The Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s Hockey team will host the 2018 WCHA Final Faceoff this weekend at Ridder Arena knowing that they may need to win the tournament for the first time since 2014 to make the NCAA Tournament. It won’t be easy as the Gophers will be the #3 seed behind the Wisconsin Badgers and the Ohio State Buckeyes—both who whom are undefeated against the Gophers this season. If Minnesota does not win the tournament, they will need to hope for a lot of chalk in the rest of the conference tournaments taking place this weekend to ensure that they end up on the right side of the bubble on Selection Sunday.
The Gophers will play Ohio State in the late semifinal on Friday afternoon. The Gophers have not had great success against the second seeded Buckeyes this season going 0-3-1. Minnesota lost and got their tie at Ridder Arena back in October, and then were swept in Columbus in January. The Buckeyes have has great success in the second year of head coach Nadine Muzzerall’s tenure in Columbus. The Former Gopher great and Gopher assistant has led Ohio State to a program high 23 wins and is a team that will make the NCAA Tournament this season and swept the #1 Badgers in a series in Columbus in February. They are led by the WCHA Freshman of the Year in Emma Maltais. Maltais scored 40 points this season—leading the conference and was named to the First Team All-WCHA as well.
The Buckeyes have also had a lot of Minnesotans make big impacts. forward Charly Dalquist who transferred in from North Dakota and defense Lauran Boyle are from Eden Prarie, defense Dani Sadek is from Lakeville and is the sister of Gopher men’s defenseman Jack Sadek, and forward Liz Scheppers is from Mound. All four players have played large roles in the Buckeye’s success this season.
The Buckeyes also have a goalie who can steal a game if needed. Kassidy Sauve comes into the weekend with a 1.99 goals against average and a .934 save percentage. With the exception of one game, she has not allowed Minnesota to score more than two goals on her this season.
The Gophers will need to get scoring from all three forward lines. Sophie Skarzynski and Nicole Schemmel both scored a pair of goals last weekend against St. Cloud State, and both will be needed to add to the scoresheet this weekend. Defensively, the Gophers will need to give as much support as possible to goalie Sidney Peters. The senior stopped 40 of 42 shots last weekend and has only played a game and a half against the Buckeyes this season. While freshman Alex Gulstene started three games against Ohio State, she struggled giving up 12 goals in 2.5 games, while Peters only gave up 4 in 1.5. So its expected Minnesota will ride Peters the rest of the way—as far as her teammates can take her.
While Minnesota and Ohio State will face off in the second semifinal, it will be the #1 Wisconsin Badgers playing #5 seed Bemidji State in the first semifinal. The Beavers took two out of three games from #4 seed UMD last weekend in Duluth. Wisconsin will be the clear favorite in that game, and for the entire weekend. The Badgers are trying to clinch a #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and will do so with a WCHA Final Faceoff win. However a loss will allow the ECAC champion if it is either Clarkson or Cornell to leapfrog the Badgers. The winners of the two semifinal games will face off Sunday afternoon for the title before the NCAA pairings are announced Sunday night.
Minnesota sits at #7 in the Pairwise and can not move up or down without winning the WCHA Final Faceoff this weekend. If the Gophers do not win the tournament—and frankly that’s the most likely result, Minnesota will be rooting for chalk in the rest of the conference tournaments. Minnesota would at this moment be the last at-large bid to the eight team NCAA Tournament as the 8th spot will go to the CHA Champion who will be well below Minnesota in the pairwise. A majority of the teams playing in the conference tournaments are above the Gophers and will make the tournament regardless of how they fair this weekend. But there are several teams, one in the ECAC and three in Hockey East, along with Bemidji State that if they would win their respective conference tournaments and receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, they would knock the Gophers out.
In the ECAC Clarkson and St. Lawrence will face one another in the first semi-final while Cornell and Colgate face off in the second. Clarkson, Cornell and Colgate are all in the tournament no matter what happens. However, St. Lawrence would steal the Gophers bid if they were to win.
In Hockey East, Connecticut will take on Boston College in one semi-final while Maine and Northeastern will face off in the second. Only Boston College is in—so Minnesota fans will be rooting hard for the Eagles to win the tournament—which by the way is being held at Northeastern.
Minnesota will know the results of three of the potential five bid-stealers before they even take the ice on Saturday. Clarkson/St. Lawrence faces off at Noon and BC/UConn faces off at 12:30. And of course Wisconsin and Bemidji State will take place before the Gophers game at Ridder. But the Gophers will still need to sweat out the Hockey East Championship game on Sunday as one of the teams who can knock out Minnesota will be playing. Or in a worse case scenario, if BC loses on Saturday, the Gophers will know they are playing for their NCAA Tournament lives. It’s that time of year.
The easiest way for the Gophers to control their own destiny is to just win. But it won’t be easy. But anyone who doubts the Gophers in March is a fool. It’s time to see what they can do.