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Gophers face Bemidji State in WCHA Final Face-Off

Milica McMillen and the Gophers face Bemidji State in the WCHA Final Face-Off Saturday in Grand Forks, N.D.
Milica McMillen and the Gophers face Bemidji State in the WCHA Final Face-Off Saturday in Grand Forks, N.D.
Watch This Hockey

USCHO.com Rankings:(as of 3/2/15)

  1. Boston College
  2. Minnesota
  3. Wisconsin
  4. Harvard
  5. Clarkson
  6. Quinnipiac
  7. Boston University
  8. North Dakota
  9. Cornell
  10. Bemidji State

While the Gophers swept the Mavericks, as expected, they head into the WCHA Final Face-Off against a slightly unexpected foe.

The Bemidji State Beavers are in the Final Face-Off for just the second time in program history (their first was in 2009-10) after Minnesota Duluth pushed the series to three games with a 2-0 victory in Game 2 (BSU won the first, 3-2). BSU went most of Game 3 down 1-0 on a goal by UMD's Brigette Lacquette, but then Hanna Moher tied the game with 33.8 seconds left in regulation. Then Kaitlyn Tougas scored at 12:08 of OT to win the game 2-1, the series 2-1, and bring the Beavers to North Dakota to face a team they played just two weekends prior.

The Beavers have relied on their defense and goaltending to win games, and so far it's worked. Brittni Mowat stood tall with 35 saves in the final game of the first round, and she made 90 saves throughout the series, so clearly they like their chances with her in net. Still, the fact that the shot totals are so high is slightly worrisome from an endurance standpoint, and it could get worse when you consider the firepower the Gophers have in their lineup (including two forwards nominated for the Patty Kazmaier Award in Hannah Brandt and Dani Cameranesi). Still, it's not as though these teams are strangers. The Gophers in fact struggled early and faced deficits against the Beavers in their final weekend of play, relying on a late goal by Rachael Bona to avoid overtime in the first game and holding off a late push by BSU in the second. The good thing is they have overcome those deficits; still, playoffs are a different animal, and while this team is seasoned, they also can't just overlook the incredible effort Mowat and the Beavers have put forth. They've managed to hang onto leads and been opportunistic enough to score when it's most necessary, so it's going to come down to who strikes first and who makes the fewest mistakes.

Puck drop is at 2 p.m. CST (3 p.m. EST) Saturday in Grand Forks.

WCHA:

  • UND and Ohio State kept things interesting last weekend. After North Dakota took the first game 5-2 on the strength of a hat trick from captain Andrea Dalen, it took three overtime periods for them to sweep. But sweep they did, as sophomore Amy Menke scored on a 2-on-1 just over three minutes into the third OT to win it for North Dakota, 2-1. Shelby Amsley-Benzie made 36 saves for the winning team, while Kassidy Sauve stopped 40 for OSU.
  • Meanwhile, Wisconsin disposed of St. Cloud State by scores of 5-1 and 4-1 to sweep the first round. Katy Josephs scored two goals over the weekend, and seven other Badgers also lit the lamp, while Ann-Renee Desbiens was kept considerably bored in net with a combined 27 saves. The Badgers will meet North Dakota to determine who gets to the Final Face-Off Championship game against the winner of Minnesota vs. Bemidji State. Puck drop is at 5 p.m. CST (6 p.m. EST) Saturday. The championship game is at 1 p.m. CST (2 p.m. EST) Sunday.
NCAA:
  • Linking this again to mention one thing: of the 10 Patty Kaz finalists, four (BC's Alex Carpenter, Cornell's Brianne Jenner, Northeastern's Kendall Coyne, and BU's Marie-Philip Poulin) are Olympians. Sweet company for Brandt, Cameranesi and Gophers defenseman Rachel Ramsey to be in. Oh, and Shelby Amsley-Benzie's the lone goalie. Part of me wants her to win it just because goalies. But we shall see.
  • Six Gophers were named NCAA Scholar-Athletes, so it's nice to see we've got ladies with talent and brains.
  • If you haven't already, check out At Even Strength, the website run by former THW standout Gabriella Fundaro, for a full rundown of all NCAA women's hockey action. The work Gabs puts in to showcase college women's hockey is incredible, so give her all the support you can. Co-writer Kyle Rossi does great work as well, so definitely give them a read.
International:
  • Meghan Duggan was named the captain for the U.S. women's team in the upcoming Worlds in Malmo, Sweden. Duggan's no stranger to either captaincy or Team USA, having worn the "C" in Sochi in 2014. Alex Carpenter and Brianna Decker will serve as alternate captains. Check out the full roster here. I'll have a breakdown of players to watch for both the Americans and Canadians once I can find the Canadian roster (which doesn't seem to have come out yet). The tournament is set to begin March 28.
  • Longtime USA women's coach and former Olympian Mark Johnson notched career win No. 350 last month (and I'm just now catching it because I'm cool).
CWHL:
  • It's the top-seeded Blades against last-seeded Toronto and Calgary vs. Montreal for this year's Clarkson Cup playoffs. First round begins Wednesday, and you can watch in multiple ways. The first is by buying a streaming package for $8 USD ($10 CAD). The second is by buying tickets if you're in Ontario or are willing to make the trip, and the third is by watching on TV. Canadian viewers can catch the games on Sportsnet at these times: (sticktap to Erika)

Meanwhile, if you're stuck in the U.S. and can't or don't want to buy the package (or can't watch live), NHL Network is showing condensed versions of each of Thursday's games on Friday morning at 9 and 10 a.m. CST (10 and 11 a.m. EST).

Check out a rundown of each of the playoff teams, written by Zoe Hayden of Stanley Cup of Chowder, Valerie Chiasson of She Shoots and Scores! and yours truly as part of a new weekly on NHLnumbers.com called CWHLnumbers. (Fittingly.) Also stay tuned for a preview of each matchup and our predictions as to who will win each one. Shoutout to Thomas Drance of the Nation Network for helping us spread the word about women's hockey!