Game Day Skate: Conference Quarterfinals Edition

College Hockey America

#6 Lindenwood at #3 Penn State, 7 p.m. EST
#5 RIT at #4 Robert Morris, 7:05 p.m. EST

Penn State lost its hold on a bye to the semifinals in the final week of the regular season, which is a bit disappointing considering the position they had been in. The Nittany Lions have lost their last five games, including their last match-up against Lindenwood, 4-2. This should be a fairly neutral series as far as special teams are concerned (Penn State is fifth in the league with a penalty kill of 81.4%, and Lindenwood is last on the power play at 9.7%), but if one of them can find a way to take advantage there, it will likely go a long way in deciding this weekend’s outcome.

Both Robert Morris and RIT are pretty evenly matched, though the Colonials come in as the hotter team. They swept Penn State last weekend and are unbeaten in four straight, while the Tigers’ 1-0 win against Syracuse in their last outing was their win in seven games. Ali Binnington hasn’t given up more than two goals against RMU yet this season, and RIT has the second-best scoring defense in the CHA, averaging 2.29 goals against per game. However, the Tigers will still need to find a way to score, and producing offense has been a challenge.

Players to Watch

Jessica Dodds, Goaltender, Robert Morris: Since Jan. 1, Dodds has a .944 save percentage and 1.76 goals-against average, and that level of play this weekend would really help the Colonials seal a spot in the CHA semifinals.

Shannon Yoxheimer, Forward, Penn State: Yoxheimer scored eight goals through Dec. 5 and has just two since then. The emergence of sophomore forwards Laura Bowman and Amy Peterson has taken some pressure off of her to produce, but the Nittany Lions have been looking for a boost lately.

Celeste Brown, Forward, RIT: Brown has also tailed off over the second half of the year, but she’s still the Tigers leading scorer with 10 goals and 16 points, and she’ll help drive the offense this weekend as RIT looks to score consistently.

ECAC

#6 Princeton at #3 Quinnipiac, 3:30 p.m. EST
#7 Yale at #2 Harvard, 3:30 p.m. EST
#5 St. Lawrence at #4 Cornell, 7 p.m. EST
#8 Dartmouth at #1 Clarkson, 7 p.m. EST

Though the Golden Knights suffered a significant number of losses to graduation after last season, they have successfully rebounded, capturing their second-straight ECAC regular season title last weekend. Clarkson’s offense is at league average, but its defensive play is second only to Quinnipiac, with an average of 1.53 goals against per game and a penalty kill percentage of 90.4. Despite being the eight-seed, the Big Green will be a tough out, and forced the Golden Knights to overtime in their last outing in a 2-1 loss.

Harvard has put together a strong season as well, and finished as co-regular season champions with Clarkson with a 16-4-2 record. The Crimson have been one of the conference’s most consistent teams this year; they haven’t lost two consecutive games all year and, after a four-game winless streak back in November, didn’t go another two games without a win until last week. Yale has been more up-and-down this season, but the Bulldogs are riding a five-game win streak and have the third-best scoring offense in the league.

Quinnipiac’s second-half skid cost them with a tough quarterfinal draw, as Princeton has proven its worth and posted a 13-8-1 in ECAC competition. The Bobcats are 4-6-0 in their last 10 and over that stretch, Chelsea Laden is last in the conference with a .900 save percentage. They also have the worst scoring offense in the ECAC, averaging just 1.30 goals per game since Jan. 21. The Tigers’ offense isn’t going to blow anyone away, but they’ve gotten some clutch scoring in important games and probably win the battle in net with Kimberly Newell against Laden in current form.

The Cornell-St. Lawrence match-up is one of the most intriguing this weekend. The Saints have made a solid case for themselves despite the fifth-place finish. They have wins over Clarkson, Harvard, and Quinnipiac, as well as ties against Boston College, Quinnipiac, Cornell, and Harvard. They’re averaging three goals a game and are set in goal with Carmen MacDonald. Up front, the Big Red are stronger and have been more consistent, but goaltending is a weak spot and is a concern heading into the playoffs.

 Players to Watch

Kirsten Padalis, Defense, St. Lawrence: Padalis has been a strong two-way presence on the blue line this season and will be crucial to the Saints’ efforts to slow down Cornell’s offense.

Krista Yip-Chuck, Forward, Yale: With 22 points in 29 games, Yip-Chuck gives the Bulldogs’ offense some solid depth, and is the team’s leading scorer with 11 goals. She has four goals and six points in her last three games.

Lindsey Allen, Forward, Dartmouth: Allen is the ECAC’s third-leading goal-scorer with 19 in 28 games, but has yet to record a point against Clarkson in two games so far this season.

Hockey East

#7 Vermont at #2 Boston University, 5 p.m. EST
#8 Providence at #1 Boston College, 7 p.m. EST
#5 Connecticut at #4 Maine, 7 p.m. EST
#6 New Hampshire at #3 Northeastern, 7 p.m. EST

The Eagles finished the regular season with a 2-2 tie against Boston University, but should be able to keep momentum with little trouble against Providence this weekend. The Friars just don’t have the depth to stick with the Eagles for a full game (or series) and don’t have the goaltending to steal anything. Boston College has been dominant this entire season, and though they weren’t producing at such a ridiculously high clip for a few games in January and February the offense has picked back up again; the Eagles have scored five or more goals in three of their last six contests.

Vermont picked up a big win last weekend to surpass Providence and finish seventh. In doing so, they earned a better draw against Boston University, but the Terriers are still heavily favored with the best-of-three format. The Catamounts knocked off BU earlier this season, 2-0, thanks to a strong performance in net from Madison Litchfield, but she hasn’t been at that level in most games. The Terriers responded to that loss with a 9-2 victory, and will more than likely overpower UVM again this weekend.

Northeastern swept New Hampshire in the regular season, beating the Wildcats three times. In the last two match-ups, the Huskies put up a combined eight goals. They’ve had their share of struggles this season, but head into the playoffs on a pretty high note, with a 4-2-1 record in February. Chloe Desjardins has been solid in goal with a .923 save percentage, but weaknesses on the blue line seem to be a problem for Northeastern. The Wildcats’ ability to capitalize on that and make some plays of their own up front will likely play a big part in deciding their fate in this series.

Maine will play host to UConn this weekend in what is perhaps the most even match-up of the four. The Black Bears’ Meghann Treacy has the second-best save percentage in Hockey East at .930, but the Huskies’ Annie Belanger is right behind her in third with a .926. Connecticut is undefeated against Maine so far this season with a 2-0-1 record, and the Huskies’ offense got the better of the Black Bears in the very last game of the regular season in a 6-2 victory. It would be surprising if Maine got swept again this weekend, but the Black Bears will be looking for some improvements on the power play, which is currently clicking at a rate of just 8.3%.

Players to Watch

Leah Lum, Defense, Connecticut: The rookie blue liner has one goal and four points in three games against Maine this season and ranks fourth on the team in scoring with 19 points on the season.

Kendall Coyne, Forward, Northeastern: Coyne is far and away the Huskies best and most dangerous player with 24 goals and 46 points in 27 games, and she needs to lead the way as they look to handle things against New Hampshire and move on to the semifinals.

Victoria Hanson, Goaltender, Boston University: Hanson has been splitting with Erin O’Neil again over the second half of the year, but Hanson has the better numbers and likely has the edge on the starting job. Either way, the Terriers need consistency in net this weekend as they try and prevent any upset attempts by the Catamounts.

WCHA

#5 Bemidji State at #4 Minnesota Duluth, 2:07 p.m. CST
#6 Ohio State at #3 North Dakota, 2:07 p.m. CST
#8 Minnesota State at #1 Minnesota, 7:07 p.m. CST
#7 St. Cloud State at #2 Wisconsin, 7:07 p.m. CST

It would be surprising to see any upsets coming against either of the top two seeds in the WCHA this weekend. Minnesota takes on Minnesota State, who is just 3-30-1 on the season. The Mavericks are averaging 1.21 goals per game; both Hannah Brandt and Dani Cameranesi alone are scoring at a higher point-per-game pace for the Gophers. Though Minnesota State’s goaltenders have shown that they can stand on their heads, I would not expect that to be enough to halt Minnesota’s offense.

Wisconsin suffered a 2-1 loss to St. Cloud State just last weekend at home, and will host the Huskies again this week. In the win, St. Cloud State’s Julie Friend made 52 saves, and kept the Badgers off the board for 59 minutes and 44 seconds. Wisconsin bounced back with a 5-0 victory the next day, and just like the Minnesota-Minnesota State series, I don’t see the Huskies overcoming that much offensive firepower again.

The other two WCHA series are where things get very interesting. North Dakota has turned things around after a bad stretch through November, thanks largely to the goaltending of Shelby Amsley-Benzie, who has posted a .955 save percentage and 1.15 goals-against average so far this season. In the last series between these two teams, UND won both games 1-0, relying on Amsley-Benzie to stay ahead. The Buckeyes have played North Dakota pretty evenly this season despite the losses, and these games will likely be physical, defensive-oriented battles once again.

Minnesota Duluth swept Ohio State last weekend to finish off the season with a couple of wins after going 0-4-2 in its previous six games. In their four games this year, the Bulldogs split with the Beavers, who also haven’t had the best run to end the season but played Minnesota very tightly last weekend. Bemidji State likes to pack it in and will sacrifice puck possession in order to frustrate the opposing offense by getting sticks and bodies in lanes. The Bulldogs have skill throughout their line-up and could expose the flaws in that but their offensive composure isn’t the most consistent.

Players to Watch

Brittni Mowat, Goaltender, Bemidji State: With a .943 save percentage and 1.70 goals-against average, Mowat is the Beavers’ best chance to win every night.

Josefine Jakobsen, Forward, North Dakota: Jakobsen now leads UND in goals with 15 and enters this weekend’s series on an eight-game point streak.

Taylor Kuehl, Forward, Ohio State: Kuehl will be leading the offensive effort for the Buckeyes as they look to break through against UND; she’s the team’s leading scorer with 24 points in 34 games and has been pretty consistent for the team all year.

Game Day Skate: Quinnipiac at Clarkson, Minnesota Duluth at Minnesota

Game Day Highlights

No. 5 Quinnipiac at No. 8/9 Clarkson: After getting shut out by St. Lawrence last night, 3-0, the Bobcats are in desperate need of a good showing. They’ve had a lot of success against Clarkson this season, unlike the ECAC’s other top teams, having already beaten the Golden Knights twice. Clarkson survived its own scare yesterday; despite dominating Princeton, the Golden Knights had to erase a 1-0 deficit and squeaked by, 2-1. But Quinnipiac is struggling to score, and Clarkson has no problem getting locked into a defensive battle.

No. 6 Minnesota Duluth at No. 2 Minnesota: The Gophers earned a resounding 7-1 win last night in game one of this series, so it’s safe to say that the Bulldogs are officially scrambling to find some footing. North Dakota surpassed them yesterday to take over third place in the WCHA standings, and with three games left before the playoffs begin, a strong performance tonight is nearly a must. Minnesota put up 47 shots on goal last night, and though Minnesota Duluth got some chances of its own, it needs to do a better job of controlling play and maintaining possession.

Princeton at St. Lawrence: Both teams have provided the ECAC with a good amount of parity this season, and will likely make it as tough on each other today as they’ve made it against most other teams. St. Lawrence’s offense led the way in the team’s first meeting this season, which the Saints took, 7-3. That’s something to keep an eye on again today, as St. Lawrence’s scoring depth outweighs the Tigers’ on paper. Molly Contini has done a great job up front for Princeton this season, and whether or not she can get some help producing will be a big factor in how this one ends.

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Game Day Skate: Penn State at Mercyhurst, Harvard at Cornell

Game Day Highlights

Penn State at Mercyhurst: The Nittany Lions will try and jump the Lakers for first place in College Hockey America in this weekend’s series. Penn State swept Mercyhurst the last time these two teams met, but lost some ground with a split last weekend against fifth-place Lindenwood. The Lakers took care of business against Robert Morris last week, putting themselves in great position to win the conference. The Nittany Lions have already proven they can beat the Lakers, but this series will likely have a much more playoff-like feel, which probably benefits a more season Mercyhurst squad.

No. 4 Harvard at No. 10 Cornell: The Crimson are coming off a win against previously undefeated Boston College, capturing their first Beanpot title since 2010. It was a huge turnaround for the team, after falling to the Eagles 10-2 earlier in the season. Cornell had been hot lately after a poor start, with just two losses in its last 17 games: 3-2 to Princeton last weekend, and 3-0 to Harvard back on Jan. 24. It’s a tight race at the top of the ECAC standings, with four points separating the No. 1 Crimson and No. 5 St. Lawrence. Harvard’s defensive game is much more sound than Cornell’s, and that’s an area the Big Red will need to focus on if it hopes to improve on that shutout loss a few weeks ago.

No. 6 Minnesota Duluth at No. 2 Minnesota: The Bulldogs have taken just two out of a possible 12 points in their last two series against North Dakota and Wisconsin, and now head to Minneapolis to take on first-place Minnesota. Both teams will be hungry for two wins this weekend, as the Gophers suffered just their second loss of the year last weekend against UND. Minnesota Duluth’s offense has gone a little quiet over the past two weeks, and was held without a goal in its series against the Badgers. That will need to change if the Bulldogs hope to pull off the upset.

No. 5 Quinnipiac at St. Lawrence: With four losses in its last six games, the Bobcats have relinquished control of the ECAC and are in big need of a turn-around. Offensive consistency just hasn’t been there, or at least consistency in finishing. Quinnipiac has dominated weaker teams but struggles to make the game-breaking plays that are needed to knock off tougher competition. The Saints have proven to be a quality team, and played the Bobcats to a 2-2 tie last time these teams met. St. Lawrence’s strengths are its defense and goaltending, and Quinnipiac needs to focus on sustaining offense and generating high-end chances even when being forced to the perimeter.

Princeton at No. 8/9 Clarkson: The Golden Knights hit a bit of a rough stretch towards the end of January, getting outplayed against Wisconsin and then losing to Yale, but they’ve turned it around since then. Princeton, however, has become an extremely dangerous team, having knocked off both Harvard and Cornell in its last four games. The Tigers did a decent job of putting together some offense against both of those teams, and they’re probably not going to just pack it in against Clarkson either.

Players to Watch

Laura Bowman, Forward, Penn State: Bowman is the Nittany Lions’ leading scorer with points in games and notched a hat trick the last time they faced off against Mercyhurst. She will be a key player again this weekend and, as Penn State’s most productive forward, will be counted on to score as they chase after the CHA crown.

Paula Voorheis, Goaltender, Cornell: Voorheis is far from one of the country’s most dominant goalies, but she’s been steadily improving all season, and hasn’t posted a sub-.900 save percentage game since Jan. 9 against St. Lawrence, a stretch of 10 games.

Shannon MacAulay, Forward, Clarkson: Her production has dried up lately; besides a goal and an assist against Brown, the junior has zero points in her last six games. Without a very deep offense anyways, the Golden Knights are relying on her to be in good form, especially heading down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Full Schedule

College Hockey America

Penn State (15-11-4) at Mercyhurst (20-7-3), 3 p.m. EST
Lindenwood (9-17-1) at Syracuse (8-13-9), 7 p.m. EST
RIT (10-17-3) at Robert Morris (9-17-3), 7:05 p.m. EST

ECAC

Union (4-20-6) at Brown (5-20-0), 7 p.m. EST
Princeton (13-10-2) at No. 8/9 Clarkson (19-8-3), 7 p.m. EST
Dartmouth (11-11-2) at Colgate (7-22-1), 7 p.m. EST
No. 4 Harvard (19-4-2) at No. 10 Cornell (14-8-3), 7 p.m. EST
No. 5 Quinnipiac (22-5-3) at St. Lawrence (17-9-4), 7 p.m. EST
Rensselaer (5-21-4) at Yale (11-13-1), 7 p.m. EST

Hockey East

Maine (10-14-3) at No. 1 Boston College (27-1-1), 2 p.m. EST
New Hampshire (8-19-2) at Vermont (13-16-1), 7 p.m. EST

WCHA

No. 3 Wisconsin (22-4-4) at Ohio State (16-11-3), 6:07 p.m. EST
No. 6 Minnesota Duluth (17-8-5) at No. 2 Minnesota (25-2-4), 7:07 p.m. CST
Bemidji State (16-13-1) at Minnesota State (3-25-1), 7:07 p.m. CST
No. 8/9 North Dakota (16-11-3) at St. Cloud State (6-23-1), 7:07 p.m. CST

Game Day Skate: Top-Four WCHA Series Close Out, Cornell Visits Princeton

Game Day Highlights

Minnesota at North Dakota: UND continued its hot streak on Friday night, knocking off the No. 2 Gophers in a 3-0 win in front of a strong crowd of 4,818 fans. It was the first shutout win for North Dakota against Minnesota since Dec. 3, 2011, and the game was certainly marked by a great defensive and goaltending effort. Shelby Amsley-Benzie moved into first place all-time in career shutouts for UND, picking up the 10th of her career. With 28 blocks in front of her, North Dakota blocked more shots than the Gophers put on net (25). Today the Gophers will be looking to be much more efficient on the power play; they went into last night’s game with an efficiency rate of 32% but went 0-for-4 and gave up their first shorthanded goal of the year.

Cornell at Princeton: The Big Red continue their road trip after knocking off Quinnipiac last night in a 4-3 overtime victory. They showed some good poise in the third period after getting outplayed in the second, and came back to tie it before Hanna Bunton scored with 40 seconds left in overtime. They’ll be facing a fairly tough opponent in Princeton, who is coming off a 4-1 victory against Colgate. The Tigers won the team’s earlier match-up this season, 5-4, but Cornell has picked it up since then and looks in much better shape now. Molly Contini and Hilary Lloyd continue to lead Princeton’s offensive effort, and silencing them will be key for the Big Red today as they look to fend off another upset bid.

Minnesota Duluth at Wisconsin: A strong goaltending performance from the Bulldogs helped force a 0-0 tie between the two teams last night, but the Badgers took the extra point in the shootout. Kayla Black made 41 saves in net to frustrate the Wisconsin offense, while Ann-Renée Desbiens kept things scoreless at the other end with 23 stops. The Bulldogs’ grasp on third place in the WCHA standings has loosened quite a bit, and UND is now just a point behind them. They’ve got a tough slate to end the year and getting three points from the Badgers today would go a long way.

Colgate at Quinnipiac: The Bobcats have now lost four of their last five and are in need of a big turn-around. They’ve done a better job offensively over the past few games, scoring three goals against both Cornell and Dartmouth. Colgate is one of the conference’s weaker teams, and this is a match-up that Quinnipiac should dominate. The Bobcats haven’t quite shown the same dominant edge that they had earlier in the season, however, so they’ll need to make sure they take care of things on both sides of the puck for a full 60 minutes against the Raiders.

Players to Watch

Amy Menke, Forward, North Dakota: The sophomore has been on another level lately and scored on a shorthanded breakaway last night to get UND on the board and swing momentum completely. She has quickly become a key piece on the top line and another big afternoon could help North Dakota finish off the sweep.

Nicole Schammel, Forward, Minnesota State: Schammel has five goals and six points in her last two games, and scored both goals for the Mavericks last night to erase a 2-0 deficit in the third period.

Amanda Pelkey, Forward, Vermont: The Catamounts have plummeted this season despite starting it with plenty of promise, but as of right now are only four points out of a playoff spot in the Hockey East standings. Pelkey enters this afternoon’s game against Maine on a 10-game goal-scoring drought, and has just one goal in her last 16 games. She picked up two assists in Vermont’s last game against Providence, though, and if her production picks up the Catamounts could make a run at it.

Full Schedule

College Hockey America

Robert Morris (9-16-3) at Syracuse (7-13-9), 7 p.m. EST
Mercyhurst (19-7-3) at RIT (10-16-3), 7:05 p.m. EST
Penn State (15-10-4) at Lindenwood (8-17-1), 3 p.m. CST

ECAC

Yale (10-13-1) at Dartmouth (11-10-2), 4 p.m. EST
Brown (5-19-0) at Harvard (17-4-2), 4 p.m. EST
Cornell (14-7-3) at Princeton (12-10-2), 4 p.m. EST
Colgate (7-21-1) at Quinnipiac (21-5-3), 4 p.m. EST
St. Lawrence (16-9-4) at Rensselaer (5-20-4), 4 p.m. EST
Clarkson (18-8-3) at Union (4-19-6), 4 p.m. EST

Hockey East

Vermont (12-16-1) at Maine (10-13-3), 2 p.m. EST
Boston University (17-7-2) at New Hampshire (8-18-1), 2 p.m. EST

WCHA

Minnesota State (3-24-1) at Ohio State (15-11-3), 2:07 p.m. EST
St. Cloud State (6-22-1) at Bemidji State (15-13-1), 4 p.m. CST
Minnesota (24-2-4) at North Dakota (16-10-3), 4 p.m. CST
Minnesota Duluth (17-7-5) at Wisconsin (21-4-4), 7:37 p.m. CST

Game Day Skate: Minnesota at North Dakota, Cornell at Quinnipiac

Game Day Highlights

Minnesota at North Dakota: Streaking North Dakota hosts the WCHA’s best team this weekend in what is always one of the most exciting series on the slate. UND is 8-1-1 over this recent hot stretch, and last week it closed the gap to three points behind the Bulldogs for third place. The match-up pits the nation’s second-best scoring offense (Minnesota’s at 4.72 goals per game) against the goaltending of Shelby Amsley-Benzie, who leads the country with a .949 save percentage. There’s no reason why North Dakota can’t take points from the Gophers this weekend, especially with the way the team has been playing of lately, but a strong offensive performance will be needed.

Cornell at Quinnipiac: The Bobcats started off great, but have hit a rough stretch recently, losing three games in a row to Boston University, Boston College, and Harvard before defeating Dartmouth last Saturday. Quinnipiac is still leading the ECAC with 26 points, but the Crimson are just a point behind. Cornell and Clarkson are tied for third with 24 points, so this game could have a potentially huge impact on the regular season crown. The Big Red won the teams’ only other match-up this season, 3-0, back on Nov. 1.

Minnesota Duluth at Wisconsin: Another series between two top-four teams in the WCHA should make for a very interesting weekend overall in the conference. The Badgers haven’t been so consistent of late, though possession-wise they still look like the conference’s top team. The Bulldogs struggled to score last weekend against North Dakota, and face another top goalie this week in Ann-Renée Desbiens. Wisconsin has the edge going in, having already swept UMD on the road earlier in the year, but Minnesota Duluth has proven itself to be a competitive club. The Bulldogs need to be able to match Wisconsin’s goaltending and prevent the Badgers from dominating possession if they want to be successful this weekend.

Players to Watch

Hannah Brandt, Forward, Minnesota: Brandt had a big weekend last time the Gophers squared off against North Dakota, tallying two goals and seven points in the two-game series. She’s currently second in the country in scoring with 57 points in 28 games, and she will undoubtedly be a point of focus for the UND defense.

Hillary Crowe, Forward, Harvard: Crowe led the Crimson to a big 9-2 win over Boston University in the Beanpot semifinals on Tuesday with two goals, and will be a key player when the team takes on Yale, who knocked off Clarkson last week.

Ali Binnington, Goaltender, RIT: The Tigers take on Mercyhurst tonight, who has had trouble in College Hockey America competition this year. Binnington is usually RIT’s best chance at a win, and if she can keep them in it the Tigers could be poised for an upset.

Full Schedule

College Hockey America

Robert Morris (9-15-3) at Syracuse (6-13-9), 7 p.m. EST
Mercyhurst (9-4-1) at RIT (10-15-3), 7:05 p.m. EST
Penn State (14-10-4) at Lindenwood (8-16-1), 7 p.m. CST

ECAC

Brown (5-18-0) at Dartmouth (10-10-2), 7 p.m. EST
Yale (10-12-1) at Harvard (16-4-2), 7 p.m. EST
Colgate (7-20-1) at Princeton (11-10-2), 7 p.m. EST
Cornell (13-7-3) at Quinnipiac (21-4-3), 7 p.m. EST
Clarkson (17-8-3) at Rensselaer (5-19-4), 7 p.m. EST
St. Lawrence (16-9-3) at Union (4-19-5), 7 p.m. EST

Hockey East

Connecticut (7-15-6) at Boston College (26-0-1), 7 p.m. EST
Providence (6-18-4) at Northeastern (8-14-4), 7 p.m. EST

WCHA

Minnesota State (3-23-1) at Ohio State (14-11-3), 6:07 p.m. EST
St. Cloud State (6-21-1) at Bemidji State (14-13-1), 7:07 p.m. CST
Minnesota (24-1-4) at North Dakota (15-10-3), 7:07 p.m. CST
Minnesota Duluth (17-7-4) at Wisconsin (21-4-3), 7:07 p.m. CST