denied the Huskies, sending them home after a 3-2 overtime decision. Northeastern bears many similarities to Cornell, and they start in goal.
Second behind Browning in the top tier of goaltenders is Aerin Frankel, who has proven to be a stalwart all season for the Huskies. Frankel has ceded just 35 goals on the season, good for a mark of 1.069 goals per game. She has also posted impressive stretches, at one point posting five shutouts in a row in January.
The Huskies also enter the tournament peaking at the right time. Following an overtime loss to Providence on Feb. 14, Northeastern has rattled off seven straight wins, all of which have been decided by two goals or more. The Huskies have a tough matchup against ECAC champion Princeton, but if Frankel is on her game, Northeastern can notch its first Frozen Four in program history.
No. 4 Minnesota (27-6-3, 17-5-2 WCHA)
Bookending the top four seeds, Minnesota is a program with a rich history. The pinnacle for the Golden Gophers came in 2016, when they earned their fourth championship in five years. After a two-year drought, Minnesota reappeared in the title game, only to be shut out by Wisconsin.
In the first round, the Golden Gophers will face a familiar foe in Ohio State. Fellow WCHA rivals, the two teams have faced off five times over the course of the year with the Buckeyes holding a 3-2 lead in the series. The most recent bout came in the WCHA final, a contest that Ohio State won in overtime, 4-3.
Minnesota is a well-balanced team that ranks in the top-five nationally in points, shutouts, penalty kill and scoring margin. Goaltender Sydney Scobee arguably ranks as one of the better netminders behind Browning and Frankel. Scobee has notched eight shutouts so far, though her goals-against average (1.615) is not spotless compared to her stiff competition.
No single player carries the offense — instead, the Golden Gophers are led by a balanced attack. Sarah Potomak, Grace Zumwinkle and Taylor Heise pace the offense with 40-plus points each. If Minnesota wants to keep its season alive, it will need both sides of the ice to be firing on all cylinders to take down the Buckeyes.