Preview and Picks for the Women’s Hockey WCHA Quarterfinals
1. Minnesota vs. 8. Minnesota State
Minnesota lowdown: Minnesota does not necessarily have an advantage in the traditional sense going into these playoffs. As the nation’s No. 2 team, the Gophers have consistently showcased a powerful offense, defense and special teams. So the question is not where are they the strongest, but how other teams can keep up with them. Brandt and Cameranesi will be the main offensive forces to look out for, especially when the team is on power play. Minnesota converted 31.1 percent of its chances in the regular season.
Minnesota State lowdown: The Mavericks have struggled over the past few years, but 2014-15 is arguably the hardest season they have faced yet. With only three wins to its name, the Minnesota State roster does not look to have much of a chance against the reigning champ. In addition, the Mavericks lead the nation in penalty minutes, and will have to make sure to stay out of the box so as not to let Minnesota deploy its peerless power play.
Bottom line: Minnesota has been sturdy all season, and has proven in past years that it is not one to choke under pressure. Seeing how the Gophers have topped the Mavericks by at least four goals in each of their four regular-season meetings this year, MSU would have to shadow Brandt and Cameranesi to keep the offense at bay if they want a fighting chance.
Prediction: Minnesota in two
2. Wisconsin vs. 7. St. Cloud State
Wisconsin lowdown: While the Badgers run an efficient offense, their strength sits in their defensive unit. Desbiens has done an outstanding job taking the place as the team’s starting goalie, posting the second best goals-against average in the nation (1.15) and earning 13 shutouts in her 31 appearances. In addition, the Wisconsin penalty kill is effective an impressive 96.2 percent of the time, showing that even when they are down a player, the Badgers pose a challenge.
St. Cloud State Lowdown: Overall, SCSU’s eight-win season has not been the most successful, though it is a step up from last year. Fighting to gain victories against MSU, Bemidji State and Ohio State, the Huskies will have their work cut out for them against Wisconsin. St. Cloud State’s main advantage going into this weekend will be that just last weekend, the team pulled off a 2-1 win over the Badgers, splitting the series on the road. Goaltender Julie Friend made an incredible 52 saves in the victory, which could give her an extra vote of confidence heading into the playoffs.
Bottom line: The Huskies will have to make every shot count against Desbiens and hit the ice with more intensity than last weekend, as the Badgers will be prepared to not let them pull off another victory. The Badgers will more than likely be looking to apply continuous pressure on Friend. If the Huskies do not want to make their goalie experience another 50-plus shots on net, they will have to ice the puck frequently to keep it out of their end.
Prediction: Wisconsin in two
3. North Dakota vs. 6. Ohio State
North Dakota lowdown: UND has arguably seen the WCHA’s biggest difference in performance since returning to the ice in mid-January. Amsley-Benzie has been the backbone to the team, shutting out eight of the last 13 competitors she has faced. The last four consecutive games have been shutouts for UND, which could make a difference in momentum as the team turns its attention to the playoffs.
Ohio State Lowdown: Though OSU did not finish the regular season on as high of a note as did UND, the Buckeyes fared decently well against their top conference competitors in the past couple weeks, pulling off a win over Wisconsin and a tie versus Minnesota. Defender Kari Schmitt has been stepping up lately, as have forwards Taylor Kuehl and Claudia Kepler. Together, those three will pose the biggest offensive threat to UND.
Bottom line: Though UND did sweep OSU in mid-January, each was a one-goal game, which could mean that this series will be close. Additonally, while UND is sturdy between the pipes, opponents still get the majority of the shots 50 percent of the time, showing that UND’s backcheck and defensive coverage might not be as quite as tight. If OSU wants to pull off a win, they will have to find where those gaps are and take advantage of them.
Prediction: North Dakota in three
4. Minnesota-Duluth vs. 5. Bemidji State
Minnesota-Duluth lowdown: Though the Bulldogs did not finish the regular season as strong as they had hoped, they are still among the nation’s top 10 ranked teams (No. 9). They are skating with the same intensity that earned them that ranking in the first place, though are a bit inconsistent when going up against the stronger teams in the conference. Their main problem has not been getting shots off so much as getting those shots in the back of the net. But if they apply the constant pressure to BSU’s Mowat that they have shown they are capable of, they will have a good chance of advancing to the next round.
Bemidji State lowdown: Bemidji has fared well against the top competitors in the conference, being the only team to win a series against the Gophers in 2014-15, and more recently pulling off wins against Wisconsin and Duluth. Mowat has one of the best save percentages in the country at .943, and has been tough for UMD to sneak the puck past all season. But the Beavers are not known for getting many shots off, and will more than likely be reliant on Mowat’s ability to keep the goals against to a minimum if they are to advance
Bottom line: In general, UMD plays with more maturity and discipline. But most of its opponents have been earning extra goals on the power play, so if the Bulldogs cannot stay out of the penalty box, BSU could take advantage. In addition, Bemidji has proven to stay calm in high-pressure situations this season in a way that Duluth has not.
Prediction: Bemidji State in three
CLICK HERE to read original article