Women’s Frozen Four: Matchups, analysis, national champ picks

Women's Frozen Four: Matchups, analysis, national champ picks

The NCAA women’s hockey tournament is bigger and better than ever in 2022.

This year the field expanded from eight to 11 teams, and with the three first-round games and an exciting regional round complete, the Frozen Four is set for March 18 and 20 at Penn State.

The Frozen Four provides a rematch from last year’s semifinals (Northeastern vs. Minnesota Duluth), a program making its first NCAA tournament appearance (Yale) and the No. 1 overall seed hoping to play for the national title for the first time (Ohio State).

In addition to taking a look each of the Frozen Four participants, we asked ESPN hockey experts Angela Ruggiero, who played in the Frozen Four with Harvard twice and won a national title in 1999; Hilary Knight, who won two NCAA championships at Wisconsin and was a three-time All-American, and play-by-play announcer Clay Matvick for their biggest takeaways from the regionals, what they expect to see in the semifinals and final, and their picks for who will win the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as the national player of the year, which will be announced March 26.

Jump to: Frozen Four teams at a glance | Roundtable
First round/regionals

Women’s Frozen Four schedule

at State College, Pennsylvania

March 18: Minnesota Duluth 2, No. 3 Northeastern 1 (2OT); No. 1 Ohio State 2, No. 5 Yale 1

March 20: Minnesota Duluth vs. Ohio State, 4 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Frozen Four teams at a glance

Northeastern (31-4-2)

How they got here: The Huskies beat Wisconsin 4-2 in the quarterfinals, avenging last year’s loss to the Badgers in the national title game. All-world goalie Aerin Frankel and the NU defense withstood sustained pressure in the third period as Frankel earned her 25th win of the season.

In search of its first national championship, Northeastern faces a Frozen Four rematch with Minnesota Duluth. The Huskies beat the Bulldogs 3-2 in last year’s semifinals.

Players to watch: Grad. G Frankel (.956 save percentage, 1.06 GAA, 11 shutouts); Grad. D Skylar Fontaine (41 assists in 37 games); Sr. F Maureen Murphy (30 goals, 26 assists, 13 power-play goals)

Quote of note: “We don’t get a lot of respect and I think we earned some today. People think it is all WCHA, but there are a lot of other teams too.” — Northeastern coach Dave Flint after the Huskies’ quarterfinal win

Minnesota Duluth (26-11-1)

How they got here: The Bulldogs pulled off the biggest upset of the quarterfinals, knocking off No. 2-seed Minnesota 2-1. Gabbie Hughes, who had a hat trick in Minnesota Duluth’s 4-0 first-round win over Harvard, scored the winning goal at 5:24 of the third period, while Emma Soderberg had 16 saves in the final 20 minutes. Soderberg has stopped 64 of 65 shots she has faced in the tournament.

Minnesota Duluth earned a return trip to the Frozen Four and the ninth in program history. The Bulldogs have won five national titles, their last coming in 2010.

Players to watch: Fifth-year F Elizabeth Giguere (21 goals, 39 assists, +32 plus/minus); Sr. F Hughes (22 goals, 37 assists, +42); Fifth-year F Anna Klein (19 goals, 30 assists, +37)

Quote of note: “That was a heck of a hockey game, both sides, clutching and grabbing and scratching for every inch out there.” — UMD coach Maura Crowell after the Bulldogs’ quarterfinal win

Ohio State (30-6)

How they got here: The Buckeyes outshot Quinnipiac 77-22 in the quarterfinals but still needed to go to double overtime to beat the Bobcats, 4-3, thanks to the incredible play of Quinnipiac goaltender Corinne Schroeder (73 saves).

Ohio State, which has won its last eight games and 11 of 12, is in the Frozen Four for the third time and the second year in a row.

Players to watch: Sr. D Sophie Jaques (21 goals, 38 assists, +49 plus/minus, 11 power-play goals); Sr. F Paetyn Levis (22 goals, 28 assists); Soph. G Amanda Thiele (1.29 GAA, .940 save percentage)

Quote of note: “Knowing that you’re that dominant, you could get frustrated and get on top of each other. But they were excited and they were supportive. Nobody cared who put the puck in the net. Nobody cared about ice time. They were just a unified front and wanted to win and I am very proud of how they did it.” — Ohio State coach Nadine Muzerall after the Buckeyes’ quarterfinal win

Yale (26-8-1)

How they got here: Tess Dettling knocked home a rebound of a shot by Emma DeCorby at 2:05 of overtime as Yale beat Colgate 2-1 in the quarterfinals. The Raiders thought they had won the game minutes earlier, but had an apparent goal waved off for goalie interference.

Yale made it to the Frozen Four in its first NCAA tournament appearance. The team’s senior class went from winning 18 games combined in its first two seasons to posting 43 wins over its last two seasons.

Players to watch: Soph. F Elle Hartje (16 goals, 35 assists) ; Sr. G Gianna Meloni (1.47 GAA, .938 save percentage); Jr. D Emma Seitz (+30 plus/minus, 6 power-play goals, 4 game-winning goals)

Quote of note: “DeCorby put the puck to the net, and I figured I would head for the back post. The puck popped out to my stick, and I don’t remember much after that.” — Dettling after scoring the winning goal against Colgate

Frozen Four roundtable

What were your biggest takeaways from the regionals?

Angela Ruggiero: I’m excited for Yale since it’s their first time in the tournament. It’s great for the Ivy League and great for the program to make it to the Frozen Four. And while it’s shocking to have a Frozen Four without Wisconsin — we’ve just come to expect them to be here every year — Northeastern was the better team this year and in the regional, so it played out the way it should have.

Clay Matvick: Minnesota Duluth upsetting Minnesota in the Minneapolis regional surprised me a bit. However, the Bulldogs are a seasoned team that has played 17 games against NCAA tournament teams this season and has won nine of them, so they could win it all. Gabbie Hughes has four NCAA tournament goals already and is the hottest player in the country.

Hilary Knight: The regionals were a friendly reminder that the playoff season is an entirely new beast and anything can happen. I was impressed by Ohio State and its relentlessness to respond to Quinnipiac’s hot goaltender Corinne Schroeder. The Gophers’ loss was a big upset — many had Minnesota picked to go all the way. You can’t sleep on Northeastern with its special teams conversions and the X factor: goalie Aerin Frankel. And Yale is heating up for the postseason.

Who is your pick to win the national title and why?

Angela: I picked Ohio State at the beginning of the tournament and I’m sticking with the Buckeyes. I think it will be an Ohio State-Northeastern final, and it will be a close match, but Ohio State just has so much momentum over the last half of the season both offensively and defensively. Their coach, Nadine Muzerall, has done a great job keeping the team on track and focused.

Clay: I’m going to pick Ohio State. It feels like their time. The Buckeyes are experienced with 10 seniors and they’re outshooting opponents more than 2 to 1. The fact that they didn’t get frustrated in the Columbus regional final, when they outshot Quinnipiac 77-22 and didn’t win until the second overtime, says a lot about this team’s resolve.

Hilary: Ohio State. The Buckeyes fell short last year and they’re a solid hockey team with a chip on their shoulder. They’re tenacious with game momentum and they know how to win.

Who will win the Patty Kazmaier Award and why?

Angela: Ohio State defensemanSophie Jaques. Her numbers are insane; she’s leading the best team in the country in points as a defenseman. Not that you need points to stand out as a D, but that’s pretty mind-blowing to me. She’s also getting her team where it needs to go and helping them win, which is a huge part of what the Patty Kaz is all about. Plus, Patty Kaz played defense and I’m the only D to win it, so that’s another reason I’m pulling for Sophie.

Clay: Taylor Heise from the University of Minnesota. Even though the Gophers are not in this year’s Frozen Four, Heise’s numbers can’t be denied. She was the WCHA player of the year, leading the country with 66 points, and was tied for the national lead with 29 goals. The best player from the best conference deserves this award in my opinion.

Hilary: I agree with Angela. It’s Sophie Jaques for her scoring talent from the blue line. With her consistent point production, she is a game changer for the Buckeyes.

First round/regionals

Prior to the start of the tournament, ESPN analyst Angela Ruggiero provided her take on each team in the field and her top players to watch. Additionally, Ruggiero and ESPN analyst A.J. Mleczko made their picks for who will make this year’s Frozen Four and who will win the national championship.

Regional semifinals, March 10: Quinnipiac 4, Syracuse 0; Wisconsin 3, Clarkson 1; Minnesota Duluth 4, Harvard 0

Regional finals, March 12: Ohio State 4, Quinnipiac 3; Yale 2, Colgate 1; Minnesota Duluth 2, Minnesota, 1; Northeastern 4, Wisconsin 2

The field

Ohio State (29-6)

How they got in: WCHA tournament champion

Numbers to know: The Buckeyes, who beat Wisconsin and Minnesota en route to the WCHA title, have the top offense in the country with 4.79 goals per game and are No. 3 in scoring defense (1.47 goals allowed per game). Four of Ohio State’s school-record 29 wins have come against Minnesota.

Ruggiero’s take: With Sophie Jaques on defense leading the team with 57 points (including 11 power-play goals) and a plus-48 plus/minus, coach Nadine Muzerall is doing a great job of keeping this team disciplined and focused.

Minnesota (29-8-1)

How they got in: At-large berth

Numbers to know: The Gophers have just four losses since the start of December, including their overtime loss to Ohio State in the WCHA final, and have outscored their opponents 100-39 in that span. That stretch included wins over Ohio State, Minnesota Duluth and a 4-0 record against Wisconsin. Minnesota has some extra motivation in returning to the NCAA tournament after missing out last year for the first time in 15 seasons.

Ruggiero’s take: Minnesota came on very strong in the second half of the season. Forward Taylor Heise is the leading scorer in the nation with 66 points, and in addition to her, the Gophers are very deep offensively and play an aggressive game.

Northeastern (30-4-2)

How they got in: Hockey East tournament champion

Numbers to know: Northeastern, which has won a conference-record five straight Hockey East titles and was last season’s national runner-up, is not only the NCAA leader in scoring defense (1.00 goals per game), but has the nation’s top goal-scorer in Maureen Murphy (29 goals in 35 games).

Ruggiero’s take: With eight graduate students, Northeastern has an incredibly mature team. Skylar Fontaine is very strong on defense and forward Alina Mueller, who has 38 points in just 19 games this season, is back after representing Switzerland in the Olympics.

Colgate (30-7-1)

How they got in: ECAC tournament champion

Numbers to know: Colgate enters the NCAA tournament with 13 wins in its last 14 games, including wins over Harvard and at Quinnipiac and Clarkson. In addition to being one of the top scoring teams in the country, averaging nearly four goals per game, the Raiders allowed just 18 goals over that 14-game stretch.

Ruggiero’s take: Colgate always shows up in big tournaments and has a recent history of defeating WCHA teams in the NCAAs. The Raiders will be able to rely on this confidence over the next two weeks.

Yale (25-8-1)

How they got in: At-large berth

Numbers to know: The Bulldogs, the only team in the field making its first NCAA appearance, are one of the top defensive teams in the country, allowing 1.53 goals per game.

Ruggiero’s take: Yale also shows up in big games and has had an excellent season offensively in addition to being solid on the blue line. Opening with a rematch against Colgate after falling in overtime in the ECAC final, Yale is one to watch.

Quinnipiac (25-9-3)

How they got in: At-large berth

Numbers to know: The Bobcats slumped a bit in the second half with an 8-7-1 record from the start of January through the end of the regular season, but bounced back with an impressive quarterfinal sweep of Clarkson in the ECAC playoffs before losing to Colgate in the semis.

Ruggiero’s take: Quinnipiac is excellent at getting back on defense and taking advantage of offensive opportunities. The Bobcats are physical and smart, and could be a sleeper team.

Wisconsin (25-7-4)

How they got in: At-large berth

Numbers to know: After starting out 16-0 and reaching No. 1 in the polls, defending national champion Wisconsin slipped to 6-5-1 over its last 12 games of the regular season. That included a 1-5 mark against NCAA tournament teams Minnesota, Ohio State and Minnesota Duluth.

Ruggiero’s take: Fifth-year senior Daryl Watts and sophomore Makenna Webster are two players to look out for as Wisconsin has a dangerous group of forwards. The Badgers’ young goalies are a possible weakness but Wisconsin has allowed only four power-play goals all season.

Minnesota Duluth (24-11-1)

How they got in: At-large berth

Numbers to know: Minnesota Duluth lost only twice in its last 16 games of the regular season, a stretch that included wins over Harvard, Ohio State and Wisconsin.

Ruggiero’s take: Gabbie Hughes and Elizabeth Giguere (the Patty Kazmaier winner in 2020 and a finalist this year) are standout players for Minnesota Duluth. Coach Maura Crowell surely would have loved to have beaten Minnesota in the WCHA final to build some momentum and confidence, but the Bulldogs fell short.

Harvard (22-9-1)

How they got in: At-large berth

Numbers to know: Harvard, making its 12th NCAA appearance but its first since 2015, is tied for sixth in the country with 3.53 goals per game and has a top-five power-play unit.

Ruggiero’s take: Despite losing to Princeton in the best-of-three quarterfinals, the Crimson were dominant in the ECAC outside of that upset, so they could be a contender here.

Clarkson (22-11-3)

How they got in: At-large berth

Numbers to know: Clarkson made the NCAA field thanks to its strong first half, as the Golden Knights dropped six of their final eight games, including a two-game sweep by Quinnipiac in the ECAC quarterfinals.

Ruggiero’s take: Despite their late slump in the rankings, Clarkson has had a great season, led by veteran Caitrin Lonergan, and the Golden Knights have an excellent power play, converting at 20%. They do have a very young roster, and that showed late in the season.

Syracuse (15-10-6)

How they got in: CHA tournament champion

Numbers to know: The Orange, who were the top seed in the CHA tournament, claimed the second NCAA berth in program history by beating Mercyhurst 3-2 in overtime. Syracuse also went to OT in its 3-2 semifinal win over RIT.

Ruggiero’s take: Syracuse is a very defensively minded team, which is a great thing for this tournament, and the Orange have a lot of momentum (unbeaten in 11 of their last 12 games).

Players to watch

Skylar Fontaine, Northeastern: Rock solid on the blue line, Fontaine and goaltender Aerin Frankin make for a killer combination for the Huskies.

Elizabeth Giguere, Minnesota Duluth: Giguere, who won the Patty Kaz award in 2020 with Clarkson, is a force offensively and brings lots of experience in her final year.

Alina Mueller, Northeastern: Mueller had a dominant performance for Switzerland in the Olympics as the team’s leading scorer (four goals, six assists) and has had three points in each of her three games since returning.

Daryl Watts, Wisconsin: The fifth-year senior won the Patty Kaz in 2018 with Boston College and is a top-10 finalist for the fourth time. She is seven points shy of the career record of 303, held by Mercyhurst’s Meghan Agosta.

Taylor Heise, Minnesota: The nation’s leading scorer was a huge reason for the Gophers’ success in the back half of the season. She also leads the NCAA with five short-handed goals and has a plus-44 plus/minus rating.

Aerin Franklin, Northeastern: The 2021 Patty Kaz winner, Frankel could be the difference-maker in this tournament. She led the NCAA in wins (24) and shutouts (11), while posting a 1.03 goals-against average and a .956 save percentage.

Frozen Four picks

Angela Ruggiero: Ohio State, Minnesota, Northeastern, Colgate
National champ: Ohio State

A.J. Mleczko: Ohio State, Minnesota, Northeastern, Colgate
National champ: Northeastern

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