The NCAA women’s hockey tournament field is set, and defending champion Ohio State is back as the No. 1 overall seed.
On the heels of the first national title in program history, the Buckeyes had another dominant regular season before losing to Minnesota in the WCHA tournament championship game. But the road to back-to-back titles at the Frozen Four in Duluth, Minnesota, won’t be easy. Yale, Minnesota and Colgate round out the top four seeds in the 11-team field, with Northeastern, Wisconsin and Minnesota Duluth lurking as tough contenders.
The top five seeds receive first-round byes, with the other six teams meeting in the regional semifinals. The top four seeds then host the regional finals, with the winners advancing to the Frozen Four, to be played March 17 and 19. The semifinals, at 3:30 and 7 p.m. ET, will be aired on ESPN+, with the national title game on ESPNU at 4 p.m. ET.
Here’s a team-by-team look at the field and five players to watch, courtesy of Kelly Pannek, who helped Minnesota win two national titles (2015 and 2016), is a two-time Olympian and member of the U.S. national team, and a PWHPA all-star. Additionally, ESPN hockey analyst Kendall Coyne, captain of Team USA at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, provides her Frozen Four picks.
All times Eastern
Regional semifinals, March 9: Penn State at Quinnipiac, 6 p.m.; Long Island at Wisconsin, 6 p.m.; Clarkson at Minnesota Duluth, 7 p.m.
Regional finals, March 11: No. 5 Northeastern at No. 4 Yale, 3 p.m.; Wisconsin/LIU winner at No. 3 Colgate, 3 p.m.; Minnesota Duluth/Clarkson winner at No. 2 Minnesota, 3 p.m.; Quinnipiac/Penn State winner at No. 1 Ohio State, 5 p.m.
Frozen Four semifinals, March 17: at Amsoil Arena, Duluth, Minnesota (3:30 and 7 p.m., ESPN+)
National championship game, March 19: at Amsoil Arena, Duluth, Minnesota (4 p.m., ESPNU)
Ohio State (31-5-2)
Why strength of schedule affected Ohio State’s Frozen Four seeding
Angela Ruggiero and Kendall Coyne Schofield discuss why Ohio State’s tougher schedule propelled it to the No. 1 seed in the Women’s Frozen Four.
How they got in: At-large bid (lost to Minnesota 3-1 in WCHA final)
Numbers to know: The dominant Buckeyes are second in the country in scoring offense (4.39 goals per game) and eighth in scoring defense (1.78). Ohio State’s power play has converted at a .344 clip, best in the NCAA. This is the second straight 30-win season for the defending national champs.
Kelly Pannek’s take: Ohio State has played all season like a team that is ready to defend its national championship. The Buckeyes are a strong, physical team with skill and speed to match. They are coming off a loss in the WCHA tournament championship, but I have no doubt that they will find a way to use that in their favor. They are the team to beat.
How they got in: WCHA tournament champion
Numbers to know: Minnesota has the best offense in the country, scoring nearly five goals (4.71) per game. Taylor Heise, the 2022 Patty Kazmaier Award winner as national player of the year, leads the NCAA with 29 goals and 1.77 points per game, and also has a .635 faceoff percentage. The Gophers were 3-1-1 against No. 1 seed Ohio State this season.
Pannek’s take: This feels like a must-win year for the Gophers, with their last national championship coming seven years ago. They have all the firepower up front and just showed they are willing to do the dirty work on defense in winning the WCHA tournament. If Minnesota can continue to back up its potent offense with stingy defense, it will be a tough team to beat.
How they got in: ECAC tournament champion
Numbers to know: Colgate is 2-0 against Yale, handing the Bulldogs their only two regular-season losses. Senior Danielle Serdachny leads the nation with 43 assists and 65 points.
Pannek’s take: With statement wins on its way to clinching the ECAC tournament title, Colgate may be peaking at the right time. The Raiders have played a tough schedule all season and are stronger for it. With Colgate showing great balance on both sides of the puck, and some early postseason success added to the mix, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Raiders in Duluth.
How they got in: At-large bid (lost to Clarkson 4-3 in ECAC semifinal)
Numbers to know: Junior Elle Hartje leads the nation with 1.19 assists per game (37 in 31 games). Sophomore goalie Pia Dukaric is second in the country with a 1.29 GAA and third with a .939 save percentage. Yale is fourth in scoring offense (4.13 goals per game) and second in scoring defense (1.32).
Pannek’s take: Yale has been a top team all year in a strong ECAC conference. People forget that this team was a Frozen Four team last season and the Bulldogs have backed it up with their performance this year. With a semifinal loss to Clarkson in the ECAC tournament, the Bulldogs need to get the momentum back early in the NCAA tournament.
How they got in: Hockey East tournament champion
Numbers to know: Northeastern has allowed only 30 goals in 35 games, with senior goaltender Gwyneth Philips leading the nation in goals-against average (0.83) and save percentage (.960). Graduate student Alina Mueller has a plus-45 plus/minus, and the Huskies are 28-0-0 this season when she scores a point.
Pannek’s take: Making its sixth consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament, Northeastern is the team to beat in Hockey East. This group has a strong veteran core, led by three-time Hockey East Player of the Year Alina Mueller. With lots of playoff experience and leaders who are hungry to get the program’s first national championship, this may be the year Northeastern breaks through.
How they got in: At-large bid (lost to Minnesota 4-2 in WCHA semifinal)
Numbers to know: This is Wisconsin’s 10th straight NCAA appearance, the longest active streak in the country. The Badgers were 2-0-2 in the regular season against league champion Minnesota. Wisconsin is top five in the country in both scoring offense (third, 4.17) and scoring defense (fifth, 1.61).
Pannek’s take: Halfway through the season it looked as if Wisconsin may not even make the NCAA tournament, but with a strong finish to the regular season, the Badgers are back to being the type of team we expect to see in Madison. Wisconsin is loaded with talent, and it looks like they may be reaching their fullest potential at the right time to make a strong NCAA run.
Minnesota Duluth (25-9-3)
How they got in: At-large bid (lost to Ohio State 2-1 in WCHA semifinal)
Numbers to know: Minnesota Duluth was 1-4 this season against top seed Ohio State, but all five games were decided by one goal (two in overtime). The Bulldogs have 13 shutouts on the season, tops in the country.
Pannek’s take: UMD always makes noise come playoff time, and I anticipate this NCAA tournament to be no different. Graduate Emma Soderberg is one of the best and most experienced goaltenders in the country, and in front of her is a mature team that has made deep tournament runs. With Duluth being the host of this year’s Frozen Four, I have no doubt that the Bulldogs will do everything they can to be there.
How they got in: At-large bid (lost to Colgate 5-1 in ECAC semifinal)
Numbers to know: Quinnipiac is fourth in the nation in scoring defense (1.51) and fourth in team faceoff percentage (.559). The Bobcats are 6-6 over their last 12 games.
Pannek’s take: Quinnipiac has turned its program around in the past few years and is making its second straight NCAA tournament appearance. The Bobcats started the season off strong with a 10-game win streak, but haven’t shown the same consistency in the second half. One thing that is crucial to Quinnipiac’s tournament success is its penalty kill, which is second in the country at 92%.
Penn State (27-8-2)
How they got in: CHA tournament champion
Numbers to know: Kiara Zanon is tied for fourth in the country with 25 goals and has an NCAA-best five short-handed goals. This is Penn State coach Jeff Kampersal’s third NCAA appearance (Princeton, 2006, 2016).
Pannek’s take: Penn State is making its NCAA tournament debut after promising regular-season showings the past couple of years. The Nittany Lions are led by highly talented forwards junior Kiara Zanon and freshman Tessa Janecke, and junior goalie Josie Bothun can steal games. The Nittany Lions may have a tough road to the Frozen Four, but they have a chance to solidify themselves as a perennial challenger.
How they got in: At-large bid (lost to Colgate 8-2 in ECAC final)
Numbers to know: Clarkson goalie Michelle Pasiechnyk is fourth in the country with a 1.45 GAA. The Golden Knights scored two big late-season wins, beating Quinnipiac to end the regular season and knocking off Yale in double overtime in the ECAC tournament.
Pannek’s take: Although it has been a few years since their last trip to the Frozen Four, the Golden Knights are no stranger to postseason success (11 NCAA appearances). In comparison to other teams in the field, Clarkson is toward the bottom for both offensive and defensive statistics, so to make a push, it will need to be firing on all cylinders — as the Knights were in beating Yale in the ECAC tournament.
Long Island (20-13-3)
How they got in: NEWHA tournament champion
Numbers to know: In its fourth season of competition, Long Island posted its first 20-win season. Goalie Tindra Holm has the fifth-best save percentage in the country at .937.
Pannek’s take: As the team representing the newest league in Division I women’s hockey, Long Island will have its work cut out for it here. The Sharks will need an extraordinary performance between the pipes from sophomore Holm and capitalize on any opportunities they get in the offensive end if they want to keep their run going.
Players to watch
It seems like every team has at least two or three highly skilled players who will stand out to anyone watching, but these five players are key to their team’s success in the tournament.
Minnesota sophomore goalie Skylar Vetter. Vetter has shown stretches of dominance this season on her way to being a top-three finalist for WCHA goalie of the year. On a team with the highest scoring offense in the tournament but one of the worst goals against per game average, Vetter has the opportunity to set the defensive tone for her team.
Ohio State graduate defenseman Sophie Jaques. For the last two years, Jaques has led the nation in scoring by defensemen with numbers that rival those of the top forwards. She was held without a point in her last two games, and as a key to the Buckeyes’ league-leading power play, getting her on the scoresheet means good things for OSU.
Colgate senior forward Danielle Serdachny. The leading scorer in the country, Serdachny is coming off an outstanding ECAC tournament performance where she recorded four goals and five assists in five games. A well-rounded center with a ton of skill, Serdachny is a player you expect to see shine in big moments.
Northeastern graduate forward Maureen Murphy. Playing on a line with Alina Mueller, Murphy doesn’t always get the recognition she deserves as a key piece to her team’s success. Murphy is a gritty forward who skates well and can finish. She has scored some big goals for Northeastern in past seasons, and I’m sure she’s ready to add more.
Wisconsin junior forward Casey O’Brien. On a team with multiple Olympians, players with senior national team experience and a highly touted freshman class, O’Brien has consistently been one of the Badgers’ best players all season. Like so many others on her team, she has a ton of speed and can shoot the puck as well as anyone, but I feel she is at her best when she adds a tenacity and grit that makes her really fun to watch and is critical to her team’s success. — Kelly Pannek
Kendall Coyne’s Frozen Four picks
(Editor’s note: Kendall Coyne, a longtime U.S. national team member and three-time Olympian, played collegiately at Northeastern, where she is the school’s all-time leading scorer and won the Patty Kazmaier Award in 2016.)
Ohio State: The defending champs are looking to go back-to-back and they have the star power to do it. Canadian Olympic gold medalist Emma Maltais has heated up in the second half and the WCHA player of the year and leader on the back end Sophie Jaques is always a threat, especially on the power play.
Northeastern: It’s all about experience for the Huskies. This team has done a lot of winning the last five years and a big part of it is due to the leadership of three-time Olympian Alina Mueller on and off the ice. Northeastern also has one of the best goalies in the NCAA in Gwenyth Philips, and return their superstar firepower up front with Mueller, Chloe Aurard and Maureen Murphy.
Colgate: Colgate has a lot of momentum after winning its third straight ECAC championship and a lot of experience, starting with senior Danielle Sardnechy.
Minnesota: Offense, offense, offense. The Gophers are one of the most gifted teams offensively in the NCAA.
Sleeper team to watch
Minnesota Duluth: UMD is very good defensively. To beat the Bulldogs, you’ve got to beat the Swedish Olympian between the pipes, Emma Soderberg, and contend with Canadian Olympic gold medalist Ashton Bell on the back end — and those are not easy tasks. Duluth turns its solid defense into offense, with leading goal-scorer Gabbie Hughes always in the mix.