March Madness this weekend will be more than hoops — the selected eight-team NCAA women’s hockey field will be competing on campuses.
Defending national champion Minnesota, the third seed, hosts Princeton at Ridder Arena Saturday, 4 pm Central time. Boston College (No. 1) hosts Northeastern; Wisconsin (No. 2) host Mercyhurst; and No. 4 Quinnipiac host Clarkson. The four quarterfinal winners advance to the 2016 Women’s Frozen Four in Durham, New Hampshire March 18 and 20.
College Hockey America (Mercyhurst), ECAC Hockey (Quinnipiac), Hockey East Association (Boston College) and the WCHA (Wisconsin) are automatic qualifying conferences.
The WCHA has virtually owned the NCAAs, winning 15 of 16 national championships with Minnesota earning six of them, including the three of the last four national titles. “We are looking forward to another chance to get to the Frozen Four,” said Gopher Coach Brad Frost to the MSR after his club’s WCHA Final Face-off runners-up finish last weekend.
As like the WCHA, Hockey East and ECAC also have two teams in the final eight — Minnesota won an at-large berth, but Robertson quickly pointed out in a brief MSR interview last weekend, “I do believe that the WCHA on the women’s side is the premier hockey conference in the country. Wisconsin and Minnesota [who played for the league tournament crown] is a perfect example. I expect them both to advance and could meet down the road, which could be very good for our league.”
The national team leaders help support Robertson’s assertion: Minnesota (2) and Wisconsin (4) are in the top five in scoring offense; Wisconsin (1) and Minnesota (4) in scoring defense; Minnesota (1) and Wisconsin (5) in power plays, and Wisconsin is first in killing penalties. It is the same among individual categories as well: Minnesota have the third (Dani Cameranesi), fifth (Hannah Brandt), ninth (Sarah Potomak) and tenth (Kelly Pannek) and Wisconsin’s Annie Pankowski is seventh in scoring; Wisconsin’s Courtney Burke (tied for 3rd) and Jenny Ryan (7th) and Minnesota’s Milica McMillen is among the nation’s top scoring defensemen; and goalies Ann-Renee Desbiens (Wisconsin) and Amanda Leveille (Minnesota) are first and fourth, respectively in goals against average.
“It’s an amazing conference,” said Robertson of the WCHA. “The WCHA has had a historic rise and it continues to grow. I can’t think of any tournament that would have three of the top 10 ranked teams, and overall we have four [conference] teams ranked in the top 10 during different times throughout the year.”
No expansion plans currently in the works for the eight-team women’s WCHA, which was founded in 1999, noted Robertson. “Ten would be wonderful, but I don’t have any feelers yet on the women’s side to add additional institutions. Certainly we would entertain a team or two that wanted to come in.”
Robertson was named WCHA men’s commissioner in 2014 and in February, was named interim women’s commissioner and will serve in that capacity through this month. “I’m doing both jobs until they tell me otherwise,” he said. “It’s double duty but a labor of love for me.”
The MSR will provide a brief post-game analysis of the Minnesota-Princeton NCAA quarterfinals. Also check our upcoming Sports Odds and Ends for a preview of the Big Ten and National Collegiate Hockey Conference post-season tournaments that begin next week.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.