The field for the 2023 NC women's ice hockey tournament has been officially revealed.
Reigning national champion Ohio State earned an at-large bid and the top seed, while rival and WCHA champion Minnesota took the second overall seed. Colgate checked in at No. 3 after winning the ECAC tournament, while conference foe Yale earned the fourth seed on an at-large basis. Northeastern came in at No. 5, fresh off its sixth straight Hockey East championship.
Penn State and LIU each won their respective conferences for automatic bids. PSU won its first CHA title and will make its first NCAA tournament appearance, while LIU clinched the NEWHA championship to earn the conference's first automatic bid.
Clarkson (ECAC), Quinnipiac (ECAC), Minnesota Duluth (WCHA) and Wisconsin (WCHA) made up the remaining at-large bids.
Regional competition will be held from Thursday, March 9, through Saturday, March 11, at campus host sites. The Women's Frozen Four will be played at AMSOIL Arena in Duluth, Minn., from Friday, March 17, to Sunday, March 19.
Here are my immediate predictions after a busy day of selections:
Opening round: Quinnipiac (29-9-0) vs. Penn State (27-8-2); 6 p.m. ET, March 9
Regional final: No. 1 Ohio State vs. TBD; 5 p.m. ET, March 11
Quinnipiac and PSU is one of the more intriguing opening matchups. The Bobcats were one of the most dominant teams in the first half, but tapered off a bit down the stretch. The Nittany Lions have won 11 straight and have a big-time weapon in Kiara Zanon, but they haven't fared well against higher-ranked teams. I'm giving the edge to QU, partly because of their strength of schedule.
In the final, I'm taking OSU. Emma Maltais has taken off in the second half of the season, and Sophie Jaques and Jennifer Gardiner have been among the nation's best from start to finish this season. There's key depth in Gabby Rosenthal and Paetyn Levis, who was clutch in last season's tournament.
“Don’t forget the memories with your team that are going to be lifelong.” - Nadine Muzerall 🗣— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) March 5, 2023
📺 ESPNews#NCAAHockey x @OhioStateWHKY pic.twitter.com/FD6J3DAh9E
BRACKET: Clip or tap here for the complete interactive bracket
Olivia Mobley gives Quinnipiac a top option, and Logan Angers had a good year in net. But the Buckeyes will likely be too much for QU to handle.
Prediction: Ohio State advances
Opening round: Minnesota Duluth (25-9-3) vs. Clarkson (29-10-2); 7 p.m. ET, March 9
Regional final: No. 2 Minnesota (29-5-3) vs. TBD; 3 p.m. ET, March 11
UMD has its hands full with Clarkson in the opening round, but I'm expecting the Bulldogs to take that one. Duluth is battle-tested coming out of a gauntlet WCHA and is able to grind down opposing offenses.
Looking at the final, the Gophers were 4-0-0 against the Bulldogs in the regular season. Taylor Heise and Grace Zumwinkle have been on a tear of late, not to mention the likes of Abbey Murphy and Abigail Boreen.
While Gabbie Hughes is still cruising and Ashton Bell is as solid as ever as a two-way defender, UMD just might not have the firepower to keep up with Minnesota.
While Duluth proved it can make a run last season, I'm taking Minnesota in the regional final. However, it could all come down to goaltending between Skyler Vetter and Emma Soderberg.
Prediction: Minnesota advances
Opening round: Wisconsin (25-10-2) vs. LIU (20-13-3); 6 p.m. ET, March 9
Regional final: No. 3 Colgate (32-5-2) vs. TBD; 3 p.m. ET, March 11
I'm going with Wisconsin in the opening round. LIU had a great season in the NEWHA, but in three series against ranked opponents (Duluth, Northeastern and Penn State), the Sharks went 0-6-0. They just can't match the Badgers.
Colgate-Wisconsin was probably my most difficult regional final to pick.
The Raiders boast the nation's leading scorer in Danielle Serdachny (25-45--70) in addition to stars like Kristýna Kaltounková and Kaitlyn O'Donohoe. Both Hannah Murphy and Kayle Osborne had strong years in net, but split the starts 20-19. It's unclear who grabs hold of the net in the tournament.
HISTORY: Click or tap here for the complete list of NC women's hockey champions
Meanwhile, Wisconsin has one of the deepest rosters, on paper, in college hockey. Whether it's Casey O'Brien, Lacey Eden, Caroline Harvey, Jesse Compher, Britta Curl, Sophie Shirley and more, it's a murderer's row of offense. Cami Kronish has proven she can get the job done as the starter as well.
These are two of the nation's highest-flying teams, but between their depth, experience and strength of schedule, I'm taking the Badgers.
Prediction: Wisconsin advances
New Haven Regional
Regional final: No. 4 Yale (28-3-1) vs. No. 5 Northeastern (33-2-1); 3 p.m. ET, March 11
This might be the marquee matchup of the regionals.
The Bulldogs had rolled through the ECAC before an upset at the hands of Clarkson in the conference semifinals. Nevertheless, they have a bonafide star in Elle Hartje as well as Jordan Ray and Charlotte Welch. Pia Dukaric was one of the best netminders in the nation, and they benefitted from a strong schedule in a deep ECAC.
In case you were wondering, no it doesn't get old. #HowlinHuskies pic.twitter.com/fXJAuwGcH7— Northeastern Women’s Hockey (@GoNUwhockey) March 4, 2023
As for Northeastern, they mowed through Hockey East once again, making the absolute most of their schedule. NU has three legitimate superstars in Alina Müller, Maureen Murphy and Chloé Aurard. Gwyneth Philips has the best statistics of any goaltender in the nation, and Megan Carter and Maude Poulin-Labelle are each top-flight defenders. The Huskies also have key experience of winning a trophy already after taking home the Beanpot and the conference title.
It's a toss-up, but Northeastern has been on a mission this year. I'm going with the Huskies in what will be appointment viewing.
Prediction: Northeastern advances
First semifinal: 3:30 p.m. ET, March 17
Second semifinal: 7 p.m. ET, March 17
Everything above leaves us with four super teams in the Frozen Four, pitting Ohio State against Northeastern in one semifinal, and Minnesota against Wisconsin in the other.
FROZEN FOUR: Click or tap here for everything you need to know about the 2023 Women's Frozen Four
Northeastern's top line will get theirs, and while the Huskies have a solid supporting cast, the depth can't compare to Ohio State. In the end, OSU's depth is what should put the Buckeyes over the edge in this one.
Even with all its weapons, Wisconsin was still prone to going quiet offensively, especially in its losses this season. In nine of their 10 losses, the Badgers were held to one goal or fewer. The blueprint to beat them is there, and Minnesota's ability to win in any fashion is a big help. The Gophers have the pieces to keep pace on offense, too.
Prediction: Ohio State and Minnesota advance
National championship: 4 p.m. ET, March 19
I've gone with the Gophers all year long, and I'm standing by my pick.
Minnesota has one of the only other rosters that can go toe-to-toe with the Buckeyes, and they proved it with a 2-1-1 record in the regular season series before winning 3-1 in the WCHA championship.
Soak it all in! pic.twitter.com/8XAyn4biSf— Minnesota Women's Hockey (@GopherWHockey) March 4, 2023
Between the superstar power that each team boasts between Jaques-Gardiner-Maltais and Heise-Zumwinkle-Murphy is probably a wash, but Vetter gives the Gophers a distinct advantage between the pipes.
Minnesota also proved it can win in multiple ways against Ohio State, whether it be in an offensive shootout or shutting down the Bucks' attack.
Prediction: Minnesota wins its seventh national championship (first since 2016)
Below is my completed bracket: