Frozen Four Preview: What to Expect From No. 1 Wisconsin

The weekend of March 17 is one of the biggest of the year for every student at Boston College. For one group of women in particular, it means something much bigger than hitting the Mods or the nearest pub to celebrate the patron saint of Ireland. For BC women’s hockey, the weekend of March 17 marks the beginning of its seventh Frozen Four appearance in program history. Last year, the Eagles ended their almost-perfect season with a disappointing loss to Minnesota, robbing the team of its first NCAA title. As the No. 4 seed, BC will face No. 1 Wisconsin (32-2-4) in the semifinal of the tournament in St. Charles, Mo.

After shutting out St. Lawrence on Saturday with a 6-0 win at Kelley Rink in the NCAA Quarterfinals, the Eagles will be looking to add to their recent six-game winning streak and head into the finals for the second-consecutive year. BC has won all three trophies possible so far this season—the Beanpot, Hockey East regular-season title, and Hockey East Tournament title—and a fourth would provide the perfect finish to what would be the program’s most successful year under head coach Katie Crowley.

“It’s hard to discern and describe the differences from last year’s team to this season,” Crowley said at Wednesday’s press conference. “We’re young at the top of our roster but we have great depth. We’ve had players playing different roles, but everyone stepped up and played different roles.”

While they may be heading into the semifinal game as the underdog team, a victory on Friday would greatly increase BC’s chance at coming home with its first national title. It would give the school its sixth national title, the other five being won by the men’s team.

Matchup History: BC and Wisconsin haven’t seen each other since 2012, when the Eagles lost to the Badgers 6-2 in that year’s National Semifinal. Both teams are heading into the tournament after at-home shutouts, and the Badgers are heading into Friday’s game with a 18-game winning streak. The current rosters for both teams have never played each other before, which doesn’t add much insight into what BC can expect heading into the game. Senior captain Andie Anastos isn’t too worried, though.

“We like to play hard on the forecheck and pressure teams,” Anastos said. “We like to pin teams down in their zone, and even though our defense has been different through the years, we can play three hard lines against anyone. We know this year that we have to keep the team calmer and lead for the younger players who haven’t been in this spot before.”

Keys to the Game:

Be Careful: Wisconsin averages four goals per game, and has earned its rank as the nation’s best offense. The Eagles will have to be wary of how many advantages they allow Wisconsin to have. Averaging four penalties per game, BC will have to try to stay out of the box as much as possible and help goaltender Katie Burt defensively. Averaging over 40 shots per game, the Eagles are going to have to look to control the puck as much as possible to keep the Wisconsin offense away from Burt.   

Watch Annie Pankowski: The junior forward is Wisconsin’s top scorer, and has contributed at least one goal in every single one of her team’s 16 shutouts this season. One of the country’s best offensive players, limiting the time she has with the puck will be essential for a BC win. While BC has never played her during her time as a Badger, Crowley watched her play often when recruiting her while Pankowski was still in high school. Even so, she has given Wisconsin 54 points this season, averaging almost two points per game, and the Eagles will have to be wary of when she has control of the puck, as she’s a dominating player in the Badger offense.

Capitalize On Every Opportunity: Wisconsin has earned its No. 1 seed, and while its offense averages four goals per game, their defense is just as strong, allowing fewer than one goal per matchup. Wisconsin also has the top defense in the country, so getting shots on goaltender and Patty Kazmaier Award frontrunner Ann-Renée Desbiens is paramount. The Eagles can’t count on getting many player advantages, so when they do get those rare opportunities, they have to capitalize. The senior has a .963 save percentage, and has 16 shutouts this season. Given the senior’s successful history with the program, the Eagles will have to convert on every opportunity given throughout the game in order to come out victorious.

Other Teams:

Clarkson: Making a jump from the No. 5 seed last year to No. 2, Clarkson has something to prove. After heading into the third period last year against BC with a 2-0 lead, the Golden Knights fell 2-3 in overtime, ending their postseason with a disappointing loss. Senior Cayley Mercer is the team’s star offensive player, leading them with 58 points this season. If the Eagles get the opportunity to play Clarkson in the finals, it’ll be the third consecutive time the two teams have met in the NCAA tournament—BC has won both of the two previous matchups.

Minnesota: A matchup against the Golden Gophers would mean something special to the BC seniors, who would look to end their careers as Eagles with a win against the team who ended their perfect season last year. The No. 4 seed has their biggest weapons in Kelly Pannek and Sarah Potomak, who have tallied 61 and 52 points for their team this season, respectfully. Pannek is the nation’s leading scorer, so if the Eagles do get a rematch of last year’s championship game, they will have to watch how much time they allow Pannek to control the puck.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor