The newly-expanded 11-team women’s NCAA Tournament kicked off on Thursday with six teams competing for a spot in Saturday’s quarterfinals.
The three games were all competitive, but ultimately, the higher seed was able to prevail, setting up some great match-ups for Saturday when spots in this year’s Frozen Four are on the line.
#7 Quinnipiac 4 #11 Syracuse 0
The Orange made this a competitive game, holding Quinnipiac scoreless through nearly the first half of the game. Quinnipiac held an advantage in terms of attack zone time, but Syracuse did an excellent job of looking for transition opportunities to press their attack, and came away with three high quality scoring chances off the rush in the second period. But Quinnipiac goalie Corinne Schroeder was solid when she needed to be, and bought her team time to eventually punch through and take the lead.
Finally, it was Quinnipiac’s Taylor House that was able to break through with a rebound goal to give the Bobcats the lead eight minutes into the second period. Quinnipiac quickly consolidated that lead with goal by Sadie Peart off an odd-skater rush to take a commanding 2-0 lead.
The lead allowed Quinnipiac to play slightly more conservative in the second half and Syracuse couldn’t mount enough offensive attack to get back in the game. The Bobcats would add another goal in the third period, plus an empty-netter to secure their first ever NCAA tournament victory.
Quinnipiac advances to face hosts #1 Ohio State on Saturday for a spot in the Frozen Four.
#8 Minnesota Duluth 4 #9 Harvard 0
Coming into this game, the key match-up seemed to be if Harvard’s powerful top line could out play Minnesota Duluth’s top line enough to make up for the advantage in depth held by the Bulldogs. That question was answered swiftly and decisively. Minnesota Duluth’s Gabbie Hughes scored in the first minute of the game and had completed a natural hat trick by the second period to give the Bulldogs a rather comfortable opening round win.
Hughes was sensational, as was linemate Elizabeth Giguere, who set up all three goals, and after falling behind early, Harvard was never able to grab any real momentum. The Bulldogs were able to roll their lines through much of the second half of the game, which should leave them fresher for Saturday, when they’ll attempt to avenge their WCHA Final Faceoff loss to Minnesota and return to the Frozen Four.
#6 Wisconsin 3 #10 Clarkson 1
Despite a fairly even first period, Wisconsin was able to come out of the opening frame with a lead on a goal by Maddi Wheeler, and the Badgers were able to press their advantage further in the second period, which yielded a tip-in power play goal for Daryl Watts off a beautiful cross-ice feed by Nicole LaMantia.
Clarkson would press in the third period, and they made things very interesting when Nicole Gosling finally broke through, following up on a loose puck in the slot to jam it home and make it a 2-1 game with 2:01 to play. But the Golden Knights could never generate a serious scoring chance after that and Wisconsin’s Delaney Drake scored an empty net goal from her own blue line with 18 seconds remaining to ice the victory.
Wisconsin will face #3 Northeastern on Saturday to extend their bid to repeat as NCAA champions.
Overall, it was a good first day of the tournament, and even though there weren’t necessarily any surprises or upsets, the expanded field already seems to be a success. CHA qualifier Syracuse got the benefit of playing a competitive first round game rather than getting blasted by the #1 overall seed. And the expanded field made room for #8 Minnesota Duluth, who would have been the last team out of the field under the old system. The Bulldogs were clearly a top-five team most of the season, and certainly looked the part yesterday with their takedown of Harvard, but fell due to the lack of inter-conference play in women’s hockey and the limitations of RPI as a ranking metric. While the Bulldogs would probably be playing in the 4/5 quarterfinal in a perfect world, at least a very good team is now getting the chance to compete in the tournament.