The Wisconsin women's hockey team will host an NCAA quarterfinal match against Boston University at 2 p.m. Saturday in LaBahn Arena. The Badgers are fresh off a WCHA tournament championship win, their first since 2011.
Wisconsin and Boston University have met four times and the Badgers have won every one. Most recently, Wisconsin defeated BU 5-0 in Vail, Colo., during the 2013-14 season. Wisconsin also beat BU 4-1 for the 2011 national championship.
In a quick comparison after the bracket was announced, we looked at common opponents. With two teams so far from each other, that information is incomplete and doesn't tell much.
Looking at wins against ranked opponents (the opponent was ranked at the time the game occurred), Wisconsin beat Minnesota-Duluth three times, North Dakota twice and had a win apiece against Bemidji State and Clarkson. Boston University beat Quinnipiac, Boston College and had two wins against Clarkson.
A factor in figuring the Pairwise rankings is teams under consideration (TUCs). These are teams with an RPI over .500. Against TUCs, Wisconsin was 15-5-4. Boston University was 4-5-3. This speaks to the strength of opponent the Badgers face in the WCHA and their .625 winning percentage over 24 games bodes well for them.
Boston University features a potent offense headed by Canadian Marie Philip Poulin. You'll remember her as the woman who scored the gold-medal-game-winning goals for Canada in the past two Olympics. Widely considered one of the best women's hockey players in the world, she's a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Trophy, she's fifth in the country with 54 points (27 g, 27 a) in 31 games. She averages 1.74 points per game.
The Terriers themselves average 3.89 goals per game while the Badgers have only allowed. 1.08 goals per game.
On defense, Wisconsin's sophomore goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens, who is second in the nation in goals against and fourth in save percentage, will be a clear advantage for the Badgers. Boston University split their time in net between two goaltenders - sophomore Victoria Hanson and freshman Erin O'Neil.
Hanson is the projected starter for Saturday's game, but having lost the experience of fourteen games in net this season to O'Neil will likely be a factor. Hanson has just over 1275 minutes played on the season and a 2.12 GAA. Desbiens has just over 2120. Despiens has tied a program record for shut-outs in a season with 14. The previous record-holder is Team USA goalie Jessie Vetter.
The other clear advantage for Wisconsin is also on defense. The Badgers penalty kill is poised to set an NCAA record. Wisconsin has allowed just four power play goals all season for 96.5% penalty kill. By comparison, BU is 115-for-138 on the penalty kill for a 83.3% penalty kill. On the flip side, the Terriers are ninth in the country on the power play, scoring at a 20.74% clip.
For momentum and confidence, Wisconsin will need to score early. They've had their share of scoring difficulty this season and the longer it goes on in a game, the larger it looms, like a compounding equation where the goal somehow shrinks. With the exception of the lost to St. Cloud State in the first game of the final regular season series, scoring wasn't any issue for the Badgers, so there's hope the scoring issues have been cleared. A first period goal would go a long way to chasing any lingering doubts or demons.
The winner of Saturday's game will earn a berth in the Frozen Four, to be played Mar 20 and 22 in Minneapolis at Ridder Arena on the University of Minnesota campus. They will face the winner of the Minnesota/RIT quarterfinal.
We asked Kat Hasenauer Cornetta, a freelance journalist from Boston who's been covering Boston University for the Boston Herald to answer some questions about the the Terriers. Here are her answers:
B5Q: We all know about Marie Philip Poulin's scoring ability and puck-handling skills, but what's the most under-appreciated part of her game?
Kat: The most under-appreciated part of her game to me would be her defense. She won Hockey East's Most Defensive Forward award this season, and it was well deserved. She might be BU's second best defenseman on the penalty kill, behind Shannon Doyle (who is woefully underrated on the national scene.) The same speed and tenacity that make Poulin a dynamic scoring threat lends itself well to her defensive work.
B5Q: Other than MPP, who are some players we should be watching for? (Victoria Bach was leading freshman in points for much of the season but seems to have fallen off in the final weeks. What changed?)
Sarah Lefort, Poulin's #1 assister, possesses all of Poulin's qualities, just with a few years less experience. In the words of BU head coach Brian Durocher, she sometimes finds herself "snakebit" and you won't see her scoring her own goals for a few games at a time, but the comfort and communication Lefort and Poulin have cannot be ignored.
Bach still is creating the opportunities, but she's being defended better. BC head coach Katie Crowley once said to me in an interview that the late freshmen year and early sophomore year can sometimes be frustrating to hot scorers because they have to get used to being targeted, and you have to work with them on how they react mentally and physically. I think that's just what Bach is going through now. I'm a giant fan of Rebecca Leslie, who is the right wing on Bach's line. She stood out to me from game one against St. Cloud this season, and she just continues to grow. She's a very smart player who uses her size well.
B5Q: The Terriers are a team I haven't been able to figure out this season. They pull off that Hockey East title, handle Clarkson and Quinnipiac, but lost the Beanpot semi 9-2 to Harvard, Lost to Cornell 6-2 and lost to Maine 4-2. What's your take on the inconsistency?
Kat: A note on the Women's Beanpot: it is late in the season, and because of that, I think you see it approached differently by the four teams. Some teams see it as just another game, and others see it as the only title they are going to win all year. So BU losing that Beanpot game (and BC losing that title) needs to be weighted appropriately. You didn't see a full effort from the Terriers in that Harvard loss, and you saw Harvard trying to prove a point that they are as good as the two Hockey East schools that typically get all the attention. (Same reason why Northeastern always comes alive in the Beanpot - they get to that point in the season where they need to make something happen or feel ignored, and they come out a completely different team.)
BU is a program that gets better as the season continues, and when they do lose, it's due to a lack of defensive effort. When they fall behind, they skate panicked (you see it in their line changes and confusion in the offensive zone) and it does not bode well for the end result.
B5Q: All the talk this year was about BC, but BU has owned the Hockey East tourney for four years running now. However, they haven't been able to break through for an NCAA championship. Is this team different? Do they have what it takes to make a run?
Kat: BU has a chance because this iteration of their team plays their game very similar to Minnesota and Wisconsin: they are very physical and speedy. They play a very similar style now to the 2013 Minnesota team they saw in the Frozen Four, and that's a huge change for them.
To me, Sunday's Hockey East championship looked like a WCHA team (BU) playing a Hockey East team (BC.) This is a change from what both played in 2013, when they both made the Frozen Four at Ridder. The 2013 BC team who made it to the Frozen Four at Ridder was more of that physical team that didn't avoid contact (the Blake Bolden era - she was an outstanding defenseman) and was willing to see what they could get away with in terms of contact. The 2013 BU team was playing a finesse game.
This year, I feel like BC is playing the finesse game and BU is playing the "let's play international or Western style and see what we can get away with" game. It's grown as the season has plodded along and it is working for them right now. The Terriers are getting penalized for it out here because the Eastern game is called with a lower threshold for physicality than it is in the WCHA, but I'm eager to see how it stacks up against Wisconsin.