March Madness on Ice

Published by Kate Leist on March 11, 2010 at 3:10AM

Liza Ryabkina skates in the Beanpot.

It’s March, and that means it’s time for Madness. But while you’re anxiously researching sleeper picks for your bracket, it’s worth pointing out that for some sports, tourney time is already here.

Eight teams have qualified for this year’s NCAA women’s hockey championship, including fourth-seeded Harvard, who finished third in regular-season ECAC play and was bounced in the conference semifinals.

Yes, you heard that right. The Crimson has secured the only home-ice berth from the ECAC, despite being the third-best program in conference play. Now how the heck did that happen?

Harvard entered play last weekend fourth in both the polls and the computer rankings, and a tournament championship would surely secure the squad its second home NCAA game in three seasons.

Then the Crimson fell to Clarkson, then ranked sixth by the computers, on Friday night, and the chances of a top-four seed looked slim.

But after Harvard lost, everything else fell in its favor. New Hampshire, sitting in fifth and looking like a prime candidate to grab home-ice advantage, got walloped, 4-0, by then-unranked Boston University in the Hockey East semifinals.

Clarkson became the heir apparent to the No. 4 slot, and the Golden Knights promptly lost to Cornell in overtime of the ECAC championship.

And the Big Red, despite winning both the conference regular-season and tournament titles, went a miserable 1-6 in non-conference play during the regular season, leaving the Crimson—with its stronger schedule—as the last team standing.

Harvard went 1-3-4 against the tournament field this season, losing to Cornell once and Clarkson twice. It recorded ties against the Big Red, the Golden Knights, New Hampshire, and Minnesota, and it defeated the Gophers—the No. 3 seed—1-0 at Bright in December.

The Crimson will host Cornell Friday night at 7 p.m. at Bright Hockey Center, with the winner advancing to play either No. 1 Mercyhurst or No. 8 BU next Friday in the Frozen Four.