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Previewing Wisconsin and the NCAA Frozen Four

Plus an ultra-brief recap of the quarterfinals win over Syracuse.

David Stluka c/o UW Athletic Dept Communications

It’s a sixth straight Frozen Four for the No. 1 seed Wisconsin women’s hockey team after UW beat the Syracuse Orange 4-0 in the NCAA quarterfinals at LaBahn arena on March 16.

In front of the 21st sellout of the season, senior Annie Pankowski scored two goals in her final game at LaBahn Arena. It was a nice finish for Pankowski, who should go down as one of the legends of the program. With one or two games left in her career, she has 93 career goals—fifth best in program history.

Yeah, yeah, that’s all great. Wisconsin (33-4-2) beat a mediocre-at-best Syracuse (13-22-3) at home. But the real season begins this weekend in Hamden, Conn. March Madness knows no bounds, friends, and it will be a thrilling weekend of hockey.

If you’re hearing about Wisconsin women’s hockey this week, you’re probably hearing “sixth straight Frozen Four” and “haven’t won a national title since 2011” a whole lot. A few weeks back, I predicted a national championship, and I am holding to that prediction.

Here is a preview of the other three teams that stand in Wisconsin’s way to meet that goal.

In the semifinals, Wisconsin will take on Clarkson Friday, March 22 at 6 p.m. CT. The winner will take on either Minnesota or Cornell in the championship game on Sunday, March 24 at 1:30 p.m. CT.

The Setting: People’s United Center

People’s United Center, which could almost be a cool hockey acronym, is a 12-year-old arena that hosts Quinnipiac’s basketball and hockey team. The ice rink is narrow like NHL regulations, at 85’ wide.

I think it is pretty obvious how spacing can be impacted by the dimensions of the ice sheet, but Wisconsin has played on plenty of NHL-size rinks, so it should not be too much of a problem. I could pretend to give a more in-depth breakdown, but I think this Evan Sporer post on SB Nation does a great job of explaining how it impacts play.

Frozen Four Scouting Reports

No. 4 Clarkson Knights

Clarkson stopped Wisconsin’s magical 2017 season short of a national title, and the Knights are on the cusp of cementing its status as a dynasty. It’s the only non-WCHA team to win a national title, with championships in 2014, 2017, and 2018.

Clarkson’s semifinal was considerably more difficult than Wisconsin’s, as it took on Boston College. BC landed an early lead thanks to defending Patty Kazmaier award winner Daryl Watts, and it held the lead until the third period. Clarkson tied it up on a goal by Josiane Pozzebon, and Elizabeth Giguère won it in overtime.

Offensively, Clarkson’s numbers are quite similar to Wisconsin’s. The Badgers score 3.79 goals per game, while Clarkson scores 3.67. Defensively, Clarkson allows 1.74 goals against per contest which, while impressive and fifth best in the country, is quite a bit behind Wisconsin’s NCAA-best 1.10 goals against per game.

Clarkson’s senior forward Loren Gabel and sophomore forward Giguère are definitely the players to watch. Gable is the top goal scorer in the country (40), and it isn’t even close. The second-best scorer is Colgate’s Jessie Eldridge (30).

Giguère is just as scary as Gabel, as she leads the country in points (73), assists (47), and is tied for third in the nation with 26 goals. Together, Giguère and Gabel account for roughly 40 percent of Clarkson’s 143 goals.

Kassidy Sauvé is a familiar face for Wisconsin, as the Badgers faced Sauvé several times when she was Ohio State’s goalie. Sauvé is a career 1.86 goals against average (GAA) goalie, and this season’s GAA of 1.65 is her personal best.

Wisconsin has had mixed success against Sauvé. On Nov. 4, 2017, Wisconsin scored on the goalie seven times en route to a 7-0 victory over OSU. However, on Feb. 2, 2018, she stopped all 26 Wisconsin shots and earned a shutout win.

In my opinion, Sauvé really emerged on the scene early in the 2016-17 season, when she stopped 36 of 37 Wisconsin shots as OSU earned a surprising tie with the Badgers back on Oct. 8, 2016.

No. 2 Minnesota Golden Gophers

Well, Wisconsin has played Minnesota eight hundred million times [ed. note: may be hyperbole here], and it will probably be a slight favorite over Cornell in the semifinals. If Wisconsin survives Clarkson, it will probably face the Gophers for the sixth time this season.

Minnesota is a good hockey team and has flip-flopped with Wisconsin as the top two teams in the country. Like the Badgers, the Gophers are deep and spread the scoring around. Contrasted with Clarkson, Minnesota’s top two goal-scorers, Grace Zumwinkle (25) and Kelly Pannek (16), account for only 26 percent of the team’s goals.

Minnesota plays two goalies: Sydney Scobee and Alex Golstene. They both have remarkably similar numbers. Scobee’s save percentage is .927 and her GAA is 1.76, while Golstene’s save percentage is .917 and her GAA is 1.75. However, Golstene’s winning percentage is higher at .905 vs Scobee’s .781.

Wisconsin has a 2-1 record vs Scobee, including a win in the WCHA championship game, and a 1-1 record vs Golstene. It’s unclear who Minnesota coach Brad Frost will go with, but my guess is he will go with Scobee in the semifinals and Golstene in the finals unless Scobee seems particularly dialed in against Cornell.

Wisconsin has faced Minnesota seven times in the NCAA tournament. Wisconsin has a 2-0 record over Minnesota in the quarterfinals, an 0-3 record in the semifinals, and a 1-1 record in the finals.

No. 6 Cornell Big Red

Cornell, apart from not really understanding how adverbs work, is making its fourth Frozen Four appearance and the first since 2012.

Cornell represents the only upset win from the quarterfinals, as it got off to a 2-0 lead over No. 3 Northeastern. Northeastern fought back to force overtime, but Gills Frechette scored the game winner to send the Big Red to the Frozen Four.

Its top two goal scores are Maddie Mills (18) and Kristin O’Neill (22). Overall, the offense lacks behind the other semifinalists, as it scores 3.26 goals per game which is eleventh best in the country.

Defensively, Cornell is the “best of the rest” after Wisconsin. If you ignore Saint Anslem, a team that doesn’t qualify for postseason play, Cornell’s 1.69 goals against per game is second best. That said, it is a significant drop-off from Wisconsin’s 1.1 goals against per game.

Cornell’s goalie Marlene Boissonnault has done a nice job, posting a .916 save percentage and 1.66 GAA. Boissonnault makes most of the starts in the crease for the Big Red.

Wisconsin has never faced Cornell in the NCAA tournament and probably won’t this year. In my opinion, Minnesota has a 75 percent chance to win this one.