The Women’s Frozen Four just one day away! We sat down with Nicole Haase of Bucky’s 5th Quarter to preview the Boston College vs. Wisconsin semifinal. Haase is one of the top names in women’s hockey coverage, with Wisconsin-based as well as national coverage scattered across the winds of the interwebs.
We also answered questions for B5Q as well, which you can see here.
BC Interruption: We meet again! Why is it that every time we get matched up with the Badgers, they're ranked #1 in the country? Is it because you're scared?
Nicole Haase, Bucky’s 5th Quarter: Yes, Grant. The Badgers play their butts off all season and dominate folks because they're scared of BC. I mean, Boston sports are just so awesome and intimidating to us here in the flyover states that we have to overcompensate.
Also, because the infant Messiah hates you and this is your punishment.
BCI: As good as Wisconsin's been this year — and they are the clear favorite by just about any metric — they have been beaten twice and have four ties. Have you noticed a common thread in these games that makes Wisconsin a bit more... mortal?
B5Q: The common thread is stinkin' teams from Minnesota.
If we consider the OSU tie an outlier — and I think we have to not only because it happened in October but because Kassidy Sauve was literally the Terminator in net this season — then the common thread was they all came to two of the other top five teams in the country.
Great goaltending is the obvious and not sarcastic answer. The slightly more in-depth, but no less nebulous answer is that at times, the Badgers can absolutely pepper the net and not find the back of it. In the WCHA tournament semi-final, they put 38 shots on goal in two periods against North Dakota and had one goal to show for it. The the final, it was 43 shots in two periods and one goal.
Sadly for you, for the most part, they still find a way to win those games. But at times, the shot (on goal and overall) to scoring ratio is rather disproportionate. That's the difference.
BCI: Ann-Renée Desbiens is a jinx-proof lock to win this year's Patty Kazmaier Award, the first goaltender to win since 2009 (you might have heard of that one, too). Her stats seem to imply that it takes an act of God to score on her (16 shutouts in 33 starts o.O), but surely there must be a way past her.
B5Q: No Grant, I don't know who you're talking about. Tell me more about the legacy of world-class goaltending talent at Wisconsin. It's honestly my favorite subject!
I appreciate that you seem to think my hockey knowledge is so vast that I've identified some gaping hole in Ann-Renée's game that no other coach in the country has found. I appreciate even more that you seem to think that if this were the case, I'd spend my time sharing this information with you on this here blog and not using everything at my disposal to get that info to ARD herself.
You're a Jesuit school — can't you conjure up some sort of Catholic voodoo magic and get yourselves one of those acts of God? [Ed. note: Don’t think we haven’t put a request in...]
In all honesty, though, Ann is absolute perfection. I don't see a lot of holes in her game. She's big and tall in the net. She's got great reflexes, absolutely no compunction about just throwing herself in front of a puck to stop it by any means necessary, she sees the ice incredibly well, she moves around her crease (and even further) a lot and in case all of that fails her, she's also got one heck of a defense in front of her.
Duluth rang one off the post in the WCHA Championship game when Ann-Renée came fairly far out of her net to help push the puck forward, so I suppose you could try that strategy. Ann comes out of the net quite a bit — something she's rather proud of -- but I'd pretty much always pick her in that fight.
I don't know, you might want to ask Hockey Canada, though, since they seem to have different thoughts on her then I do.
BCI: Wisconsin's depth is easily the best in the country this year, with a full 10 players putting up a half point per game or more. Other than the usual suspects (Pankowski, Nurse, Clark), who is an unsung hero for the Badgers this year?
B5Q: I don't know if you can count Abby Roque as an unsung hero since she was named WCHA Rookie of the Year, but I definitely don't think people have been paying a ton of attention to her outside the WCHA. She's a big, physical player that's adjusted to the college game very well. Her shot is no joke and she's not afraid to unleash it.
The real answer, though, is Baylee Wellhausen. She's actually fourth in the team in goals behind the above-mentioned usual suspects. She plays on the third line, which speaks pretty clearly to that depth you mentioned. Baylee is small and super quick and she's the type of player who's impact doesn't always show up on the score sheet. Despite her stature, she's constantly winning pucks and digging in on the boards. She's one of those players that you can almost see thinking a few steps ahead and even still, she's able to catch opponents off guard. While her speed is certainly an asset, her grittiness is actually probably her best feature. She goes into a scrum of folks and comes out with the puck more often than not. Lord knows the top line is beyond worth the price of admission, but I'd pay the $5 to sit and watch a broadcast that just follows Baylee on the ice. She's got great instincts, great vision and is scrappy as heck.
BCI: Would BC have beaten Wisconsin had we faced off in the national championship game last year instead of the Gophers? Because this question still keeps me up at night.
(I'm not sure which answer I would prefer here.)
B5Q: I'm not sure on which planet you reside if you think I'm going to tell you “yes” to this question. Not only would I not sell the players out that way, but you'd never let me forget it. I'm from Wisconsin, Grant, not Minnesota. Find a different rube.
In all honesty, I'm not sure what the answer to that question is. The Badgers were pretty evenly matched with those Gophers and in some ways I'd argue they were fairly interchangeable. I don't think it bodes well that you all only managed one goal in the championship game. Arguably Ann-Renée and the Wisconsin defense were better last season than they are this season. That you could only score once on Leveille and company doesn't give me positive thoughts for you all against Wisconsin.
Trying to stay as objective on this as possible, I don't know that it would have mattered. Obviously I'm the least objective person in the world to ask this question to.
BCI: What is the general feeling about this BC team among those in Madison? Overrated? Underrated? Weak defense? Deep? Etc.
B5Q: The honest answer is one that would be similar no matter which east coast team you asked me about — and that's that in general, WCHA fans aren't too intimidated by east coast teams because they don't feel you play the same caliber of teams. You admitted as much in your Q&A with Donna at RWD earlier in the season. East coast fans like to complain about the lack of cross-conference games and call the WCHA scared, but this season there were plenty of those games and they didn't go so well for you all.
WCHA fans are admittedly cocky, but they also think the proof is in the pudding, you know?
As for for BC specifically, I think we understand that your defense is tough and a threat both on the blue line and up in the offensive zone. It's so hard to keep track of teams you don't get to watch very often and I do think that much like the coaches, we're more worried about ourselves than we are about you, if that makes sense.
It's not that we look at BC and find them wanting — I just think we look at the matchup and feel confident about where we come out.
You mentioned the Badgers' depth before, but I'm not sure you can quite grasp how deep they are and how important that is if you haven't watched them. Because even if the opponent can corral that top line — which is no easy feat — and also provide top notch match ups for the second line, the third line is still crazy good and prolific. And they have a fourth line that, while obviously not as good, still can provide a rest and some minutes.
Just for comparison's sake I did the numbers on the second and third lines for each the Badgers, BC, and Minnesota (as listed on their depth chart for their quarterfinal game):
BC wins the second line comparison — Belinskas, Lonergan, and Capizzano combined for 90 pts (45g, 45a).
The Badgers' second line of McKibbon, Cogan, and Norby had 79 points (30g, 49a).
Minnesota's line of Reilly, Piazza, and Schlepper had 57 points (26g, 31a).
But when we get to the third line, you might want to close our eyes:
Minnesota's line of Schammel, Agnew, and Skarzynski combined for 24 points (12g, 12a).
BC's third line of Connolly, McLean, and Little combined for 35 points (16g, 19a).
But Wisconsin's third line of Roque, Wellhausen, and Shaver combined for 67 points (26g, 41a).
That's 8 points more for the UW third line than the other two team's third lines have combined. In case it wasn't abundantly clear when I mentioned Roque and Wellhausen above or when looking at the numbers here, even if you can look past the talent of the top two lines (and I don't know how you can), then you still have this third group to contend with.
I suppose that's a long-winded answer to how we might feel about your depth, sorry (not sorry).
BCI: Give me three realistic game scripts: The best case scenario for the Badgers, the Worst case scenario for the Badgers, and what you think is most likely to happen.
B5Q: The best case scenario for the Badgers is scoring early. And honestly, early could just mean the first period. Despite all assurances about confidence from the players, they are aware of the scoring droughts. Aside from the obvious boost any team would get from a quick goal, it would go a long way towards the Badgers being able to settle in to their own game. I think the odds slide very significantly in Wisconsin's favor if they get an early goal.
The worst case scenario is BC scoring and packing it in and the Badgers struggling to score well into the final frame. A variation of that would be a scoreless game into the third period. At that point, it's one bounce or one breakdown that decides the game and very little of that is in the team's control.
What I think will happen is that the first 10 minutes will be a lot of chasing and running and very little of either team settling into their game. I think the Badgers score before the end of the first and add one or two in the second frame. I don't think BC gets shutout and I think a third-period push nets them at least one, but it isn't enough... [Ed. Note: If you’re intentionally trolling us by describing last year’s national championship game, then that was well done.
BCI: I'm putting you on the spot -- what do you have for a final score?
B5Q: ...meaning I have a 3-1 final score.
A big thank you to Nicole for taking the time to answer our questions. You can find our half of the BC/Wisconsin Q&A over at Bucky’s 5th Quarter. Be sure to follow @B5Q and @NicoleHaase on Twitter before Friday’s matchup!