ERIE, Pennsylvania — The last time the Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey program was in the NCAA tournament four seasons ago, current assistant coach Ashleigh Brykaliuk was the Bulldogs’ senior captain.
UMD hosted Minnesota in 2016-17 in an NCAA quarterfinal at Amsoil Arena, with the Gophers winning 1-0 to advance to the Frozen Four. Despite the result, Brykaliuk said earning the right to host an NCAA tournament game as a No. 3 seed that year was “awesome” and “pretty special.”
This week’s experience for the Bulldogs as one of eight teams in Erie, Pennsylvania, for the NCAA women’s hockey tournament has been pretty special as well, Brykaliuk said. So much so, in fact, that the former UMD captain-turned-coach said she prefers it to the traditional format where the top four seeds host on-campus one weekend prior to the Frozen Four.
Having everyone in Erie gives the quarterfinals more of a tournament feel, she said.
“It adds to the tournament,” Brykaliuk said. “I know it's obviously because of COVID, but to start off this way every year, I think, would be kind of cool just extending that tournament feel out to the quarterfinal round. It's been fun; it's nice to get here.
“It’s cool, it’s a good experience for our team and our student-athletes making the tournament. Getting to come to Erie for the quarterfinal game has been special so far.”
The NCAA altered the format of this year’s tournament due to the COVID-19 pandemic, opting to move the entire tournament to Erie, the site of this year’s Frozen Four and national championship, for a quasi-national tournament bubble.
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The Bulldogs arrived in Erie via chartered jet on Friday and quarantined for 12 hours, with everyone in the program having to register two negative tests before being released. UMD practiced on Saturday and Sunday at the Mercyhurst Ice Center before finally moving into their locker room at Erie Insurance Arena, where No. 5 UMD will finally skate Monday prior to its NCAA quarterfinal against No. 4 Colgate at 6 p.m. that night.
Top-seeded Northeastern plays in the first quarterfinal at 1 p.m. on Monday against No. 8 Robert Morris. On Tuesday, No. 2 Wisconsin takes on No. 7 Providence at 1 p.m. and No. 3 Ohio State meets No. 6 Boston College at 6 p.m.
The Frozen Four semifinals take place Thursday, and the national championship is set for Saturday, March 20.
Almost three days in, Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell said she’s a fan of this year’s format. Her team shares their hotel with another team. It’s also a site for daily testing, and seeing other teams there and at the rink creates an exciting environment, she said.
“I think it's a great atmosphere,” Crowell said. “It does have a more tournament feel, but also a special feel. So I think it's great. I think it's really hard to get to this point in your season, and that's how it should feel. I kind of like it. We'll see where it goes down the line from here, but I think it's great so far.”
Bulldogs senior defenseman McKenzie Revering said it was nice to get to Erie a couple days before the tournament gets underway to get situated and used to what the Bulldogs hope is their home through March 20.
Senior wing Anna Klein was also a fan of the early arrival, and especially excited to finally get into Erie Insurance Arena on Sunday night.
“I think now that we’re getting closer, it’s getting more real, and people are getting excited,” Klein said. “We’re just trying to calm our nerves and stay in the moment, and not get too excited too soon. We’re all ready to go.”
The 2022 NCAA Women's Frozen Four is scheduled to be held back in Pennsylvania in State College, home of Penn State. Duluth will host the 2023 Frozen Four.
- All four 2021 quarterfinal games, including UMD’s 6 p.m. game Monday against Colgate, will be streamed on NCAA.com. The game is not being picked up by television or radio in Duluth.
Due to COVID-19 protocols, there will not be a red carpet arrival for the teams nor an NCAA championship celebration like in past years at the Frozen Four. Bands, cheerleaders and mascots are also prohibited from attending. Sorry, Champ.
The NCAA is allowing a limited number of fans into Erie Insurance Arena for the tournament this week. Each team was allocated 100 tickets per game. A limited number of tickets also went on sale to the general public on Friday.