NCAA Tournament Notebook: Quarterfinals Recap

Minnesota Duluth defender Ashton Bell raises her stick and celebrates her overtime-winning goal with teammate Naomi Rogge in the 2021 NCAA Tournament quarterfinals.

Ashton Bell (#26) celebrates her overtime goal with teammate Naomi Rogge (#9). Her game-winner sent Minnesota Duluth back to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2010. (UMD Athletics)

After two days of quarterfinal action, we’re on to the Frozen Four. Here are a few notes on what transpired in the NCAA Tournament’s opening round.

Northeastern 5, Robert Morris 1

This one went pretty much as expected for the Huskies, with their top-line talent breaking through to keep them ahead and their depth shining through by the end. Robert Morris gave them an excellent game to start, but just couldn’t match Northeastern for 60 minutes.

Northeastern came out flying and scored on a 3-on-2 rush on the penalty kill, always an impressive feat for a team. The Huskies have the nation’s best PK and are actually outscoring their opponents while shorthanded this year.

“It’s funny because we started the PP off good, and we actually had a couple nice looks and [Aerin] Frankel came up with a couple nice saves,” Robert Morris head coach Paul Colontino said. “And just as quickly as we came up with a couple of nice looks, they transitioned out of the zone with great explosiveness and kind of caught us four deep.”

The Colonials kept it a tight one through two periods, notching a power-play goal towards the end of the second to cut into Northeastern’s lead and make it a 2-1 game. That’s just the third power-play goal the Huskies have given up all season. Even so, their ability to come right back and double the lead again before the end of the period was impressive.

“All of a sudden you got a little adversity; we’re cruising along, and then all of a sudden it’s 2-1,” head coach Dave Flint said. “But they didn’t hang their heads, they didn’t complain about it, they just went to work and they popped one in at the end of the period there and got that goal back, so it’s a credit to the players.”

This is a big part of what makes this Northeastern team so dangerous, and their outstanding performance on the penalty kill is a telltale sign of it: nothing seems to phase them, even situations where they should be going against the grain. Their dominant players were dominant in this one, but as soon as Robert Morris tried to make this a game going into the third period, the Huskies took a big chunk of the wind out of their sails right away. They find ways to control momentum.

Their depth also stands out and was a big reason why they were able to pull away in this one. Katie Cipra, who plays on Northeastern’s fourth line, added the fourth goal in the third and had a few really good chances throughout the game.

Minnesota Duluth 1, Colgate 0 (OT)

Most people had this one as a toss-up going into the game and that was certainly how it played out to me. Both teams had stretches were they were dominant and getting flurries of chances, but for the most part, this was a pretty back-and-forth game where the middle of the ice wasn’t easily won.

It wasn’t exactly the style of game you might’ve expected to see from both these teams, what with UMD’s front-loaded skill and Colgate’s typically free-playing approach.

“I thought given the track record of both teams and how offensive we’ve been throughout the year, I thought there’d certainly be a little more scoring, and maybe part of it was due to the fact there was only one penalty called during the game,” Colgate head coach Greg Fargo said. “It was a back-and-forth contest. Both teams played really well defensively and were really responsible with the puck tonight so looking back I don’t know I’m not surprised it was one nothing but going into it certainly didn’t anticipate it as 0-0 going into OT.”

It sort of figures that after so many shots were blocked or passes were just beyond the reach of a stick all game, Ashton Bell would score the game-winner on an absolute snipe under the crossbar.

While Duluth’s program has a storied history at the NCAA Tournament, this is the team’s first trip back to the Frozen Four since 2010. Head coach Maura Crowell earned her 100th career victory with the win, and it fittingly came against her alma mater.

“I’m so happy for the group, especially the older kids in this program that have been heartbroken the few past years, just missing out on the tournament,” Crowell said. “So to see them get here, to see them succeed, and their smiles and just screams of joy, it’s all about them. I’m thrilled to be able to share the hundredth with all of them and all of the staff and everybody that supported me and this program through all of those wins.”

UMD will take on Northeastern in the semifinals. That sets up an exciting top-line center matchup between Northeastern’s Alina Müller and Minnesota Duluth’s Gabbie Hughes, who I thought was the best player on the ice on Monday night.

Wisconsin 3, Providence 0

Sandra Abstreiter did her very best to keep the Friars within striking distance, and the team was able to grab momentum in the second period, but it wasn’t enough to take down the tournament’s No. 2 seed.

After a first period in which the Badgers dominated possession and held Providence to zero shots on net, they headed into the intermission up 1-0 on a Brette Pettet goal. Wisconsin continued to hold possession but the Friars were able to generate a flurry of chances midway through the second period and sustained pressure most of the way through to the end. That left the game pretty up in the air going into the third.

“They get one or two chances and all of a sudden they started getting a little bit of momentum and having some confidence,” Wisconsin forward Britta Curl said. “I think it also comes down to the fact that half our team hasn’t played in the national tournament before, and you know when, when we’re playing the first period all in their end and then all of a sudden, they get a few good chances, it’s easy to hold your stick pretty tight. So after the second period in the locker room, it’s like, Alright guys, we know how to play D zone, we’ve played against the top five teams in the country a handful of times, so let’s just get back to the basics because we know what to do.”

Three minutes into the third period, Curl made a great play to steal the puck behind Providence’s net and feed Sophie Shirley right out front, who put the Badgers up 2-0. Despite 41 saves from Abstreiter, Wisconsin came away with the 3-0 win.

Similar to Northeastern, it was the type of performance we expected from the Badgers, although Providence deserves full credit for working their way back into the game after a slow start in the first.

Ohio State 3, Boston College 1

BC jumped out to a lead in the first period in this one, but Ohio State scored three unanswered over the final 40 minutes to come away with the win. It was not the fastest start for the Buckeyes, who came into the game as the No. 3 seed in the tournament, and Savannah Norcross was able to give the Eagles the lead going into the first intermission.

Ohio State responded with a very strong second period, controlling shots on goal 27-4 and notching two goals to take the lead. Gabby Rosenthal added a third goal over halfway through the final period and the Buckeyes never really looked back in this one.

These teams played each other in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals back in 2018, although the roles were reversed in that one, with Boston College being the higher seed. Senior Tatum Skaggs was a freshman on that Ohio State team, which upset the Eagles on the road to earn their first Frozen Four bid.

“I know in 2018 we played relentless the whole time for 60 minutes; it was one of our best games all season,” she said. “I kind of feel like we did that tonight in periods two and three. So we took it to them when we needed to. The next game we need to come out and play all 60 minutes, not just two periods.”

Skaggs did not score a goal on Tuesday night, but chipped in two assists and also led all skaters with eight shots on goal. Although Skaggs and fellow Emma Maltais looked strong, Ohio State was able to get contributions from different players, which is a good sign going into the Frozen Four. Rosenthal scored her fourth goal this year, Brooke Bink scored her third, and Madison Bizal, Riley Brengman, and Sophie Jaques all looked active on defense.

For BC, they were able to make it back to the NCAA Tournament this year after missing the field last year. Despite the loss, head coach Katie Crowley noted the importance of returning to this stage and gaining that experience again.

“I’m so proud of them to get back here and for them to witness and feel what it feels like to be in the national tournament,” she said. “It’s not easy to get here, and we experienced that last year when we didn’t get an opportunity. We didn’t earn that spot. I think it’s extremely important for our younger players, our freshmen and sophomores, to realize what that takes, and what it takes to get here and what it takes every day and what you have to do every day to put yourself in a situation where you’re playing for a national championship.”

Ohio State will take on Wisconsin in the second semifinal in a rematch of the WCHA Final Faceoff championship game two weekends ago. The Buckeyes lost that one in overtime to the Badgers, but have obviously shown repeatedly they can take control of a game as well as anyone and pull out a win against their conference rivals. It should be another hard-fought battle between two teams who are very familiar with each other.

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