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.

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