Best of the WCHA continue quest for trip to Frozen Four

Only Minnesota Duluth had its first-round series go three games.

by Brian Deutsch

This weekend, four of the top women’s hockey programs in the nation will continue their quest toward a berth in this year’s NCAA Frozen Four in Lake Placid, NY.

The Western Collegiate Hockey Association Championships begin with top-seeded Wisconsin taking on fourth-seeded Ohio State at 1 p.m. Saturday, while third-seeded Minnesota and second-seeded Minnesota-Duluth face off in the other semifinal matchup at 4 p.m.

Both games will be played at Ridder Arena as will Sunday’s championship game, which is scheduled to start at 1 p.m.

In four regular season meetings between the Badgers and the Buckeyes this year, Ohio State failed to earn a conference point although the Buckeyes lost three of the four contests by a score of 3-2.

Wisconsin will try to extend its 21-game winning streak this weekend to win its second straight WCHA Championship.

The semifinal between the Gophers and Bulldogs will not only determine who will advance to the championship game, but it will also determine who the dominant Minnesota team is.

The two teams split four games this season, with both teams sweeping their home series – perhaps a slight advantage for Minnesota, which is playing at home this weekend.

“I think because it is in our home rink we feel very comfortable here,” Gophers coach Laura Halldorson said. “But the WCHA does a good job of trying to make it as neutral of a site as possible.”

Minnesota took the first two games this season with a 5-3 win followed by a 1-0 shutout victory.

But Duluth answered back in the final series of the regular season, humiliating the Gophers with 7-1 and 5-1 wins, which sent the Bulldogs into the playoffs with a full head of steam.

And then there were four

All four teams in this weekend’s WCHA Championships are ranked in’s Division I Women’s poll.

“It shows the strength of our conference,” Ohio State coach Jackie Barto said. “In my opinion, (the WCHA) is the top women’s hockey league in the country.”

A Wisconsin team that was stranded in the No. 2 spot behind Mercyhurst for the majority of the season finally took over the top ranking in the country.

The Badgers blanked North Dakota in the first round of the playoffs with a pair of shutouts, winning 4-0 on Friday and 3-0 on Saturday.

“I think it is great that we have four teams in the top 10,” Halldorson said. “I think Wisconsin has been above the rest of us in terms of the national picture this season.”

No. 10 Ohio State swept Minnesota State last weekend – although the Mavericks kept both games close – winnning game one 1-0 and pulling out an overtime victory Saturday, 5-4.

Minnesota bounced back from two tough losses to Duluth two weeks ago and put together a strong showing in its sweep of Bemidji State.

The ninth-ranked Gophers posted 5-1 and 4-1 wins to advance to the semifinals.

The seventh-ranked Bulldogs took on St. Cloud State in the only opening-round series that made it to a third game.

Duluth edged out the Huskies 4-3 in the first game before dropping a 1-0 game the next night that forced a tie-breaking final game.

Unlike the previous two games, game three was a blowout as the Bulldogs cruised to a 5-1 win.

“I thought when we played our style of hockey we were successful,” Duluth coach Shannon Miller said. “We struggled when we played other teams’ styles.”