Compiled by D3hockey.com staff --
Friday's first, slated for 3:30 p.m. EDT, will feature long-time rivals Plattsburgh State and Elmira. The top-ranked Cardinals are making their seventh consecutive and 12th overall appearance in the Frozen Four, and enter the weekend hunting their fifth straight national championship. The third-ranked Soaring Eagles are no stranger to the prime time, either, as they are making their tenth Frozen Four appearance and seeking their fourth national championship, which would be their first since 2013.
Plattsburgh State has spent the entire season ranked first or second, and cruised to the NEWHL postseason title with a 6-0 win over Oswego State to secure the fledging league's automatic bid to the tournament. In last weekend's quarterfinals, the Cardinals scored twice in the third period to pull away for a 3-1 win over No. 4 Middlebury.
Elmira claimed the inaugural UCHC regular season and posteason titles, and also advanced out of the quarterfinals as a pair of third period tallies lifted the Soaring Eagles to a 2-0 win over No. 5 Adrian.
Long time rivals in the now deceased ECAC West, the Cardinals and Soaring Eagles have met twice this season despite the fact they are now members of different leagues. In those meetings, each scored one win as Elmira scored a 4-2 win on November 26 while Plattsburgh answered back with a 3-0 win on January 8.
NO 1. PLATTSBURGH STATE CARDINALS (24-2-2)
PLATTSBURGH STATE CARDINALS
Location: Plattsburgh, N.Y.
Road to the NCAAs: Pool A automatic qualifier, NEWHL Playoff Champion
NCAA Tournament History: 14th appearance, 26-8-0 overall
Road to the Frozen Four: W 3-1 v. Middlebury
Scoring offense: 4.29 g/gm
Scoring defense: 0.93 g/gm
Power Play: 23.5%
Penalty Kill: 90.9%
Players to Watch:
ELMIRA SOARING EAGLES
Location: Elmira, N.Y.
Road to the NCAAs: Pool B at-large selection
NCAA Tournament History: 14th appearance; 19-10-0
Road to the Frozen Four: W 2-0 v. Adrian
Scoring offense: 5.07 g/gm
Scoring defense: 0.96 g/gm
Power Play: 22.5%
Penalty Kill: 91.4%
Players to Watch:
It's a sight almost as certain as filing taxes or shoveling snow in the Northeast at this time of year. Plattsburgh has made it into yet another Frozen Four, and this could potentially be a special one for the Cardinals as they chase a fifth straight title. Normally they've been the odds on favorite for such laurels, and that claim could very much still be staked as they haven't lost since the Sunday after Thanksgiving to Elmira. What may leave a sliver of doubt is that their two losses have come to teams that will be at Kreitzberg this weekend as the Cardinals split their season series with Elmira and Norwich.
It took a bit of blood and guts to prevail in their quarterfinal game as the Cardinals landed the tough job of vanquishing Middlebury, which they ultimately did by a 3-1 score with a two goal third period. They did it without the services of Kayla Meneghin and Meghan Kraus as well, and overcame those absences in the quarterfinal victory. Head Coach Kevin Houle later called that win the "Guttiest win in his years at Plattsburgh."
They'll need a similar level of intensity in a traditionally heated matchup where the results have gone both ways.
Up front, Meneghin and Kraus will be back, which should restore some of the ordinary continuity to the Cardinals lineup... and a dangerous one at that. The top line of Meneghin, Courtney Moriarty, and Mackenzie Millen is not one to be missed, as Moriarty has put up a team high 30 goals, 12 of which have come on the power play, and Meneghin has a balanced line of 19 goals and 19 assists, and has been the impactful power play presence most expected with eight power play goals. Moriarty also has fourteen game-winning goals.
Melissa Sheeran will benefit greatly from the return of Kraus as well, but is the defining force on that second line with a team high 47 points, and a lot of them have come dishing the puck out with 29 assists. Sheeran also has been omnipresent throughout her four year career and has led the Cards in scoring the last three seasons en route to 184 career points. Freshmen Annie Katonka and Abby Brush also have made contributions that should not be overlooked.
On defense, Hannah Kiraly has become their No. 1 option, and Lizzy Viola and Maci Hoskins have also appeared in every game. Division I transfer Baye Flanagan has provided a big boost as well, and has appeared in seventeen games since coming in from Merrimack.
In goal, Brooke Wolejko and Kassi Abbott have done well in taking over for Camille Leonard, and Houle has been alternating starters every game in a rotation. With Abbott going against Middlebury, expect Wolejko to get the start there. The pair have combined to pitch 13 shutouts in a remaining field that has put up over 40 clean sheets in goal combined.
Plattsburgh could have an ace in the hole in that they will be the home team in a 3:30 PM Start Time. It's a big game, but it's on a Friday and that could hold the attendance number a bit from where it will be in the nightcap or on Saturday. When the crowd is a bit smaller, it's important to create your own energy, and the Cardinals could benefit greatly from the luxury of having the last change to make that happen with the right matchups.
NO. 3 ELMIRA SOARING EAGLES (24-2-2)
Elmira was in an at-large dependent league in the new UCHC, and the Soaring Eagles have handled that change beautifully on their way to a weighty advantage in the Pool B comparison and a spot in this tournament. After a conference tournament title that came relatively easy by a combined 12-1 score, things got much tougher in the quarterfinals.
That opposition came from a familiar source: Adrian. The Bulldogs have become the NCAA tournament opponent of choice for the Soaring Eagles, and yet again it was a fight to the end for the right to advance. Goaltender Kelcey Crawford (21-2-2) was their backbone in that game long enough for the Soaring Eagles to break through, and they had a big time player step up in Sarah Hughson, who scored the deciding goal at 13:28.
Hughson's presence on the scoresheet there, has been what they've counted on her for all season. The UCHC Player of the Year has put up 27 goals and 20 assists to anchor what has been a very deep lineup. Katie Granato and Shannon Strawinski have been right there in lockstep with Hughson all year, and both bring the tools to succeed against any opponent. Granato does just about everything well. She's a well balanced player who skates well and is strong on the puck, and she makes it look easy out there sometimes. You almost can tell she's a Granato by the way she plays.
Meghan Fonfara has been playing extraordinarily well as of late, and had a huge weekend at the UCHC tournament, and Louisa Lippiatt Durnell and Maddie Evangelous round out a top six that distributes the puck well, finds ways to get to the middle of the ice, and creates second and third chance opportunities constantly. Devyn Gilman and Emma Crocker are excellent young players as well.
Their rearguard corps is one of the best remaining in the tournament, as evidenced by their sterling goals against average that stands under one per game. Kristin Chivers, Rachel Grampp, and Meg Lahey have been together for quite some time, and it shows as they're incredibly cohesive. All three are tremendous at swallowing up transition chances, and regulating the tempo to fit back within Elmira's blueprint when the situation calls for it. Crawford will continue to provide the glue with that group generally holding their opponents under 20 shots most of the time.
Special teams are solid on both ends of the equation, and shouldn't be a liability by any stretch. Still, they could help themselves considerably on a power play that has been going at 20 percent of the year, but has been getting a lot of chances without a success rate commensurate with the level of pressure they've gotten there.
There's been a few nights this postseason where they've only gone at a 1-for-7 clip, and they could be absolutely deadly in the final two rounds if they can get two goals or more out of that unit on either night. The skill level, the anticipation of the play, it all adds up for that unit.
The key for Elmira is how they handle the environment of another close game, in their first postseason game away from home. Elmira didn't have to deal with close games all that often this year, and neither did Plattsburgh, but who handles the heat of battle in the semifinals better than the other could make a considerable difference.