WCHA first-round playoff games set

Brian Deutsch

Playoff action takes off this weekend as the eight women’s hockey teams in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association battle for a shot at the conference title.

The first round of the WCHA Championships uses a best-of-three-games format with the winner of each series advancing to next weekend’s final rounds at Ridder Arena.

WCHA regular season champion Wisconsin will host North Dakota in the opening round at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis.

The Badgers dominated the Sioux this season, as well as every opponent they faced – losing just once in 28 contests.

Wisconsin won all four regular-season games against North Dakota this season by a combined score of 26-2.

North Dakota has faced several struggles this season, including a winless record in conference play and a mid-season coaching change that gave assistant coach Dennis Miller the program reigns.

Second-seed Minnesota Duluth will take on St. Cloud State. The Bulldogs swept both series from the Huskies earlier this season.

Minnesota Duluth will finally have a completely healthy roster as it enters the playoffs and comes in on a high note after sweeping Minnesota last weekend in dominant fashion to clinch the second seed.

“Finishing second in the WCHA is an extremely big deal because the WCHA is the strongest league in the country,” Duluth coach Shannon Miller said. “Four of our eight teams are ranked nationally, so to finish second, you’ve got to be doing something right.”

On the other hand, the Gophers will try to forget about their poor play in the final few weeks of the regular season, in which they lost three of their last four games.

Third-seed Minnesota will take on Bemidji State this weekend at Ridder Arena.

“If we want to get to the national tournament now, we are going to have to win the WCHA tournament,” Gophers coach Laura Halldorson said. “First, we have to take care of Bemidji.”

Just two weeks ago, the Beavers pulled off an upset of Minnesota, handing the Gophers a 2-0 loss at Ridder – only the second win over the Gophers in Bemijdi State’s history.

In perhaps the best matchup of the first round, Ohio State meets up with Minnesota State in Columbus, Ohio.

The two teams will face each other in at least four straight games after seeing each other in last weekend’s regular-season finale.

The Buckeyes clinched home-ice advantage with a 4-3 overtime win Friday night before completing the sweep with a 6-4 win the following day.

“We played hard, aggressive hockey,” Ohio State coach Jackie Barto said. “It was just a solid weekend for us.”

Minnesota State dropped all four games against Ohio State this season, but every game was decided by two goals or less.

An otherwise strong second half of the season has Mavericks coach Jeff Vizenor feeling confident.

“Right now, we’re just focusing on Ohio State and trying to make it to Minneapolis in two weeks,” he said.

Kazmaier finalists named

Of the 10 finalists for the 2007 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award – given to the most valuable player in women’s collegiate hockey – four come from WCHA teams.

Wisconsin has two finalists in senior defenseman Meaghan Mikkelson and senior forward Sara Bauer. Bauer won the award last season.

Mikkelson and Bauer are joined by Minnesota Duluth senior forward Noemie Marin and Ohio State junior defenseman Tessa Bonhomme.

The finalists are judged on several factors including sportsmanship, individual and team performance and academic achievement.

The Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner will be named on Mar. 17 during the NCAA Frozen Four in Lake Placid, NY.