NCAA Tournament Preview: UConn vs. Minnesota-Duluth

UConn is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.

Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

How to watch

Date: Thursday, March 14

Time: 7 p.m. ET

Location: OSU Ice Arena, Columbus, OH

Stream: BigTen+

Minnesota- Duluth Bulldogs

Record: 20-13-4 (15-11-2 WCHA)

Location: Duluth, Minnesota

Head coach: Maura Crowell (ninth season)

Pairwise: 8th

Scouting the Bulldogs

Minnesota-Duluth was the last team into the 11-team NCAA Tournament, qualifying out of the WCHA with an at-large bid. The Bulldogs finished fourth in the conference and dispatched St. Cloud State 2-0 in the best-of-three WCHA quarterfinal but fell to Ohio State, which will host the winner of this game for the right to go to the Frozen Four, in the semifinals.

Maura Crowell’s team ended the regular season strong by going unbeaten in seven of its last eight games. That offset a tough stretch immediately before when the Bulldogs were just 2-6-1 between Dec. 9 and Jan. 27.

Like UConn, Minnesota-Duluth has done it with defense. The Bulldogs surrender just 1.54 goals per game, which is sixth in the country and just 0.3 goals per game more than the Huskies. Also in similar fashion, they have a goaltending platoon, though it’s truly an even split since each net-minder played one game in the quarterfinals against St. Cloud State.

Hailey MacLeod got the nod one fewer time than Eve Gascon, but she was in the crease for the WCHA Tournament semifinal against Ohio State. Her numbers are also slightly better as she owns a 1.27 goals against average and .954 save percentage. The former figure is sixth in the country and the latter is second. Gascon is at 1.52 (10th) and .951 (fourth), respectively.

Tia Chan and Megan Warrener are just a bit better, however. Chan has been shouldering the load lately — Warrener hasn’t played since Feb. 17, which is a five-game stretch that includes the entire postseason. Chan is eighth in the country in goals against average at 1.35 and fifth in save percentage at .949. Warrener leads the nation in goals against average (1.01) and is third with a .951 save percentage. Chan surrendered just one goal over 148:32 between the Hockey East Tournament semifinals and final.

This extends to the penalty kill, as well. Minnesota-Duluth has the advantage when down a player with an 89.4 percent kill rate (93-for-104) that ranks seventh, while UConn is 11th at 87.7 percent (64-for-73).

Each team has a more middling offense with the Huskies being a touch more prolific. UConn scores 2.46 goals per game, which is No. 22 in the nation. Jada Hibisch (17-11—28) and Coryn Tormala (6-18—24) are the only Huskies that have reached 20 points while Kathryn Stockdale (11-7—18) is the only other skater with more than 10 goals.

Minnesota-Duluth is No. 25 at 2.38 tallies per night but has more high-end scoring touch. While there are no point-per-game performers on the Bulldogs, Reece Hunt (18-18—34) is just off the pace and is joined in the 30-point club by Mannon McMahon (13-17—30).

UConn also has the power play advantage at 22.0 percent (22-for-100), which is good for 10th. At 19.0 percent (16-for-84), Minnesota-Duluth is ranked No. 17, but has had the third-fewest opportunities in the nation.

In what all signs point to as a tight, low-scoring affair, puck possession will be key. UConn isn’t an elite face-off team, winning just 49.7 percent of their draws. The Bulldogs, however, win 51.1 percent of the time. If the Huskies are constantly chasing the game and struggle to secure possession or win defensive-zone face-offs, then Minnesota-Duluth will have an advantage.

Series history

UConn and Minnesota-Duluth have played nine times, most recently in 2019-20 as part of the Nutmeg Classic, which was a 5-1 loss for the Huskies. Overall, the Bulldogs are 8-0-1 with the tie coming in 2014-15 at Freitas Ice Forum to open the season. UConn has been shut out four times and the cumulative score is 48-11.

Minnesota-Duluth is a five-time NCAA Tournament champion, including the first three NCAA-sponsored events between 2001-03, with nine Frozen Four appearances. Each of those marks are third behind Minnesota and Wisconsin. While the Bulldogs have made 15 of the 24 fields selected (the 2020 event was canceled after selection but before it began), they haven’t won a WCHA Tournament title since 2010.

By the numbers

2 — The number of first-time programs in the 11-team NCAA field. UConn and Stonehill each earned their first bids by winning their conference tournaments. Six teams have made the field once out of 29 different schools that have taken part.

5 — UConn has surrendered three goals or more just five times in 37 games. The Huskies and Bulldogs are tied for third in the country with 12 shutouts, one off the national pace set by Clarkson and Colgate.

4.38 — The Huskies serve 4.38 penalty minutes per game, which is lowest in the country.

493 — Mannon McMahon, of Minnesota-Duluth, is fourth in the nation with 493 face-off wins. She wins more than 57 percent of her draws.

8 — UConn’s Jada Habisch is second in the country with eight game-winning goals, which is one behind the leader.