This Saturday, March 10, the NCAA tournament for women’s ice hockey begins. Eight teams have been selected to compete for the title based on regular season and tournament results; University of Wisconsin, University of Minnesota, Cornell University, Boston College, Saint Lawrence University, Boston University, University of North Dakota, and Mercyhurst University. This weekend’s games will take place at the homes of the top four seeds, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Cornell, and Boston College. Next weekend, March 16 and 18, the semifinals and final will take place at the Frozen Four in Duluth, Minnesota.
Women’s ice hockey is relatively new to the world of NCAA championships. The NCAA tournament began in 2001 with four teams attending the first Frozen Four at the University of Minnesota. At the time, it was a huge achievement to have a NCAA sanctioned tournament, even with only four teams. Anyone with delusions about how important women’s ice hockey was to the NCAA was quickly brought back to earth by the misspelled “Inaugural” on the commemorative vests given to all participants.
Starting in 2005, the tournament expanded to eight teams chosen based on regular season results and automatic bids given to the winner of several conference tournaments. While the tournament has expanded, the NCAA has not given up its penny pinching ways. The NCAA slots the first round games based on geography rather than based on rankings alone. This certainly saves in travel costs but doesn’t give us first round match-ups that are as interesting as they could be since many of the teams have played each other during the regular season. So who has won the past championships? All the past championships have been won by three teams; University of Minnesota-Duluth (5 wins), University of Wisconsin (4), and University of Minnesota (2).
Enough of the history lesson, you what to know what you can expect to see on the ice the next two weekends? You can expect to see great hockey played by some of the top players in the world. The tournament boasts four players who were last seen on the U.S. and Canadian teams in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and more than a dozen players who have participated in either the U.S. or Canada’s Under-22 teams and who are on track to play for the senior national teams in the years to come. This is a great chance to see some of the future international stars of women’s hockey up close and maybe even score an autograph or two.
For those who watched the Vancouver Olympics there are four players who you may recall. Hilary Knight, captain of Wisconsin’s team, was the youngest member of Team USA in Vancouver and is a was a top-ten finalist for the Patty Kazmaier award both this year and last year. The Kazmaier is given to the top women’s hockey player each year.
Rebecca Johnston, a senior captain at Cornell, took home gold in Vancouver as a member Team Canada and was also a top-ten finalist this year and last year for the Kazmaier award.
Finally, twin sisters Jocelyne Lamoureaux and Monique Lamoureaux-Kolls, are captains for the University of North Dakota. The sisters, and their large, hockey playing, family, were featured in an article in Sports Illustrated in the lead up to the Vancouver Olympics, where the sisters both won silver medals as members of Team USA. The twins started their collegiate careers at the University of Minnesota before transferring to their hometown team. Both sisters were top-ten finalists for the Kazmaier award and Jocelyne is one of the three finalists for the award that will be handed out at on March 17.
If you are a hockey fan and live near enough to any of the schools hosting games this weekend or live near Duluth I would encourage you to get out to these games. The games should be competitive, exciting, and are a great way to catch these players who you have seen or will see on the bigger stages of the World Championships and Olympics in the future. If you have kids these games are a great way to introduce them to the sport and the players are usually very receptive to meeting kids and signing autographs after the game. The Patty Kazmaier award brunch is also open to the public and former Kazmaier winner, member of Team USA, and all-around nice person, Julie Chu will be giving the keynote address.