NCAA women’s hockey tournament — Matchups, players to watch, Frozen Four picks


The NCAA women’s hockey tournament is bigger and better than ever in 2022.

This year the field expands from eight to 11 teams, with play beginning Thursday, March 10. The top four seeds will host the regional semifinals and finals, with the Frozen Four being held March 18 and 20 at Penn State.

To get you ready for all the action, ESPN analyst Angela Ruggiero, who played in the Frozen Four with Harvard twice and won a national title in 1999, provides her take on each team and her top players to watch. Additionally, Ruggiero and ESPN analyst A.J. Mleczko make their picks for who will make this year’s Frozen Four and who will win the national championship.

Schedule

Regional semifinals, March 10: No. 11 Syracuse vs. No. 6 Quinnipiac, 6 p.m. ET

Regional semifinals, March 11: No. 10 Clarkson vs. No. 7 Wisconsin, 7 p.m. ET; No. 9 Harvard vs. No. 8 Minnesota Duluth, 7 p.m. ET

Regional finals, March 12: Quinnipiac/Syracuse winner at No. 1 Ohio State, 5 p.m. ET; No. 5 Yale at No. 4 Colgate, time TBD

Regional finals, March 13: Minnesota Duluth/Harvard winner at No. 2 Minnesota, 3 p.m. ET; Wisconsin/Clarkson winner at No. 3 Northeastern, 1 p.m. ET

Frozen Four semifinals, March 18: 3 and 7:30 p.m. ET, at State College, Pennsylvania (ESPN+)

Frozen Four final, March 20: 4 p.m. ET, at State College, Pennsylvania (ESPNU)


Teams at a glance

1. Ohio State (29-6)

How they got in: WCHA tournament champion

Numbers to know: The Buckeyes, who beat Wisconsin and Minnesota en route to the WCHA title, have the top offense in the country with 4.79 goals per game and are No. 3 in scoring defense (1.47 goals allowed per game). Four of Ohio State’s school-record 29 wins have come against Minnesota.

Ruggiero’s take: With Sophie Jaques on defense leading the team with 57 points (including 11 power-play goals) and a plus-48 plus/minus, coach Nadine Muzerall is doing a great job of keeping this team disciplined and focused.

2. Minnesota (29-8-1)

How they got in: At-large berth

Numbers to know: The Gophers have just four losses since the start of December, including their overtime loss to Ohio State in the WCHA final, and have outscored their opponents 100-39 in that span. That stretch included wins over Ohio State, Minnesota Duluth and a 4-0 record against Wisconsin. Minnesota has some extra motivation in returning to the NCAA tournament after missing out last year for the first time in 15 seasons.

Ruggiero’s take: Minnesota came on very strong in the second half of the season. Forward Taylor Heise is the leading scorer in the nation with 66 points, and in addition to her, the Gophers are very deep offensively and play an aggressive game.

3. Northeastern (30-4-2)

How they got in: Hockey East tournament champion

Numbers to know: Northeastern, which has won a conference-record five straight Hockey East titles and was last season’s national runner-up, is not only the NCAA leader in scoring defense (1.00 goals per game), but has the nation’s top goal-scorer in Maureen Murphy (29 goals in 35 games).

Ruggiero’s take: With eight graduate students, Northeastern has an incredibly mature team. Skylar Fontaine is very strong on defense and forward Alina Mueller, who has 38 points in just 19 games this season, is back after representing Switzerland in the Olympics.

4. Colgate (30-7-1)

How they got in: ECAC tournament champion

Numbers to know: Colgate enters the NCAA tournament with 13 wins in its last 14 games, including wins over Harvard and at Quinnipiac and Clarkson. In addition to being one of the top scoring teams in the country, averaging nearly four goals per game, the Raiders allowed just 18 goals over that 14-game stretch.

Ruggiero’s take: Colgate always shows up in big tournaments and has a recent history of defeating WCHA teams in the NCAAs. The Raiders will be able to rely on this confidence over the next two weeks.

5. Yale (25-8-1)

How they got in: At-large berth

Numbers to know: The Bulldogs, the only team in the field making its first NCAA appearance, are one of the top defensive teams in the country, allowing 1.53 goals per game.

Ruggiero’s take: Yale also shows up in big games and has had an excellent season offensively in addition to being solid on the blue line. Opening with a rematch against Colgate after falling in overtime in the ECAC final, Yale is one to watch.

6. Quinnipiac (25-9-3)

How they got in: At-large berth

Numbers to know: The Bobcats slumped a bit in the second half with an 8-7-1 record from the start of January through the end of the regular season, but bounced back with an impressive quarterfinal sweep of Clarkson in the ECAC playoffs before losing to Colgate in the semis.

Ruggiero’s take: Quinnipiac is excellent at getting back on defense and taking advantage of offensive opportunities. The Bobcats are physical and smart, and could be a sleeper team.

7. Wisconsin (25-7-4)

How they got in: At-large berth

Numbers to know: After starting out 16-0 and reaching No. 1 in the polls, defending national champion Wisconsin slipped to 6-5-1 over its last 12 games of the regular season. That included a 1-5 mark against NCAA tournament teams Minnesota, Ohio State and Minnesota Duluth.

Ruggiero’s take: Fifth-year senior Daryl Watts and sophomore Makenna Webster are two players to look out for as Wisconsin has a dangerous group of forwards. The Badgers’ young goalies are a possible weakness but Wisconsin has allowed only four power-play goals all season.

8. Minnesota Duluth (24-11-1)

How they got in: At-large berth

Numbers to know: Minnesota Duluth lost only twice in its last 16 games of the regular season, a stretch that included wins over Harvard, Ohio State and Wisconsin.

Ruggiero’s take: Gabbie Hughes and Elizabeth Giguere (the Patty Kazmaier winner in 2020 and a finalist this year) are standout players for Minnesota Duluth. Coach Maura Crowell surely would have loved to have beaten Minnesota in the WCHA final to build some momentum and confidence, but the Bulldogs fell short.

9. Harvard (22-9-1)

How they got in: At-large berth

Numbers to know: Harvard, making its 12th NCAA appearance but its first since 2015, is tied for sixth in the country with 3.53 goals per game and has a top-five power-play unit.

Ruggiero’s take: Despite losing to Princeton in the best-of-three quarterfinals, the Crimson were dominant in the ECAC outside of that upset, so they could be a contender here.

10. Clarkson (22-11-3)

How they got in: At-large berth

Numbers to know: Clarkson made the NCAA field on the strength of its strong first half, as the Golden Knights dropped six of their final eight games, including a two-game sweep by Quinnipiac in the ECAC quarterfinals.

Ruggiero’s take: Despite their late slump in the rankings, Clarkson has had a great season, led by veteran Caitrin Lonergan, and the Golden Knights have an excellent power play, converting at 20%. They do have a very young roster, and that showed late in the season.

11. Syracuse (15-10-6)

How they got in: CHA tournament champion

Numbers to know: The Orange, who were the top seed in the CHA tournament, claimed the second NCAA berth in program history by beating Mercyhurst 3-2 in overtime. Syracuse also went to OT in its 3-2 semifinal win over RIT.

Ruggiero’s take: Syracuse is a very defensively minded, which is a great thing for this tournament, and the Orange have a lot of momentum (unbeaten in 11 of their last 12 games).


Players to watch

Skylar Fontaine, Northeastern: Rock solid on the blue line, Fontaine and goaltender Aerin Frankin make for a killer combination for the Huskies.

Elizabeth Giguere, Minnesota Duluth: Giguere, who won the Patty Kaz award in 2020 with Clarkson, is a force offensively and brings lots of experience in her final year.

Alina Mueller, Northeastern: Mueller had a dominant performance for Switzerland in the Olympics as the team’s leading scorer (four goals, six assists) and has had three points in each of her three games since returning.

Daryl Watts, Wisconsin: The fifth-year senior won the Patty Kaz in 2018 with Boston College and is a top-10 finalist for the fourth time. She is seven points shy of the career record of 303, held by Mercyhurst’s Meghan Agosta.

Taylor Heise, Minnesota: The nation’s leading scorer was a huge reason for the Gophers’ success in the back half of the season. She also leads the NCAA with five short-handed goals and has a plus-44 plus/minus rating.

Aerin Franklin, Northeastern: The 2021 Patty Kaz winner, Frankel could be the difference-maker in this tournament. She led the NCAA in wins (24) and shutouts (11), while posting a 1.03 goals-against average and a .956 save percentage.


Frozen Four picks

Angela Ruggiero: Ohio State, Minnesota, Northeastern, Colgate
National champ: Ohio State

A.J. Mleczko: Ohio State, Minnesota, Northeastern, Colgate
National champ: Northeastern

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