And then there were two and they’re two that have been consensus top four teams almost all year long. They have the second and third best records by winning percentages. They’re top ten in almost every category. It’s a fitting finals.
Up until the puck drops on Sunday there will be a lot wondering if Minnesota’s Frozen Four game was in fact the real championship. Given the WCHA’s traditional dominance of NCAA Women’s Hockey and given Minnesota’s and Wisconsin’s performances this season it’s not a bad question on the surface.
But if Minnesota underestimates Harvard in this game, it will be their undoing.
Minnesota put up the gaudier numbers, but Harvard is battle tested. Harvard played the tougher schedule based on shots, and while that seems counter-intuitive given the strength of the WCHA, remember that Minnesota gets St. Cloud State and Minnesota State four times in addition to the likes of Wisconsin and North Dakota.
Harvard, for the most part, went big out of conference, playing #2 (PWR) Boston College (2x), #6 Boston University (2x), and Northeastern as well as New Hampshire and Connecticut. Minnesota didn’t do poorly in that regard, playing #6 Boston University, #15 Princeton (2x), #11 St. Lawrence (2x), and a non-conference game against St. Cloud State, they just didn’t do as well.
Minnesota had Minnesota State and shot-challenged #12 Bemidji State in their conference tournament. Harvard had #16 Yale, #5 Quinnipiac, and #10 Cornell. Minnesota got RIT in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Harvard got #5 Quinnipiac.
However, it’s worth nothing that Minnesota has performed well, especially versus their common opponents with Harvard.
Both of them have massive blowout wins in those games, Minnesota a 10-0 throttling of St. Lawrence in their first meeting and Harvard a 9-2 goal-fest against Boston University in the opening round of the Beanpot.
Minnesota’s Frozen Four victory over Wisconsin was interesting because it was such a Harvard-style game. The Gophers were outshot 35-23 by the Badgers, but were able to prevail thanks to a defensively sound and technically and tactically superior effort.
It’s fitting that so much of an Ivy League school’s success comes not just on playing well, but playing smarter than the opponent. The Crimson will make peace with being out-shot so long as their players are positionally sound in their own end…and they will be. They’re not overly concerned with dominating shots because they’re confident that goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer is up to the task and that their depth can get them goals somewhere, and with the #7 and #11 scorers (in addition to #1 and #2) both potting goals against Boston College, they’ve been right.
Minnesota got goals from Brandt, Menefee, and Pannek, their #1, #3, and #4 scorers on the season against Wisconsin yesterday and this seems like the right time to point out that Patty Kazmaier award winner Alex Carpenter has been point-less against Harvard in their last two matchups. The key question for each team, I think is this:
Can Minnesota 1. find top line success despite Harvard’s best efforts or 2. deal with their top line being taken out of the game?
Can Harvard find enough goals to win against a smothering Minnesota team?