Title IX Hockey is one of the newer women's hockey blogs on the interwebs, but definitely one of the better ones, featuring refreshingly intelligent takes on all of women's college hockey. Despite the wide scope of Title IX Hockey's coverage, the blog's owner, Alexander Bauer, is a Clarkson alum and fan. We sat down with Title IX Hockey to get the scoop on BC's Frozen Four semifinals opponent.
BC Interruption: Let’s jump right into it. What would you say is the biggest strength of this year’s Clarkson team, and what has given them the most trouble?
Title IX Hockey: Clarkson's biggest strength is their defensive depth. They can throw pretty much anyone onto the ice and match up well against most teams' top lines. They're offensively solid on the back end as well -- Only BC (159), Minnesota (118), Northeastern (111), and Wisconsin (108) had more points from their defenders than Clarkson's 92. Erin Ambrose is their clear leader, but Renata Fast and Savannah Harmon are also top pair caliber defenders.
Their biggest weakness is a tough call between scoring and discipline. Outside of Cayley Mercer, the Knights have a scoring-by-committee approach, spreading points pretty evenly across the top two lines. Unfortunately, sometimes the committee is not in session.
The Knights also sometimes have trouble staying out of the box. A loss to RPI and tie to Cornell saw them commit 8 minor penalties in each game.
BCI: BC and Clarkson have built up a bit of a rivalry over the last few years. This is the fifth consecutive season that the Eagles and Golden Knights have played each other, and the third consecutive season that they’ll meet in the NCAA tournament, with the two teams trading quarterfinal wins each of the last two years. What would you say is the biggest difference between last year’s Clarkson team and this year’s?
T9H: Last years' knights over-relied on their defense to lock down games and often took few chances. With the freshmen additions of forwards Loren Gabel, Rhyen McGill, and Kelly Mariani, and the improved play of Sophomore Amanda Titus, the Knights are playing a more offense-minded game. They're bringing defenders into the rush a lot more as well, in particular Erin Ambrose, who is good at taking advantage of teams making the mistake of leaving space in the slot and faceoff circles. It's not unusual to see her zooming in as the third or fourth player down low and getting an open look on net.
BCI: Clarkson has a reputation for being very stout defensively, due in no small part to the aforementioned Erin Ambrose, who has played for Hockey Canada in some international tournaments. Clarkson is 6th nationally in team offense and 5th in team defense. Do you expect Clarkson to focus on trying to reign in BC’s "bombs away" offense, or will they be more willing to get into an race up and down the ice?
T9H: Funny that I gave the answer to #1 before reading this. When they're outgunned, Clarkson tends to try and play defense first, though I don't know that they've been in that situation yet this year. Quinnipiac is the best team they've played, but not exactly an offensive powerhouse.
Last year versus Wisconsin in the regular season and BC in the NCAA tournament, Clarkson seemed to want to build a wall around Tiley and be conservative in their offensive rushes. Whether they'll stick to that strategy with more offensive talent this year remains to be seen.
My guess is that they'll use one of their best defensive forwards (probably Shannon MacAulay) to try and take Carpenter out of the game and take their chances against Skarupa, Newkirk, and everyone else. If shots end 30-20 in favor of BC, they'll probably be pretty happy.
Personally, I'd take a more aggressive approach. I think Clarkson has an advantage in terms of depth on defense, so I'd play run and gun and try to wear down the BC defenders as much as possible, even if that means the shots total looks like a bad NCAA basketball score. With Clarkson's smart, athletic defenders I don't know that the risk of giving up odd-skater rushes, while not ideal, is as bad as the Clarkson coaching staff thinks it is. I think the Knights have a better chance of winning a shootout than they do packing it in and ceding the offensive zone to BC.
BCI: Clarkson played Quinnipiac the past two weekends and traded 1-0 wins, with the Bobcats taking the ECAC tournament title but Clarkson earning the berth in the Frozen Four. What did Quinnipiac do that stifled Clarkson’s offense so effectively?
T9H: The same thing that Quinnipiac does to everyone: they forecheck and backcheck everyone, everywhere, all the time.
In the ECAC championship the Knights didn't seem interested in trying to get high quality scoring chances. They allowed Quinnipiac to push them to the outside, especially on zone entries. I think Clarkson's strategy was to find the easiest means of entering the o-zone with the thought that they could hold the zone effectively with their defenders and pile up shots from the point. What actually happened is that Quinnipiac blocked most of those shots and the game turned into a slog. Even when Quinnipiac gave space in the center of the ice, Clarkson seemed uninterested in attacking it.
The NCAA game was a completely different story. The Knights attacked the center of the ice as much as they could, pushing back against the Bobcats' efforts to keep them to the outside. The score might have been the same, but the Knights had a significantly higher number of quality scoring chances. They also put up significantly more shots on goal (29 to 16 in the first game) because they weren't shooting from the fringes into the shinpads of Quinnipiac skaters.
Quinnipiac is an extremely well-conditioned team that knows exactly how they want to play. They pressure the puck carrier as much as possible and can keep it up for long stretches which eliminates a lot of opposition shots and scoring opportunities. No team put up 30 or more shots on the Bobcats this season. It's not something that any other team can really replicate. BC's best shot at shutting down the Knights is probably to simply possess the puck, especially if the Knights trot out a conservative strategy.
BCI: Lastly, give me your game prediction -– not just score, but based on how Clarkson’s games usually go -- how do you expect the game to play out?
T9H: I think Clarkson is going to commit to defense first and be a lot more comfortable playing in their own end than they should be. BC will slowly build a lead due to their disproportionate possession and shot totals. When they're down 2-0 or 3-0, Clarkson will start to open things up and the game will look more even, but it will be too little too late. BC will probably win a 5-2, 6-3 game.
That might seem a bit harsh, especially coming from a Clarkson fan, but I don't think the Knights are going to bring the right strategy early on. With Mercer dominating shots on goal on the Knights offense, Clarkson is a little like a Northeastern team with deeper defense and better goaltending but they frequently play too conservatively.
A wildcard is Shea Tiley. The Clarkson netminder has had a solid year, but hasn't really had an eye-opening performance. She's due for an elite performance.
Thanks to Title IX Hockey for taking the time to answer our questions. You can check out the blog here, as well as the Q&A we did from BC's perspective. Be sure to follow @TitleIXHockey on twitter as well.
The puck drops on the 2016 NCAA Frozen Four this Friday at 4pm at the University of New Hampshire's Whittemore Center Arena.