Women's hockey: Badgers will travel

Wisconsin to face Dartmouth on the road Saturday evening

MADISON — For a sport still in its youth at the NCAA Division I level, the conventional wisdom was that the women's hockey selection committee would try to work as many bus trips into the first-ever national quarterfinals as possible.

In the end, however, cost estimates did not work into the equation as the brackets were unveiled Sunday afternoon, revealing a tournament setup that followed the final Pairwise rankings to the letter.

The University of Wisconsin, which made history Sunday with its first ever berth in the NCAA Tournament, finished the season ranked No. 5 in the Pairwise and will travel to face No. 4 Dartmouth (26-6-0) at 6 p.m. Central Saturday. Had the selection committee avoided flying four teams to host sites, UW (28-8-1) likely would have had to drive to the Twin Cities to face top-ranked Minnesota.

As it is, the Gophers will square off with Providence while No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth, the only team in addition to Minnesota to receive an official seed, will face St. Lawrence. The final national quarterfinal pits Mercyhurst at Harvard. The winners of the four home-site first-round matchups will advance to the Frozen Four in Durham, N.H., March 25-27.

"If you look at the bracket and some of the decisions, the choices that they had to make," UW coach Mark Johnson said, "…this probably is the fairest. It's nice to see that money and flights didn't really become a major consideration."

For the Badgers, though, the truly important item was not whether they hosted the first round or avoided playing Minnesota at the first drop of a puck, but simply that, at long last, after three consecutive years of knocking on the doorstep, they were in the NCAA Tournament.

"This is what we've asked for, this is what we've worked all season for, so we've put ourselves in a good position," senior defenseman Carla MacLeod said.

"Any time you do something for the first time it's very special," Johnson said.

Wisconsin knows little of Dartmouth — the Badgers and Big Green have not played each other since the 2000-01 season.

"We don't know what Dartmouth looks like, we haven't seen them in four years, but pretty confident the way we're playing that it doesn't matter who we are playing or where we are playing we are going to be OK," MacLeod said.

"We'll rely on Carla, one of her better friends plays for Dartmouth and she's been bugging me for three years to play Dartmouth," Johnson said. "We haven't been able to get them on our schedule but this is a great time to go play them."

In climbing to a No. 3 ranking in the USCHO.com top 10 women's poll, Wisconsin won 10 consecutive games before losing to Minnesota 3-2 in overtime of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association tournament championship game March 6.

Said Johnson: "Now you have somebody to get yourself prepared for and the big thing will be getting back to where we were a weekend ago.... You've had an opportunity to relax, to heal up. Now it is time to get refocused because now it is one-and-done. They have to realize that you are one step from the Frozen Four and an opportunity to win the NCAA Championship. It will be a fun week of practice."

Quickly on Dartmouth: The Green Wave split a series with Minnesota earlier this season, handing the Gophers one of their two losses all season… Junior forwards Cherie Piper (21 goals, 35 assists, 56 points), Katie Weatherston (36-13-49) and Tiffany Hagge (27-20-47) lead the team in scoring. Sophomore Christine Capuano (12-2-0 in 14 appearances, 19.3 goals against average) and junior Kate Lane (14-4-0, 18, 2.22) have split the goaltending duties.

NCAA Tournament bracket

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