NCAA women’s hockey tournament: Breaking down the field, top players, Frozen Four picks
The field for the NCAA Women’s Hockey Tournament is ready, and the reigning Ohio State champion is back in first place overall.
Following the first national title in program history, the Buckeyes had another dominant regular season before losing to Minnesota in the WCHA tournament championship game. But the road to back-to-back titles at the Frozen Four in Duluth, Minnesota will not be easy. Yale, Minnesota and Colgate round out the top 4 out of 11 teams, while the Northeast, Wisconsin and Minnesota Duluth are serious contenders.
The top five seeds receive a bye in the first round, while the remaining six teams meet in the regional semi-finals. The top four seeds will then advance to the Regional Finals, with the winners advancing to the Frozen Four on March 17 and 19. The semi-finals at 3:30 pm and 7:00 pm ET will air on Sportzshala+ with the national game on SportzshalaU at 4:00 pm ET.
Here’s a team-by-team look at the field and five players, courtesy of Kelly Panneck, who helped Minnesota win two national titles (2015 and 2016), is a two-time Olympian and a member of the US National Team, and is a PWHPA Star. In addition, Sportzshala hockey analyst Kendall Coyne, captain of Team USA at the Beijing 2022 Olympics, provides his pick of the Cold Four.
All Eastern Times
Regional semi-finals, 9 March: Penn State in Quinnipiac, 6 p.m.; Long Island in Wisconsin, 6:00 p.m.; Clarkson in Minnesota, Duluth, 7:00 pm.
Regional Finals, 11 March: No. 5 Northeastern to No. 4 Yale, 3:00 p.m.; Wisconsin/LIU Winner at Colgate #3, 3:00 p.m.; Minnesota Duluth/Clarkson, Minnesota No. 2 winner, 3:00 p.m.; Quinnipiac/Penn State winner in first place in Ohio State, 5:00 pm.
Frozen Four semi-finals, March 17: at the Amsoil Arena in Duluth, Minnesota (3:30 pm and 7:00 pm, Sportzshala+)
National championship game, March 19: at Amsoil Arena, Duluth, Minnesota (4:00 PM, SportzshalaU)
Ohio State (31-5-2)
How did they get there: At-Large bid (lost to Minnesota 3-1 in WCHA Finals)
Numbers to know: The dominant Buckeyes are second in the nation in offensive scoring (4.39 goals per game) and eighth in defensive scoring (1.78). The game in most Ohio states converted to a .344 clip, the best in the NCAA. This is the second consecutive season with 30 victories for reigning national champions.
Kelly Panneck’s view: Ohio State played as a team all season ready to defend their national title. The Buckeyes are a strong, physical team with skill and speed. They are losing the WCHA Tournament Championship but I have no doubt they will find a way to use that to their advantage. This is the team that needs to be defeated.
How did they get there: WCHA Tournament Champion
Numbers to know: Minnesota has the best offense in the country, hitting almost five goals (4.71) per game. Taylor Hayes, the 2022 Patty Kazmaier National Player of the Year Award winner, leads the NCAA with 29 goals and 1.77 points per game and has a .635 faceoff percentage. This season, the Gophers went 3–1–1 against first seed Ohio State.
Panneck’s view: It looks like a must-win year for the Gophers, as their last national championship was seven years ago. They have all the firepower up front and have just shown they are ready to do the dirty work on defense by winning the WCHA tournament. If Minnesota can continue to back up their powerful offense with a stingy defense, it will not be easy to beat this team.
How did they get there: ECAC Tournament Champion
Numbers to know: Colgate are 2-0 up against Yale, leaving the Bulldogs with only two losses in the regular season. Senior Daniella Serdachnaya leads the country with 43 assists and 65 points.
Panneck’s view: With high-profile wins en route to an ECAC title, Colgate could be at its peak at just the right time. The Raiders played on a tight schedule all season and got stronger because of it. With Colgate’s excellent balance on both sides of the puck, coupled with some early season success, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Raiders in Duluth.
Yale University (28-3-1)
How did they get there: At-Large bid (lost to Clarkson 4-3 in ECAC semi-finals)
Numbers to know: Junior Elle Hartier leads the nation with 1.19 assists per game (37 in 31 games). Sophomore goaltender Pia Ducaric ranks second in the nation with a GAA of 1.29 and third with a 0.939 save percentage. Yale ranks fourth in offensive scoring (4.13 goals per game) and second in defensive scoring (1.32).
Panneck’s view: Yale has been the top team in a strong ECAC conference all year. People forget that last season this team was a Frozen Four team, and the Bulldogs proved it with their performance this year. After losing to Clarkson in the semi-finals of the ECAC tournament, the Bulldogs are set to pick up momentum at the start of the NCAA tournament.
How did they get there: East Hockey Tournament Champion
Numbers to know: The North East have only conceded 30 goals in 35 games, with senior goaltender Gwyneth Philips leading the nation in goals against average (0.83) and shot percentage (.960). Graduate student Alina Muller is plus-45 plus/minus, and the Husky is 28-0-0 this season when she scores a point.
Panneck’s view: The Northeast team, appearing in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in a row, is the team that wins in the Hockey East. This group has a strong veteran core led by three-time Eastern Hockey Player of the Year Alina Muller. With a lot of playoff experience and leaders looking to get the program’s first national championship, this could be the Northeast’s breakthrough year.
How did they get there: At-Large bid (lost to Minnesota 4-2 in WCHA semifinals)
Numbers to know: This is Wisconsin’s 10th consecutive NCAA appearance, the longest active streak in the country. The Badgers were 2-0-2 in the regular season against league champion Minnesota. Wisconsin ranks in the top five in the nation in both offensive scoring (third, 4.17) and defensive scoring (fifth, 1.61).
Panneck’s view: Midway through the season, it looked like Wisconsin might not even make it to the NCAA Tournament, but with a strong finish to the regular season, the Badgers are once again the team we expect to see in Madison. Wisconsin is full of talent and it looks like they can reach their full potential at the right time to make a strong showing in the NCAA.
Minnesota Duluth (25-9-3)
How did they get there: At-Large bid (lost to Ohio State 2-1 in WCHA Semifinals)
Numbers to know: This season, Minnesota Duluth went 4-1 against No. 1 Ohio State, but all five games were decided by one goal (two in overtime). The Bulldogs have 13 shutouts in a season, the best record in the country.
Panneck’s view: The UMD is always making a fuss during the playoffs and I expect this NCAA tournament to be no different. Graduate Emma Soderbergh is one of the best and most experienced goalkeepers in the country, and in front of her is a mature team that has made deep tournament runs. With Duluth hosting the Frozen Four this year, I have no doubt that the Bulldogs will do their best to be there.
How did they get there: At-Large bid (lost to Colgate 5-1 in ECAC semi-finals)
Numbers to know: Quinnipiac ranks fourth in the nation in defensive scoring (1.51) and fourth in team faceoff percentage (.559). The Bobcats are 6-6 in their last 12 games.
Panneck’s view: Quinnipiac has changed its program over the past few years and has competed in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in a row. The Bobcats started the season well with a 10-game winning streak, but didn’t show the same consistency in the second half. One thing that is critical to Quinnipiac’s tournament success is his penalty kick, which is second in the country at 92%.
Penn State (27-8-2)
How did they get there: Champion of the Central House of Artists
Numbers to know: Kiara Zanon is tied for fourth in the nation with 25 goals and has the best five shorthanded goals in the NCAA. This is Penn State coach Jeff Campersal’s third NCAA appearance (Princeton, 2006, 2016).
Panneck’s view: Penn State is making its NCAA Tournament debut after promising regular season performances over the past couple of years. The Nittany Lions are led by very talented young forwards Kiara Zanon and freshman Tessa Janeke, and young goaltender Josie Botun can win games. The Nittany Lions may have a tough road to Frozen Four, but they have a chance to establish themselves as a consistent contender.
How did they get there: At-Large bid (lost to Colgate 8-2 in ECAC Finals)
Numbers to know: Clarkson goaltender Michel Pasechnik is ranked fourth in the nation with a GAA of 1.45. The Golden Knights had two big wins at the end of the season, beating Quinnipiac to end the regular season, and beating Yale in double overtime at the ECAC tournament.
Panneck’s view: Even though it’s been several years since their last trip to the Cold Four, the Golden Knights are no stranger to postseason success (11 NCAA appearances). Compared to other teams in the field, Clarkson is at the bottom of both offensive and defensive stats, so she’ll need to shoot her best to succeed – as she did with the Knights in their victory over Yale in the tournament. ECAC.
Long Island (20-13-3)
How did they get there: NEWHA Tournament Champion
Numbers to know: In its fourth season of competition, Long Island posted its first 20-win season. Goaltender Tindra Holm has the fifth-highest shooting percentage in the nation at .937.
Panneck’s view: Long Island, as the team representing the newest Division I Women’s Hockey League, will have to put in a lot of effort. The Sharks will need an extraordinary play between pipes from Holm’s sophomore and will be able to capitalize on whatever opportunities they get offensively if they want to continue their streak.
Players to watch
It seems like every team has at least two or three highly skilled players that will stand out to any audience, but these five players are the key to their team’s success in the tournament.
Minnesota sophomore goaltender Skylar Vetter. Vetter has shown dominance this season on her way to being in the top three finalists for the WCHA Goaltender of the Year award. About the team with the highest scoring offense in the tournament…