Women's hockey has sights set on Final Four bid
The ultimate decision of whether the Dartmouth Women's hockey team receives a bid to the Final Four down at the University of New Hampshire on the weekend of March 23 remains largely out of our control.
Even if we were to win the remainder of our games, clinch the Ivy League title and win the ECAC Northern championship and tournament, we would not necessarily be guaranteed a spot in the NCAA championship. Rankings mean a lot. And rankings make things messy.
I am not arguing for a completely objective system (if it were even possible for one to exist), where the team with the best winning percentage wins a bid to the national tournament. In such a scenario, a powerhouse like Minnesota could put together a relatively easy schedule for themselves and stroll along to the Final Four.
A team's destiny come March 23 depends on a strange mix of winning percentage, strength of a team's schedule, record against common opponents blah, blah, blah. Coaches try to give themselves a highly competitive schedule and, at the same time, make sure that they can win the lion's share of their match-ups.
But even that nicely laid out plan does not always work out.
If someone were to tell me prior to the season that Mercyhurst and Princeton would be ranked in the top-10 in the country this late in the year, I would have been surprised. More than ever before, in the highly competitive and closely matched world of women's college hockey, any team can win any game on any given night. Similarly, if someone were to tell me that UNH and Harvard (who have been traditional powerhouses in the East) would not be ranked in the top 10 right now, I would also be surprised.
We are currently No. 4 in the country in the national poll, which is based on a voting system. However, our power ranking puts us at fifth in the country, and leaves us out of the NCAA Final Four.
Unfortunately, even though we have won a good deal of games this season, our opponents have not been as strong as the teams that those ranked above us have faced.
For instance, demolishing a team like Colgate 10-1, while doing wonders for team morale and confidence, hardly impresses the powers that be in the small world of women's college hockey since the Red Raiders have an abysmal .475 winning percentage. But our 11-1 and 5-2 victories over seventh-ranked Mercyhurst this past weekend will hopefully impress some of the voters.
One may look at our overall record of 14-2-2 and assume that, with only two losses on the season, we should certainly be ranked in the top-four or even higher. For example, the University of Minnesota is currently No. 1 in the country with a record of 19-2-5. We lost to Minnesota 3-2 in overtime early in our season, so it seems logical that they would be ranked ahead of us. The University of Minnesota-Duluth, on the other hand, has a record of 17-4-3, but UMD has the toughest schedule in the nation and a stronger record against ranked opponents than our team.
Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth have been ranked first or second in the nation for the majority of the season. Unless either team chokes, they will both likely receive bids to the NCAAs. The other two spots are less certain. One might think that the winner of the ECAC Northern conference tournament and the winner of the ECAC Eastern conference tournament would be the other two teams selected to compete for the national title. But, as I said before, there are no guarantees. We have to win the rest of our games. And, if we win these games convincingly, we should be making the trip to New Hampshire on the 23rd.
Kim McCullough is co-captain of the defending ECAC champion Dartmouth women's hockey team.