NCAA Tournament quarterfinal games analysis

The eight remaining teams kick off the national tournament this weekend.

by John Hageman

While the third-seeded Minnesota womenâÄôs hockey team looks to advance past Clarkson Saturday in the NCAA quarterfinals, the rest of the tournament participants will try to punch their tickets to Minneapolis for the Frozen Four on March 19-21. The top four seeds âÄî Mercyhurst, Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota and Harvard âÄî will all play quarterfinal matches at home this weekend. This yearâÄôs field is without last seasonâÄôs national champion Wisconsin , who was knocked out of the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs by Ohio State. Filling the void are two NCAA Tournament newcomers in Cornell and Boston University, both of which won their respective conference titles to earn two of the three automatic bids. Here is a look at the other three matchups taking place outside of Minneapolis this weekend: No. 1 Mercyhurst (29-2-3) vs. Boston University (17-8-12) Mercyhurst may prove to be the scariest team in the country and have rightfully been ranked No. 1 in the land for a majority of the season. The Lakers have just two losses this year in the friendly confines of the Mercyhurst Ice Center, one of them coming against No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth . They may outscore their opponents by three goals a game, but the astronomical numbers arenâÄôt the only thing this team boasts. Mercyhurst is battle-tested. Their .6337 RPI is the highest in Division I and is significantly higher than MinnesotaâÄôs (.5782). The College Hockey America champion team also has three of the top four scorers in the nation, including the two leading scorers in Vicky Bendus and Jesse Scanzano . Both have 62 points this season. Bailey Bram is the nationâÄôs fourth-leading scorer with 54 points . Boston University earned the automatic bid as Hockey East champions with a 2-1 overtime victory over then-No. 7 Connecticut to make their first trip to the NCAA quarterfinals . If the Terriers have anything going for them in this matchup with Goliath, itâÄôs momentum. The team made a late-season push with a program record 10-game unbeaten streak to end the season. The Terriers have also shown they are not willing to give up easily this season, forcing a whopping 12 ties, including four in their first seven games. No.2 Minnesota-Duluth (28-8-2) vs. New Hampshire (19-8-5) This matchup features two familiar foes, with SaturdayâÄôs game marking the third consecutive year these teams have met in the postseason. Minnesota-Duluth has won the previous two meetings, including a 3-2 victory in the 2008 Frozen Four semifinal game on the road to the BulldogsâÄô fourth NCAA Championship. Minnesota-Duluth comes into the NCAA Tournament as maybe the hottest team in the country after defeating the Gophers to earn an automatic bid as the WCHA champions . The Bulldogs have won their last six games and 15 out of their last 16. Minnesota-Duluth also recently welcomed back senior Saara Tuominen and freshman Mariia Posa , who both won bronze medals with Team Finland at the Vancouver Olympics . New Hampshire comes into the NCAA Tournament as one of five at-large bids after being ousted from the Hockey East tournament by BU in the semifinals, losing 4-0. This season marks the first time the Wildcats have had to make a road trip in a quarterfinal matchup. The team had won the Hockey East championship each year from 2006 to 2009. The Wildcats are led by Kelly Paton, who has 19 goals and 32 assists this season and is a Patty Kazmaier top-three finalist. The senior is also the sixth leading scorer in the country. No. 4 Harvard (20-7-5) vs. Cornell (19-8-6) The only NCAA quarterfinal matchup to feature two teams from the same conference should make for an intriguing game, as Harvard looks to take down Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament champion Cornell. Harvard fell to Clarkson in the semifinal matchup of the conference tournament, which would go on to lose to the Big Red . The two teams have met twice this year, with one game resulting in a 4-3 Cornell victory and the other ending in a 4-4 tie . With its 5-1 victory over Princeton in the ECAC quarterfinal matchup, HarvardâÄôs longtime coach Katey Stone became the winningest Division I coach in history, surpassing former Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson with 338 wins. The Crimson also boasts the sixth-best goalie in goals against average with freshman Laura Bellamy. After Harvard senior goaltender and all-time wins leader Kristina Kessler tore her ACL during practice in late January, the young Bellamy has come through mightily for the Crimson, allowing just five goals in three games during the ECAC Tournament. After this weekendâÄôs game, the dust will settle and the participants will be set for the Frozen Four. In a highly talented field of hockey teams, only one thing remains certain: There will be a new national champion at the end of March. Tomorrow: a preview of No. 3 MinnesotaâÄôs quarterfinal matchup against Clarkson.