Women’s hockey: Gophers shocked to be left out of NCAA field

Minnesota got one last gut punch from the coronavirus pandemic on Sunday night.

After having the 2019-20 NCAA tournament canceled by COVID last March, the Gophers were left out of the 2020-21 field despite playing arguably the most difficult scheduled in the country and being ranked between No. 1 and No. 4 in the two major polls all season.

“Honestly, there’s a little bit of shock,” said coach Brad Frost, who had gathered his team and staff to watch the selection show streamed live. “It’s the ultimate kick in the teeth, to be honest with you, but it won’t define this group. They were incredibly resilient this year; they showed up every day.”

WCHA regular-season and conference tournament champion Wisconsin (14-3-1) is the No. 2 seed in the March 15-20 national tournament. Conference peers Ohio State (12-6-0) and Minnesota Duluth (11-6-0) made the field, as well.

Northeastern, No. 1 in the Pairwise and RPI rankings, is the No. 1 seed after winning the Hockey East conference tournament. Colgate (ECAC) and Robert Morris (CHA) were the other automatic bids; Boston College and Providence of Hockey East were the other at-large bids.

This will be the first time in Frost’s tenure as head coach that the Gophers have missed an NCAA tournament, and the first time since 2006-07. Since then, Minnesota has been to six title games and won it all four times.

“We were not expecting to see what we saw tonight when those seedings game out,” Frost said. “I’ve got a room full of girls and staff who were devastated to hear the news.”

With teams limited to conference play by the pandemic, the Pairwise and RPI rankings used to determine the NCAA field were largely abandoned because there were no head-to-head meetings between Midwest and East Coast teams. Instead, the NCAA selection committee selected the four at-large teams.

That committee comprised Minnesota Duluth athletics director Josh Berlo, Cornell deputy AD Anita Brenner, Boston College coach Katie Crowley, Syracuse coach Paul Flanagan and New Hampshire AD director Kate McAfee.

“I’ll be very interested to hear the criteria they used,” Frost said.

Because COVID pauses and postponements throughout the WCHA, the Gophers (11-8-1) played 13 of their 20 games against teams ranked in the Top 5 of the major polls all season: Wisconsin, Ohio State and Minnesota Duluth.

They won at least one game against each of those opponents, going 0-4-1 against Wisconsin with a shootout win, 2-4 against No. 3 seed Ohio State and 2-0 against No. 5 seed Minnesota Duluth.

When the Bulldogs were announced as the five seed against No. 4 Colgate, Frost’s stomach dropped.

“The Colgate coach texted before the pairings were announced and said we’ll see ya next week,” Frost said. “I thought we’d be the 5 seed. I’ve been doing this 21 years and I thought we were right there in the five spot.”

Minnesota finished its regular season Saturday with a 5-3 semifinal loss to top-ranked Wisconsin in the WCHA Final Faceoff semifinals. Minnesota Duluth also lost a conference semifinal on Saturday, 7-2 to Ohio State but beat Wisconsin in regulation in their final homestand, something Minnesota wasn’t able to do.

Still, the Bulldogs (11-6) were 2-5 against Wisconsin (1-1), Ohio State (1-1) and Minnesota (0-2).

“I am wondering what they were thinking; you’d think head to head would be the first thing to look at,” Frost said. “There’s no shying away from the fact that we had eight losses, but they were to the No. 1, 2 or three team in the country. We had no bad losses and were 2-0 against another team in the field.”

BRIEFLY

Frost said he expects at least four of his five seniors to return next season. Grace Zumwinkle, a Patty Kazmaier Top 10 finalist, is a candidate to make the U.S. Olympic team but he has spoken to blue liners Emily Brown and Olivia Knowles, forward Taylor Wente and goaltender Lauren Bench about using their NCAA pandemic waivers to play another year. All were key members of the rotaton this season.

NCAA TOURNAMENT

All games played at Erie Insurance Arena in Erie, Pa.

  • March 15: 1 Northeastern vs. 8 Robert Morris, 1 p.m.; 5 Minnesota Duluth vs. 4 Colgate, 6 p.m.
  • March 16: 3 Ohio State vs. 6. Boston College, 1 p.m.; 2 Wisconsin vs. 7 Providence, 6 p.m.
  • March 18: Frozen Four semifinals, 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.
  • March 20: Championship, 11 a.m.

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