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2020 Women’s Hockey East Tournament Preview

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It’s win or go home for the Eagles

John Quackenbos, BC Athletics

We have reached conference tournament season! The good news for Boston College is that despite a (relatively speaking) disastrous second half of the season, the Eagles were still able to hold onto a top four spot in the league and get home ice for this weekend’s quarterfinals.

That’ll be important, because the Eagles are going to have to win the whole thing if they want to advance to the national tournament. The Eagles currently sit 13th in the Pairwise rankings, and they would need to be in at least 7th to advance as an at-large. But playing around with our Pairwise Predictor, BC’s mathematical ceiling appears to be 10th. So, they’ll have to win the league and get the Hockey East autobid to advance.

We can use KRACH to determine each team’s chances of winning the league tournament. KRACH allows you to get game odds, so using that as well as who each potential opponent would be for each team, this is what we get:

Not super optimistic on the Eagles, I’m afraid, but crazier things have happened. Plus, if you want to throw on your maroon-and-gold tinted glasses, you can say that BC hasn’t played nearly as well as they are capable of the last couple months. Whatever makes you feel better!

Let’s break down each of the Hockey East quarterfinal matchups and see how the tournament is shaping up this year.

No. 8 Vermont Catamounts
at No. 1 Northeastern Huskies
Thursday 1pm, Friday 7pm, Saturday 7pm (If Necessary)

Odds To Advance:
NU 97.96%
UVM 2.04%

Northeastern comes into the conference tournament as a heavy favorite to win the whole thing. They are the only Hockey East team in the NCAA tournament field at the moment, and they’ve flirted with the #1 overall spot in the polls all season. They’re currently 4th in the USCHO poll, neck and neck with Minnesota for 3rd, but 5th in KRACH and 2nd in GRaNT. That should give you a good idea for how tight the top of the national rankings are.

But it is not tight in the conference rankings. Northeastern’s closest competition, Boston University, is less than half as likely as NU is to win the trophy, and everybody else is basically just a margin of error.

The Huskies have two of the best players in the country who are Patty Kazmaier Award finalists. Alina Mueller is the forward that makes everything work on Huntington Avenue, scoring goals in chunks. It’s very hard to score when she’s on the ice (she’s only been on the ice for 10 even strength goals allowed), and that’s largely due to the fact that it’s hard to put the puck into Northeastern’s net while someone else is skating with it.

The other Patty Kaz finalist is goaltender Aerin Frankel. Frankel’s an incredible story, as she came to Northeastern as a backup goalie, emphatically forced her way into the starting job, and is now a goaltender on the US National Team for the World Championships. BC fans will likely remember her for all the wrong reasons: In the three games BC’s played against NU this year, the Eagles have scored exactly zero (0) times.

The Huskies take on bottom seeded Vermont in their quarterfinal. Vermont didn’t have a great year, but they were closer to the teams in front of them than the two teams behind them. They might have been a team that could have pulled off an upset in the quarterfinal round, except they have to go up against a juggernaut. The Catamounts did put up a fight against Northeastern in their first game this season, falling 4-2, but Northeastern twisted the screws in the last two matchups with 4-0 and 10-2 (!) wins.

Expect Northeastern to sweep this series without too much trouble. If Vermont can take one game to overtime, that alone would be worth celebrating up in Burlington.

No. 7 Maine Black Bears
at No. 2 Boston University Terriers
Friday 7pm, Saturday 3pm, Sunday 3pm (If Necessary)

Odds To Advance:
BU 90.70%
UMO 9.30%

Boston University has been the clear #2 in the league this season, while Maine has been right in the thick of things in the middle of the pack. The Black Bears are pretty good for a 7 seed, and it wouldn’t be unprecedented to see a 7 seed come out of the quarterfinal. In fact, #7 UConn actually made it all the way to the Hockey East championship game just two seasons ago.

Maine isn’t playing that badly, either. They’re 3-1-3 in their last 7 games, which have all come against teams above them in the standings (including a win over Boston College). But playing Boston University is a notch up on the difficulty level. The Terriers are easily the 2nd best team in the conference and safely out of range of the big mid-pack battle behind them. And they are on a roll. BU is 11-1-2 in their last 14 including a 7-0-1 undefeated stretch in their last 8. Their only loss in the last 14 games was a close 2-1 decision to Northeastern, even earning (officially) a tie against the Huskies in the Beanpot championship game.

If the quarterfinals were single elimination, you would definitely feel like Maine could steal one if they could get the game to overtime (and the numbers support that — the Black Bears would be at an 18.83% chance to win in a single game). And Maine did earn a tie against the Terriers in their last of three matchups this season (though they dropped the first two). But BU has too much talent and is playing too well not to advance here. Maine might put up a fight in one of these games and take one to overtime, but I think BU takes the sweep.

No. 6 New Hampshire Wildcats
at No. 3 Providence College Friars
Thursday 6pm, Friday 6pm, Sunday 2pm (If Necessary)

Odds To Advance:
PC 63.19%
UNH 36.81%

We’ve now reached the two quarterfinals that, intuitively, feel like they’re pretty close to being coin flips.

Somewhat surprisingly, the 3 vs. 6 matchup of UNH vs. PC is actually a hair closer than the 4 vs. 5, according to KRACH. That’s because down the stretch, you could pretty much throw the middle four or five teams in the conference into a blender and it would be just as likely to predict the finishing order as anything else.

You may not know this, but back in the day, Providence vs. New Hampshire women’s hockey was a pretty hot rivalry. The two teams absolutely hated each other — and they were both strong programs nationally. They’ve regressed into being mid-tier programs these days, but it’s nice to have an old throwback rivalry matchup in the quarterfinal.

This was a pretty close regular season series. Providence took it two games to one, but the Wildcats actually took the series on aggregate thanks to a big 6-2 win early in the season before losing two close ones later in the year. And interestingly, playing in Providence probably doesn’t do much to help the Friars — they are much better on the road (10-5-2) than they are at Schneider Arena (8-7-2). New Hampshire’s actually slightly better on the road than they are at home, as well.

That’s a lot of words to say that I think the Wildcats steal this series in three games. That would be a big help to Boston College, if the Eagles can advance, because it would give the Eagles Boston University as their semifinal opponent instead of Northeastern, but BC has to worry about actually getting that far first.

No. 5 UConn Huskies
at No. 4 Boston College Eagles
Friday 6pm, Saturday 2pm, Sunday 2pm (If Necessary)

Odds To Advance:
BC 64.87%
UC 35.13%

Ah, Boston College Women’s Hockey. It’s been... a season, hasn’t it? Hot and cold doesn’t even begin to describe the last several months. The Eagles started out like gangbusters, starting out 9-0-1, playing top teams tight, and even taking a tie against #1 Minnesota in the middle of the year.

But since then, it’s been tough sledding. BC couldn’t seem to take four points in a weekend no matter who they were playing, and it cost them the 3 seed. Still, it might have ended up giving BC a (slightly) easier path to the final. UConn is the lowest ranked team in KRACH among who they were jockeying for position with late in the season, and it’ll just take one upset for BC to avoid Northeastern in the semifinals anyway.

Here’s the bad news: The Eagles have been just awful against UConn this year. Granted, they haven’t played since November, but that was when the Eagles were actually playing well, and they still lost 2 out of 3 with the win being a 2-1 squeaker. The Huskies have always given BC fits for some reason (it’s probably my own personal curse that I have to live with), though not having to play in Storrs does help, because it feels like the Eagles can never win in that warehouse.

We’ll have a full preview coming for BC’s series specifically, but I’ll say this: Keep your Sunday open, because there is no way that this series doesn’t go three games.