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Previewing the ECAC Women's Hockey Championship

The regular season for the women's hockey teams in the ECAC is over, and this weekend, the first round of the playoffs will begin, with the bottom eight of the 12 teams playing in a single-elimination format, with all four games being held at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday. Seven of the 12 teams in the ECAC are in contention for making the NCAA Tournament, and out of those seven, four seem like locks, and Quinnipiac will likely make it in as long as they don't get upset in the first round.

First, we'll run through how each team has fared this season (starting with the highest seed and working our way down), and then we'll run through the tournament format and the potential implications of each matchup.

No. 1 Colgate

Colgate is ranked fifth in the USCHO poll this week, and they have been on a skid recently, going 3-3 in their final six games. They had a big lead at the beginning of February, so their fall in form didn't cost them the top seed in the ECAC. Still, their three wins in that stretch have been against Union, RPI, and Brown, who are not among the top teams in the conference (though Brown was receiving votes in the USCHO poll at the time), while their three losses have been against USCHO-ranked teams in No. 14 Yale, No. 7 St. Lawrence, and No. 3 Clarkson.

At the start of February, Colgate was ranked third in the country and had a legitimate argument for being ranked second, but since then, they haven't looked like the same team. However, the Raiders are still led by talented players like Kristyna Kaltounkova, who tied for the most goals in the ECAC with 25, and Danielle Serdachny, who had 19 goals and tied the lead for assists in the ECAC with 33; both players finished with 52 points, which left them tied for second in the ECAC.

Colgate gets a bye in the opening round, and they will play the lowest seed out of the four teams who advance in a best-of-three series. If the Raiders reach the semifinals, they would host the final weekend of the ECAC playoffs in Hamilton, but getting there is the first step.

No. 2 Clarkson

The Golden Knights should probably be the favorites going into the tournament, as they are ranked third in the USCHO poll and are one of the hottest teams in the country. Clarkson has won four straight games and six of their last seven, with wins in that stretch coming against USCHO-ranked No. 7 St. Lawrence, No. 5 Colgate, No. 13 Princeton, and No. 9 Quinnipiac.

Unlike previous years, there isn't one player who drives Clarkson's offense, but it hasn't mattered, as they have five players with 30 points. Clarkson's biggest asset is their goalie, Michelle Pasiechnyk, who leads the ECAC in goals against on average with 1.23 goals per game, and she had eight shutouts in 26 games.

Clarkson has a bye in the opening round, and then they will play the second-lowest remaining seed out of the teams who win in the four games of the opening rounds. If the higher seeds win each game, that would mean a rematch with Princeton, whom Clarkson has beaten twice this season, with 1-0 final scores in both games.

If Clarkson makes the semifinals and Colgate gets upset in the quarterfinals, Clarkson would host the semifinals and finals in Potsdam, which would add a bit of extra motivation for the Golden Knights, as well. In the semifinals, they would have the chance to play their hated rival, St. Lawrence, which would be one of the craziest ECAC tournament games in recent memory, especially if it takes place at Cheel Arena in Potsdam.

No. 3 St. Lawrence

The Saints have been one of the biggest surprises in the country this season, as they are currently on track to get their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2017. St. Lawrence went 18-4-0 in conference play this season, and they earned their highest position in the ECAC regular season since the aforementioned 2016-17 team.

The Saints have January's Hockey Commissioner's Association Player of the Month in Abby Hustler, who has been on a tear since the beginning of December, scoring two hat tricks, 15 goals, 18 assists, and 33 points in the 17 games since December 1. The offense has been stellar, as it was led by Hustler (24 goals, 28 assists), Julia Gosling (19 goals, 29 assists), Anna Segedi (17 goals, 18 assists), and Mae Batherson (eight goals, 27 assists). Additionally, Emma-Sofie Nordstrom has been solid in goal, and she has allowed 2.11 goals per game this season.

St. Lawrence has a bye in the first round, and they will play the second-highest remaining seed in the second round. Barring any major upsets, St. Lawrence will likely play sixth-seeded Yale in a best-of-three series in the quarterfinals; the Saints and Bulldogs have played twice this season, and the Saints won both contests by scores of 4-2 and 3-2.

If St. Lawrence makes the semifinals, they would likely play against Clarkson unless Clarkson or Colgate gets upset in the quarterfinals. If both teams get upset in the quarterfinals, St. Lawrence would host the semifinals and finals in the tournament at Appleton Arena in Canton.

No. 4 Cornell

The Big Red are ranked sixth in the USCHO poll, and they come into the tournament on a five-game winning streak, with wins in that stretch over USCHO-ranked No. 3 Clarkson and No. 14 Yale.

Cornell is led by Izzy Daniel, who led the ECAC in points with 53 and tied for the lead in assists with 33. Annelies Bergmann has been solid in net, too, with a 1.77 goals-against average in 24 starts. Somewhat interestingly, Cornell is the only team in the ECAC with any players who have multiple shorthanded goals, and they have two such players: Kaitlin Jockims has three shorthanded goals this season, and Daniel has two.

Cornell has a bye in the first round, and they will play the highest remaining seed, who will likely be Quinnipiac, unless there is a massive upset. Cornell has played Quinnipiac twice this season, and the away team has won both games, with Quinnipiac winning 3-1 in Ithaca and Cornell winning 4-3 in Hamden.

No. 5 Quinnipiac

The Bobcats are ranked ninth in the USCHO poll, but they have been on a skid, losing six of their last nine games going into the ECAC tournament, and they have fallen from being in place to take one of the byes in the tournament to the fifth seed. Quinnipiac will likely make the NCAA Tournament if they beat Harvard this weekend, but that might be easier said than done because even though Harvard is an objectively bad team, they have pulled off some upsets this season, most notably against (at the time) USCHO-ranked No. 8 St. Lawrence.

Quinnipiac's offense has been a group effort this season, with only two players above 30 points for the season; they are Kate Reilly (38) and Kendall Cooper (32), and that doesn't include their top goalscorers, Sadie Peart (15) and Nina Steigauf (15). Logan Angers has started all 34 games in net for the Bobcats, and she has been solid, only allowing 1.85 goals per contest with five shutouts.

In the first round, Quinnipiac hosts 12th-seeded Harvard, a team that has only won five games this year and whom Quinnipiac has beaten twice this year by scores of 7-1 and 8-0. If Quinnipiac wins, they will travel to Ithaca to face Cornell, who they have beaten on the road 3-1 and lost at home 4-3 this year.

No. 6 Yale

The Bulldogs are coming off a 2-1 loss against Cornell to end the regular season, but before that, they had been playing well, with four straight wins, including one against USCHO-ranked No. 5 Colgate, in the games beforehand. Yale has an outside shot at making the NCAA Tournament, but they will need to make a run in the ECAC to have a chance, and that starts with their game against Union this weekend.

Yale's offense has been led by Elle Hartje, who leads the team in points (36) and assists (25), and she is second in goals on the team with 11. Yale has only averaged 2.5 goals per game, but their defense has been great, especially their goalie, Pia Dukaric, who has only allowed 1.70 goals per game this season.

In the first round, Yale hosts 11th-seeded Union, whom Yale has beaten twice this season by scores of 4-0 and 3-2 in overtime. If Yale can beat Union, they will likely face third-seeded St. Lawrence, whom they have lost to twice this season; Yale would likely need to beat St. Lawrence in a three-game series to have any chance to make the NCAA Tournament, and they may even need to win the ECAC.

No. 7 Princeton

Princeton, like Yale, has a chance to make the NCAA Tournament, but they will likely need to make a run in the ECAC tournament to make that chance a reality. The Tigers are reeling, as they have only won one of their last nine games entering the postseason; their schedule has been extremely tough in that stretch, with their five losses coming against Cornell, Colgate, Quinnipiac, St. Lawrence, and Clarkson, and they had three ties against Yale, Brown, and RPI, as well.

Princeton's offense has been middle of the pack this year, and they have once again been led by Sarah Fillier, who tied for the lead in goals in the ECAC with 25. The Tigers have used a two-goalie system this year, with Jennifer Olnowich playing 14 games and allowing 2.13 goals per game with one shutout and Uma Corniea playing in 17 games and allowing 2.26 goals per game with two shutouts.

In the first round, Princeton hosts 10th-seeded Dartmouth, and in their two previous meetings this season, Princeton won 5-2 at home and tied the Big Green 1-1 on the road. In order for the Tigers, who have a perfect 7-0-0 record outside of the ECAC, to make the NCAA Tournament, they need to make a run, and that starts with this game.

No. 8 Brown

The Bears have had a decent year, and they are currently ranked 21st in the Pairwise rankings, marking the eighth and final team from the ECAC that is ranked in the top half of the country. Unlike the teams ranked ahead of them, however, Brown has no realistic chance of making the NCAA Tournament, but they could still end the year on a high note by winning a few games and building some momentum going into next season.

Brown has had one of the worst offenses in the ECAC this season, with only Union and Harvard scoring fewer goals. Their offense has been led by Jade Iginla, who led the team in goals (16) and points (26), and India McDadi, who led the team in assists (14) and was the only other player to have more than 16 points, with 23. Kaley Doyle has played all but three games in net for the Bears this season and has allowed 2.21 goals per game with one shutout, and she can keep the team in the game, even if the offense falters.

On Saturday, Brown hosts ninth-seeded RPI, a team that Brown has beaten 3-2 at home and lost 2-0 against on the road. If Brown can win, they will likely face Colgate or Clarkson, depending on if there are any major upsets in the other games. If there are none, the Bears will travel to Hamilton to play Colgate in a three-game series in the quarterfinals, and if there is an upset, the Bears will travel to Potsdam to play Clarkson.

No. 9 RPI

The Engineers actually received votes for three straight weeks in the USCHO poll in late October and early November, and they started the season 5-1-3. At the time, they looked like they might contend in the ECAC, but a six-game losing streak followed the good start that all but knocked them out of contention for a top seed in the ECAC and the NCAA Tournament.

RPI's offense has been midpack all year, and they were led by Ellie Kaiser, Marah Wagner, and Andrea Trnkova, who all tied for the most points on the team with 21. Amanda Rampado was in goal for most of the season, and despite being rather average in terms of goals allowed per game with 2.12, she had the second-most saves in the conference with 860 and had the second-most saves per game with 27.74.

The Engineers will travel to face Brown this weekend, a team that they beat 2-0 at home and lost to 3-2 on the road. If they can capitalize on their chances and provide Rampado with the defense they have been lacking all season, they could easily pull off the upset and advance to the quarterfinals.

No. 10 Dartmouth

The Big Green are the top of the three bottom teams in the ECAC, and their reward is to play on the road at Princeton. In conference play, Dartmouth went 3-16-3, and they were uncompetitive in most of their games against the top nine teams.

Dartmouth's offense was led by Jenna Donohue, who led the team in assists (15) and points (22), and Cally Dixon, who led the team with 10 goals. Eleanor Rogers played in 20 games, and she was the worst goalie in the ECAC in terms of goals allowed per game, ending the season at a mark of 4.90.

Dartmouth has played Princeton twice this season, and they lost 5-2 on the road and tied 1-1 at home. If Dartmouth is able to win, they would likely face top-seeded Colgate, whom they lost two, both times played by scores of 8-1 and 5-0.

No. 11 Union

Union had the best overall record of the bottom three ECAC teams at 8-24-2, but in conference play, they went 3-17-2. This weekend, they'll go on the road against Yale for a spot in the quarterfinals, where they would likely play Colgate.

Union's offense was decent this season, and they were led by Riley Walsh, who led the team in goals (11), assists (16), and points (27), and Maddie Leaney, who tied for the team lead in goals with 11. Sophie Matsoukas started 29 of Union's games in net and allowed 3.07 goals per game, good enough for the third-worst average in the ECAC.

The Garnet Chargers have played Yale twice this season, and Yale won both matchups by scores of 3-2 in overtime and 4-0. The 3-2 overtime game was in New Haven, so Union has shown that they can keep up with Yale.

No. 12 Harvard

In their first season without Katey Stone since 1993, Harvard was the worst team in the ECAC, finishing with a conference record of 3-18-1 and an overall record of 5-22-2. This weekend, the Crimson will head to Quinnipiac to try to pull off a massive upset, and if they win, they will travel to face Colgate in a three-game series in the quarterfinals.

The Crimson offense was by far the worst in the ECAC, and they averaged just 1.31 goals per game across the season; only one player had double-digit levels in points, and that was Gwyn Lapp, who had 11 goals and 15 points. Additionally, Alex Pellicci allowed the second-most goals per game in the league with 3.76, but she also had the most saves per game with 28.91.

Harvard has played Quinnipiac twice this season, and they lost both games by scores of 7-1 and 8-0. However, if Harvard can give Pellicci some defense, she has shown that she can make saves and potentially make this matchup into a competitive affair.

Tournament Format

This is the first season of a new format for the ECAC, which will see all 12 teams make the postseason in the women's tournament. The men's tournament has been held this way since 2003, but up until last year, the women's tournament only featured the top eight teams.

In the first round, the bottom eight teams will play each other in single-elimination games, and the four winners will be reseeded. The lowest remaining seed will play Colgate, the second-lowest will play Clarkson, the second-highest will play St. Lawrence, and the highest will play Cornell; all four series will be best-of-three contests.

In the semifinals, the highest remaining seed will play the lowest remaining seed, and the middle two seeds will play each other, and the winners of those two games will meet in the finals. Both the semifinals and finals will be held on consecutive days at the campus of the highest remaining seed. The final game will take place on March 9.

Cover image courtesy of Lake Placid Olympic Center.

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