After clean sweeps in the first round of the ECAC tournament last weekend, the Harvard and Quinnipiac women’s ice hockey teams will meet for the third time this season in a tournament semifinal matchup on Saturday afternoon.
In Potsdam, N.Y., at Clarkson University, the teams will square off in the second round of the conference playoffs to determine who will earn a trip to Sunday’s ECAC championship.
The No. 4/4 Crimson (23-5-3, 16-4-2 ECAC) was able to dispatch visiting Yale by winning two consecutive contests at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center last Friday and Saturday by scores of 2-1 and 3-0, respectively.
The No. 6/6 Bobcats (26-7-3, 15-5-2) were similarly successful in home performances at the High Point Solutions Arena, eliminating Princeton by sweeping a best-of-three series in two games, all without allowing a single goal in 7-0 and 2-0 victories.
The Crimson has won both games against Quinnipiac earlier this season, with a 2-1 win at home in December and a 2-1 overtime win on the road in Hamden, Conn., in late January.
Although this familiarity allows for both teams to plan for the game with a specific focus on each other’s strengths and weaknesses, it does not inherently benefit one side over the other.
“It has its pros and cons because we do know their game very well, but it’s hard to beat a team multiple times in the same season,” Harvard co-captain Samantha Reber said. “Anytime we play them it’s going to be a tough game.”
Harvard and Quinnipiac have both played a tight game defensively this year. The Bobcats rank at the top of the ECAC in goals against average, sporting a 1.04 mark. The Crimson places third, tallying a 1.51 figure.
Another battle will take place over the penalty kill. Quinnipiac has held opposing power plays scoreless 91 percent of the time, the highest success rate in the conference, while Harvard has converted on 22 percent of power play opportunities, good for second-best among ECAC teams.
In a game in which putting the puck in the net is often a difficult task, a notable matchup this weekend will be the one between Bobcats senior goaltender Chelsea Laden and Crimson sophomore forward Sydney Daniels. Laden’s 1.09 goals against average and .765 win percentage top both ECAC charts. Daniels stands at fourth in the conference and at the top of her team with 18 goals on the season.
Regarding momentum, Harvard enters with a slight edge, posting a record of 8-1-1 over its last 10 games. Over the same stretch, Quinnipiac has played at a 6-4-0 clip.
Both squads share the goal of improving on their performance from a year ago, when each faced defeat in the semifinal round of the 2014 ECAC tournament. Harvard fell to Cornell by a 6-4 margin, while Quinnipiac’s tournament run ended after a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Clarkson, the eventual NCAA champion.
This year’s NCAA tournament is slated to begin on March 14, with eight teams qualifying to compete. One of these bids is guaranteed to the winner of the ECAC tournament.
Knowing that this game will likely play a huge role in influencing national rankings and bracket positioning heading into nationals, both squads have reason to feel optimistic about the status their season-long success has afforded them.
“Honestly, I think I speak for the entire team in saying we see ourselves in Minnesota at the Frozen Four,” Reber said. “We have all the potential in the world.”
Ranking well within the top 10 nationally, both the Crimson and the Bobcats are currently in a position that puts them in the discussion to receive at-large bids to the NCAA tournament, should ECAC title hopes flare out. Last year, Harvard, under the leadership of interim head coach Maura Crowell, was awarded an at-large spot and faltered in the first round on the road to Wisconsin.
“From day one of this season, winning a national championship has been our goal, so we just see [this season’s success] as us right on track to accomplish what we set out to achieve all year long,” said Crimson junior co-captain Michelle Picard.
The winner of the Harvard-Quinnipiac game will play Clarkson or Cornell in the conference final.
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