WCHA coaches on Saturday said they believed their conference was strong enough to merit four of the eight spots in the NCAA women's hockey tournament field.
The selection committee on Sunday night revealed that it didn't agree — and the team that got left out was the Gophers.
The six-time champion Gophers were left out of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007, after their name wasn't included when the eight-team field was announced.
"I'm in a little bit of shock," coach Brad Frost said in a Zoom teleconference. "It's just the ultimate kick in the teeth after this year, I've got to be honest with you."
The No. 4 Gophers (11-8-1), who were ranked in the top four in the USCHO.com poll all season, finished fourth in the WCHA behind Wisconsin, Ohio State and Minnesota Duluth, and lost 5-3 to the Badgers in the conference tournament semifinals Saturday. Wisconsin received the No. 2 overall seed behind Northeastern, while Ohio State is the third seed and UMD the fifth. The final at-large bid went to No. 7 seed Providence (12-7-1).
"There's no shying away from the fact that we had eight losses," Frost said. "Eight losses to the No. 1, 2 or 3 team in the whole country. No bad losses, 2-0 against another team in the field, 13 games against those teams."
That 2-0 record came against UMD. "I would think head-to-head would be the first thing that you would look at," Frost said, later adding: "I have the utmost respect for Maura [Crowell] and her staff, and her team. It's not their fault. Congratulations to them, but I don't understand it."
Crowell made the case for four WCHA teams Saturday after the Bulldogs lost 7-2 to Ohio State. "We're always duking it out with each other," she said of the WCHA's top four teams. "So this is the year the NCAA committee can pick the true eight best teams in the country, for the most part. This would be a great opportunity for them to have four WCHA teams."
The Gophers missed the tournament only two other times. They missed the inaugural tournament in 2001, when it was only four teams, and they also missed the 2007 tournament, when they went 23-12-1 in the final season for coach Laura Halldorson. She was replaced by Frost the following season, and since then the Gophers had been named to every tournament field, winning it four times.
Frost said the team decided to gather Sunday night for the bracket announcement, despite knowing that the possibility existed for being left out. "We were not expecting to see what we saw tonight when those seedings came out," he said. "We've got a room full of 20 girls and staff that are devastated to hear the news."
Five of those players are seniors, but because of the pandemic they are eligible to return next season. Frost said that he expected four of them to return, adding that he hoped Grace Zumwinkle — the team's leading scorer with 17 goals and seven assists for 24 points — will be named to the U.S. Olympic team.
Thus the Gophers' season ends without an NCAA tournament appearance for the second year in a row — only last year it was because the event was canceled because of the pandemic. "Yeah, 2020, 2021 have not been good years for Gophers women's hockey," Frost said.
Wisconsin 3, Ohio State 2 (OT): Lacey Eden scored 42 seconds into overtime and the Badgers earned their league-best ninth WCHA Final Faceoff championship by beating the Buckeyes at Ridder Arena.
Eden also assisted on Daryl Watts' two regulation goals for Wisconsin, which lost to Ohio State 1-0 in overtime in last year's championship game.