Thanks to their WCHA regular-season title—and the league tournament bye that comes with it—the Gophers women’s hockey team gets to play spectator this weekend. It will be a busy few days for other women’s teams in Minnesota, including the Whitecaps and six college teams. Here’s a rundown of this weekend’s action.
Whitecaps: Top seed on the line
The Whitecaps (10-4-0) are tied for second in the National Women’s Hockey League standings entering the final weekend of the regular season. They go on the road to play Boston on Saturday and Connecticut on Sunday, in a pair of games that will determine their place among the top three seeds for the playoffs.
Boston (11-4-0) leads the league with 22 points, two ahead of the Whitecaps and Buffalo (10-4-0). The bottom two teams—the Riveters and Connecticut—are far out of the race, with six points each. The playoff picture still is murky, but a Whitecaps sweep would earn them a top-two seed and guarantee a home playoff game the weekend of March 9-10.
All five teams will participate in the postseason, with the higher seeds hosting each game. The No. 4 and No. 5 seeds meet in a play-in game, likely to be held Wednesday or Thursday. In the semifinals, which will be held March 9-10, the winner of the play-in game faces the No. 1 seed, while the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds meet.
The bracket will be announced Sunday night. Should the Whitecaps host a semifinal, it probably will be played March 9 at Tria Rink, and tickets could go on sale as early as Sunday.
Gophers: A quiet weekend
Winning their first WCHA regular-season title since 2015 earned the Gophers more than a trophy and a banner. It gave them a first-round bye in the league tournament, providing a valuable break to rest and recover.
The Gophers (29-4-1, 19-4-1 WCHA) swept Bemidji State on the road last weekend, then claimed the championship outright when Wisconsin tied Ohio State twice. That also flip-flopped the Gophers and the Badgers in the national rankings, with the Gophers taking over the top spot and Wisconsin falling to No. 2. As the top seed in the WCHA tournament, the Gophers advance directly to next weekend’s WCHA Final Faceoff at Ridder Arena, where they will play in Saturday’s semifinals.
After Saturday’s victory, the Gophers gathered in the locker room to watch the end of the Badgers-Buckeyes game and celebrate. They enter the postseason with 22 victories in their past 24 games.
“To win the regular-season title, I don’t think people realize how cool that is and how big of a deal it is,’’ forward Kelly Pannek said. “The No. 1 ranking is awesome as well. But we want to be ranked No. 1 at the end of the season, so we’re going to keep pushing.’’
Other Minnesota teams will launch postseason play in the WCHA’s best-of-three first round Friday through Sunday. Minnesota Duluth will host Bemidji State, St. Cloud State plays at Wisconsin, and Minnesota State Mankato plays at Ohio State.
Tommies, Pipers meet for MIAC title
Two of the top four teams in Division III women’s hockey, St. Thomas and Hamline, will meet in the MIAC playoff championship Saturday at 2 p.m., at St. Thomas Ice Arena. The top-ranked Tommies (23-1-2) and No. 4 Pipers (21-2-3) already have played two memorable games against each other this month, splitting the final series of the regular season.
Hamline’s 3-2 overtime victory in the regular-season finale was the first loss in 37 games for the Tommies, ending the longest active unbeaten streak in college hockey. The Pipers, coached by Natalie Darwitz, saw their own 17-game unbeaten streak end with a 3-2 loss to the Tommies in the first game of the series. In last weekend’s semifinals, Tom Palkowski’s St. Thomas squad shut out Gustavus 4-0, and Hamline beat Augsburg 6-1.
The tournament winner gets the league’s automatic bid to the 10-team NCAA tournament, which begins March 6. The loser is likely to receive an at-large bid. The NCAA tournament bracket will be announced Sunday.