Wisconsin captain Hilary Knight will look to lead the Badgers over the Eagles in the Frozen Four for the second consecutive season. (via Mark Kauzlarich)
The NCAA Women's Frozen Four is on deck tonight at 6pm (unfortunately during the men's hockey game... but online, so you can watch both at the same time!) and Chuck Schwartz of Wisconsin's SB Nation blog Bucky's 5th Quarter was kind enough to sit down with us to talk some women's hockey. We know women's hockey is a bit off the radar for most of you, so this is a good opportunity to get to know BC's opponent, the top seeded Wisconsin Badgers.
BC Interruption: Wisconsin is pretty much women's hockey royalty, winning four of the last six NCAA titles. The only hiccup came in 2010 when a big chunk of the team, including legendary coach Mark Johnson, was away at the Olympics. This year is no different with Wisconsin sitting atop the Pairwise and the polls. Needless to say, Boston College is quite the underdog. Tell me -- what are the Badgers' weaknesses that the Eagles can exploit to win this game?
Bucky's 5th Quarter: It's hard to find glaring weaknesses on teams that are 32-4-2 on the season. That said, a couple things game to mind. One thing that immediately popped out was that this team from time to time can try to be a little too fine. They have a lot of talent up front and instead of taking the puck to the net and getting a solid shot off with a chance at a rebound, they will make an extra pass or two and not get a shot off at all. In tournament time, that can come back to haunt teams.
BCI: While Wisconsin is still Wisconsin, consensus around the women's hockey community is that you guys aren't playing quite to the level that we usually expect -- that is, blowing the doors off your opponents. As I mentioned in my playoff preview, I had Mercyhurst upsetting the Badgers because I just couldn't shake the loss to Ohio State at the end of the regular season. What's the feeling among Wisconsin fans? Confident? Worried? Cautiously optimistic?
B5Q: I think cautiously optimistic is a good assessment from the fans I've talked to recently. For the most part, everyone just assumes that they are going to play in the title game on Sunday. Now, I'm not unrealistic enough to assume things, it's hard to get too down on a team because of a loss or two.
The loss to Ohio State isn't concerning to most as people understand the situation. The previous day they had clinched the outright WCHA title. The loss came on senior day when the Badgers started Nikki Kassa in goal who has played in five games this season and has a meager .852 save percentage. She let in a goal on the first shot of the game. It was a perfect storm of events that led to the team coming out with no energy.
The loss to Minnesota-Duluth came as Stefanie McKeough went down with an injury. Additionally, it was in UMD's barn while they were fighting for their hockey lives. UMD had to win that game to have a chance at the NCAA tournament. Wisconsin obviously wanted to win, but they didn't have quite the same do-or-die motivation.
BCI: Brianna Decker is the nation's leading goalscorer and a finalist for the Patty Kaz (the women's hockey equivalent of the Hobey Baker, for those of you who don't follow women's hockey). She seems like a bit of an unstoppable force... and she's just one of Wisconsin's many weapons. What's her style, and is there anything BC can do to keep her off the scoresheet?
B5Q: I'd describe her as a bit of a water-bug. She's super quick and seems to always have the puck on her stick. While she's small and can get lost in traffic at times, her speed and quickness makes up for that and she's able to dart around the zone. What separates her from a lot of players at this level is that she's a lethal finisher. Decker led the country in goals with 37 this season and will obviously be a big focus of BC's defensemen.
While it's unlikely that BC can keep her off the scoresheet altogether, as it's happened just four times this season, BC has the ability to limit her opportunities. While there is obviously no checking in women's hockey, BC would be at an advantage if they played physical with Decker, especially in the scoring areas.
BCI: Women's hockey is much bigger out west then here in the east. The Kohl Center had just about 3,000 fans for the regional between Mercyhurst and Wisconsin. Over at BC, we had just over 800 and it was easily our highest attended game in history. Chances are, someone reading this blog won't have much familiarity with the sport. What can you say to the BCI readers to persuade them to pay attention this weekend?
B5Q: To be perfectly honest with you, I didn't follow the Wisconsin women's team until last season because I had never seen them play. I went to a game and was amazed at the skill level on the ice. The women's game has come a long ways, even in the past four years. Wisconsin senior Hilary Knight has noted that she's going to pursue professional men's hockey in Europe at the end of her career. There is a lot of special talent on the ice, and some really fun hockey to watch.
BCI: Junior defenseman Stefanie McKeough, the WCHA defensive player of the year, has been out with a concussion and hasn't played in some time. Any chance she returns this weekend? How will it change the game on both sides if she's back versus if she's unable to hit the ice?
B5Q: There is a chance that she plays this weekend. There was an update in the Madison newspaper saying that she's still questionable at this point. I think that article does a good job explaining how important she is to this team as Badger head coach Mark Johnson compared her importance to the women as Justin Schultz to the men. McKeough regularly plays big minutes and runs the point on the Badgers PP. If she can't play, BC will have a much better chance to shut down the Badgers power play, which in turn will go a long ways to beating the Badgers.
BCI: Finally, let's cut to the chase: What's your prediction in this one?
B5Q: Well I think Wisconsin is obviously a favorite because of their tradition as well as the season that they are having. That said, Boston College has a really nice club this season that brings an intriguing match up. I'm going to take the Badgers in this one as I think their firepower is going to be too much to handle for BC. Wisconsin has a +119 goal differential this season, and Boston College has only scored 107 goals this season.
I'll go with Wisconsin 5, Boston College 2.
BCI: Thanks Chuck! Readers, make sure you head over to Bucky's 5th Quarter all things Wisconsin, and be sure to follow them on Twitter as well. The NCAA Women's Frozen Four kicks off at 6pm, with video available for free online.