The road to the NCAA Women's Frozen Four begins Saturday with the quarterfinals at four campus sites. It's a straightforward deal: one win gets you to AMSOIL Arena in Duluth, Minn., for next week's semifinals.
Minnesota-Duluth did not qualify, but WCHA rivals Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota (a first-timer) are still in the mix. With five of the eight participants coming from the East, will this be the first year a team outside of the WCHA wins it all? We'll see.
Here are our five things to watch this weekend:
1. Can the Lams carry North Dakota?
Three years ago, high-scoring twins Jocelyn and Monique Lamoureux left Minnesota after one season to return home to Grand Forks and play for the Sioux following a stint on the 2010 U.S. Olympic team. Their arrival, and savvy recruiting by coach Brian Idalski, finally led UND to its first NCAA Tournament berth. So who did the Sioux draw in the quarterfinals? The Gophers, naturally, and in Minneapolis, no less. Jocelyn, the nation's leading scorer and a top-three Patty Kazmaier Award finalist, and Monique, a defenseman, will need to be at their best; the Gophers beat UND 6-0 last week in the WCHA semifinals.
2. Will Mercyhurst finally break through?
With eight consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, coach Mike Sisti has built a juggernaut outside the upper Midwest/New England axis. The Lakers boast Division I's top power play with senior forwards Bailey Bram and Kelley Steadman among four players sharing the D-1 lead with 12 power-play goals. But Mercyhurst has only advanced out of this round twice, and will be hard-pressed to do it on the road against top-seeded Wisconsin.
3. Is Cornell overrated?
Third-seeded Cornell swept a two-game series against Boston University in November, when the Terriers were without the injured Marie-Philip Poulin. BU finished its season with seven consecutive victories and hasn't lost in regulation since Jan. 19 at New Hampshire. But the game is at Cornell, which seeks its third consecutive Frozen Four berth, and the Big Red are the only Division I team that hasn't been shut out this season.
4. Will this be the first Women's Frozen Four with four male coaches?
That's the scenario if St. Lawrence upsets fourth-seeded Boston College, whose Katie King Crowley is the only woman coaching in the tournament. Five-time NCAA champion Minnesota-Duluth, led by Shannon Miller, is missing just its second tournament since the inaugural Frozen Four in 2001. Tough break for Bulldogs fans since they're hosting the big show.
5. Who has the hot goalie?
The choices: Wisconsin sophomore Alex Rigsby (nine shutouts with a national-best .952 save percentage), Minnesota junior Noora Raty (10 shutouts, .940) or the Cornell tandem of senior Amanda Mazzotta and sophomore Lauren Slebodnick (each has five shutouts). We'll take Raty, who backstopped Finland at the past two Olympics and has twice been named best goalie at the World Championships.
Pat Borzi's three-decade career in journalism has taken him from Long Island to South Florida to New England to New Jersey and on to Minneapolis. He covered the declining years of Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics for the Portland (Maine) Press Herald, and the rise of the latest Yankee dynasty for the Newark (N.J.) Star Ledger. Borzi met his wife, Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Rachel Blount, on the Olympics beat.