The four-team tournament begins Thursday with two semifinals – Minnesota-Duluth vs. Northeastern and Wisconsin vs. Ohio State – and the winners meet Saturday in the NCAA championship game. All games will be broadcast on ESPN Networks. The following is a summary of the four teams that remained in the field, including a report of alumni observations.
Minnesota Duluth vs Northeastern: 14:00. AND on ESPN3/ESPN App
Wisconsin vs Ohio State: 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU/ESPN app
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN3/ESPN App.
Trouble: No team in the country has been as dominant as Northeastern this season, and that was to be expected after a 32-4-2 season interrupted by the COWID-19 pandemic. The Huskies closed out the 2021 season by winning their last 17 games by a combined score of 86-11 and are currently on a 21-game unbeaten streak. That momentum helped Northeastern reach its first ever Frozen Four. This is the latest milestone for coach Dave Flint, who has steadily taken the program to new heights since his arrival in 2008. Flint led Northeastern to its first Beanpot crown (2012), NCAA Tournament appearance (2016) and Hockey East Championship (2018).
Player clock: The Huskies have no shortage of talent. It starts with East Region Defenseman of the Year Skylar Fontaine and goalie Aerin Frankel, the national leader in save percentage (.969) and shutouts (nine). Chloe Aurard leads the team with 14 goals, but the Huskies’ top scorer is Alina Mueller, who is the top scorer of the 2021 NCAA season with 37 points in 23 games. (She also led the 2018 Olympics.) Mueller, a native of Switzerland, could become the first player of European descent to receive the Patti Kazmaier Memorial Award, given to the best player in college hockey.
Turning point: The Huskies lost their second game of the season 2-1 to #9 Boston College. It ended up being a weekend and Northeasterns only loss of the season. The Huskies reached the 9. January a 2-2 draw with New Hampshire, but were otherwise flawless. Northeastern led the nation in goals (95) and goals allowed (16) during the regular season.
Report on the monitoring of graduate students U.S. Olympian Kendall Coyne Schofield played for the Huskies from 2011 to 2016. This year she was appointed by the NHL as a player development coach for the Chicago Blackhawks, becoming the first female coach in the organization. Here’s a look at the 2021 Coyne Schofield Huskies:
I’m impressed with your resilience. I am a big fan of coach Dave Flint and the work he has done to build the program. The pandemic prevented them from finishing what they started last year. They never got to win the tournament they deserved, but they picked up where they left off. They entered the tournament as number one for a reason. They have already made history by becoming the first Northeastern team to not only win their first NCAA game, but also reach the Frozen Four, something I am very proud of as an alum. But I also know that they are not ready yet.
If they make history, it’s because they do it together. This is what I see from a distance: They play for each other. When you see Alina Muller applauding when her teammate scores a goal, that’s all you need to know about this team. They are genuinely happy and support each other in their successes.
I think about the year Minnesota had its best forwards, goalies and defenders in [Amanda] Kessel, Noura [Rati] and [Megan] Bozeka, all three of whom were finalists in the Patty Kazmaier competition. Northeastern’s team has a similar lineup with Alina Mueller, Aerin Frankel and Skylar Fontaine. Best attacker, best goalie and best defender in the NCAA. But they are also a team with depth, and depth helps them win games. I love the way they play together. The culture has changed so much, in such a positive way, since I left the Northeast, and that’s what I’m most proud of.
Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs
Trouble: The Bulldogs returned to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2010, the last time they won the NCAA title. After defeating UMD in the WCHA playoffs, Ohio State was selected by the selection committee. The Bulldogs followed that up with a 1-0 overtime victory over Colgate in the quarterfinals to cap off a dramatic two weeks. They are led by star attackers Gabby Hughes and Anna Klein, who have nearly identical statistics, including 21 points in 18 games. Later in the month, Hughes and Klein were invited to the U.S. Women’s National Team evaluation camp in Minnesota. They, along with WMU graduates Sidney Brodt and Maddie Rooney, will form one of the largest Bulldogs contingents at U.S. Evaluation Camp.
Player clock: Junior Emma Soderberg inherited Rooney’s network. In his first year as a starter, Soderberg shined, leading all WCHA guards in the regular season with a 1.34 GAA. She also ranks sixth nationally with a .941 save percentage (12 games minimum) and second in shutouts (five). Soderberg recorded her sixth win and stopped all 30 shots she saw against Colgate to reach the Frozen Four.
Moment of rotation: The Bulldogs qualified for the NCAA Tournament late when they scored four points out of a possible six in their regular season finale against Wisconsin. Against Ohio State in the semifinals of the WCHA, things didn’t go well. The Bulldogs gave up four goals in the first eight minutes of the second period – forcing Soderberg to the bench – and lost 7-2. It was the most embarrassing and one-sided loss of the season. The big gamble – rewarding the Bulldogs for their past work – has given UMD new life and purpose. I also felt like we got a second chance, senior Hannah Markel said on the team’s website. Because after losing to Ohio State, we weren’t sure if we could play another game.
Exploration report: Goalkeeper Maddie Rooney, who helped Team USA win gold at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, played for the Bulldogs from 2015-20. Rooney is UMD’s all-time leader in minutes and games played. Rooney, meanwhile, is recruiting the Bulldogs in 2021:
I think UMD’s biggest strengths are the execution of the schemes, the dedication to the D-zone, the great focus, physicality, thoroughness and the pure heart that the whole team exudes. This makes them do everything they can to keep the puck away from their own goal and score goals in situations where they are under pressure, as we saw in this quarterfinal game. I think they can win it all, because it’s been a long time since the Bulldogs were in the Frozen Four. And they have the pure talent to win, but the real hunt is who will win that championship game. If they have to play against another WCHA team, it could work to their advantage because they know how to beat those teams if they only play against them occasionally.
Emblematic captain in extra time. Let’s go, @Abell17Bell! #BulldogCountry pic.twitter.com/Ev0ceE4QEP
– UMD Women’s Hockey (@UMDWHockey) March 16, 2021
Trouble: The Badgers are technically the defending champions as last year’s tournament was cancelled. For Wisconsin, this is its seventh consecutive participation in the Frozen Four, an NCAA record. If the Badgers win the title, it will be their sixth national championship, with Minnesota being the most successful. Mark Johnson, who has led the Badgers for nearly two decades, is used to coaching talented players, and this team is no different. The depth we have on this team, the skills we have are incredible, senior captain Daryl Watts said. Our third line, I think, would have been first to almost any other team in the country. They’re a very special group of girls.
Player clock: Watts is Patti Kazmaier’s favorite this year, three years after she first won the award as a freshman at Boston College. The Toronto native, who came to Wisconsin as a junior, led the team in goals per game (0.94) and points per game (1.83) this season. Senior Sophie Shirley (22 points in 18 games, two goals in NCAA quarterfinal win over Providence) is also a finalist. Both Watts and Shirley are part of a potent offense that has done nothing but score this season for Northeastern. Wisconsin had a plus-40 goal differential in just 18 games.
Moment of rotation: Wisconsin defeated Ohio State in overtime for the WCHA championship and secured a spot in the NCAA tournament. A place in the Frozen Four seemed in little doubt as Wisconsin shined in the first round of the tournament. The Badgers have not allowed a goal in an NCAA quarterfinal game since 2015 (302:53). In this year’s quarterfinals, the Badgers held Providence off a shot on goal until nine minutes into the second half and held an 82-31 advantage in shots on goal in the 3-0 victory.
Exploration report: Hilary Knight is one of the most recognizable faces on Team USA. Her international success made her a star for the Badgers and she finished 2012 as the program’s record holder (143), points leader (262) and leading scorer (30). Here’s Knight on the 2021 Badgers.
The biggest strength of the team is that it is a dynamic group, both in terms of strikers and defenders. Excellent scoring and playing ability combined with experience and leadership. The key to winning the next round is fast starts and consistent puck control – a Badgers hockey game. My favorite players right now are Britta Curl, Grace Bowlby, and Natalie Butchbinder. I love the way Lacey Eden has tapped into the Badger list. I think they can win anything because they’ve done it before and they’re hungry to win.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Trouble: In 2018, Ohio State hosted the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. The Buckeyes had earned another trip to 2020 after winning the WCHA championship, but when they arrived at the airport to board their flight, they learned the tournament had been canceled. Of course, last year was disappointing, senior Tatum Skaggs said. We have to remember that everyone has been through the same thing. Everyone had the same feeling. It just sucks, because last year we were at such a high level, we won the WCHA, and then of course that faded away. This feeling is exactly what we deserve to feel. We are excited because we deserved to go to the national tournament last year and it didn’t happen. So our time has finally come.
Player clock: Forward Emma Maltais is a finalist for the Patti Kazmaier title. She and Skaggs (19 points in 19 games) are two of the Buckeyes’ most talented players and rank in the top 10 in the Buckeyes record book for career points. Nine players have scored 10 to 19 points this season.
Moment of rotation: The Buckeyes faced Wisconsin in the Frozen Four, a revenge of the WCHA championship game less than two weeks ago that the Badgers won in overtime. Ohio State and Wisconsin split the season series, 2-2, but after the Badgers captured the WCHA title, the Buckeyes want revenge. Ohio State’s best game of the year came in the semifinals of the WCHA, where Minnesota-Duluth used all the pent up energy to win 7-2 after three weeks in a row without a game.
Exploration report: Last year, Jincy Dunn finished as one of the best defensemen in the history of the Ohio State program and became the first hockey player to be named Ohio State’s Athlete of the Year. The two-year captain and two-time WCHA Defensive Player of the Year was an assistant at Ohio State last season. And here’s Dunn’s take on the 2021 Buckeyes.
Their fitness and conditioning is one of the team’s strongest points. In terms of X’s and O’s, her control is fantastic, she is unstoppable, very hard to play against. You have many skills. And in terms of the intangibles, I think they are one of the hardest working teams. You’ll never find it. With time left in the game, there’s always a chance if they haven’t won yet. Their cohesion, their ability to get along, the culture is really something special to see.
I still agree with all the defenders. Riley Brangman did a really great job as a freshman D and will have four great years. I’ve watched Lisa Bruno develop over the past four years, and I think Madison Bisal is a rock star. She is so solid, her side game is incredible. Sophie Jacques was my D partner and I love her.
I love watching Tatum and Emma skate, they are so fast. And [Jenna] Buglioni is fun to watch as a freshman because she has embraced her role.
I give a lot of credit and praise to Nadine [Muzzerall] for being a leader, for setting the standard for our program, and for going above and beyond to make sure we reach that standard as athletes. And over time, a culture has developed where we truly care about each other.
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