Minnesota’s two losses to Ohio State last weekend don’t appear to have seriously damaged the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ chances of getting into the NCAA women’s hockey tournament.
Despite two losses at Ridder Arena that dropped their record to 9-7-1, the Gophers on Wednesday remained No. 8 in the Pairwise and RPI rankings, traditionally used to determine at-large bids for the eight-team field.
Still, the Gophers probably need to finish with victories in their final two regular-season games, Friday and Saturday at Bemidji State (2-12-2), to keep their hopes for an at-large bid alive.
Considering they’re still ranked No. 4 in the major college polls, two more in the win column could cement their case before the WCHA Final Faceoff begins March 6 at Ridder Arena.
“The opportunity is there, and we’re looking forward to getting up there,” coach Brad Frost said Wednesday.
Ohio State moved to No. 2 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll, and remained at No. 3 in the USCHO.com poll. Wisconsin has been ranked No. 1 since sweeping then-No. 1 Minnesota on Jan. 15-16 in Madison.
Traditionally, a finish in the Top 8 of the Pairwise and RPI rankings would guarantee a tournament berth, but because the coronavirus pandemic put the kibosh on nonconference games, the rankings are compromised. The five-person NCAA tournament committee will be charged with making the final decisions on four at-large bids.
Automatic bids go to the winners of the CHA, ECAC Hockey, Hockey East and WCHA season-ending tournaments, so the Gophers can make the speculation moot by winning the Final Faceoff, which also will feature the Badgers, Buckeyes and Minnesota Duluth. The field will be seeded by winning percentage, meaning the Gophers likely will play Wisconsin (11-2-1) in the semifinals.
They’re 1-3 against the Badgers this season, 2-4 against Ohio State (11-5-0) and 2-0 against UMD (8-4-0).
The 2019-20 NCAA tournament was canceled by the pandemic last spring. The Gophers have played in the NCAA championship game in six of the past eight tournaments, winning four, and have advanced to the tournament every season since 2007-08. They’re 2-6 in their past eight games, but all of them were against either Ohio State or top-ranked Wisconsin.
“This last month has been tough,” Frost said, “so if we can get some momentum going into the playoffs, that would be a huge boost for our team.”