Candace: So Arlan, once again Bemidji State split with one of the powers of the WCHA. They’ve now beaten everyone but Wisconsin. Is it time to consider the Beavers a possible playoff team?
Arlan: In terms of their ability, yes. I believe that BSU compares favorably with teams that have reached the NCAAs in past seasons, such as Dartmouth last year. The early PairWise has BSU seventh, safely in that range of teams that qualify. The problem for the Beavers lies in their own conference and the schedule that comes with it. They are currently fifth in the WCHA standings. They have four games remaining with Wisconsin, and still must travel to Grand Forks and Minneapolis. How many of those games are they likely to win? That puts a lot of pressure on games on the road versus Robert Morris and home series with Ohio State and Minnesota-Duluth. BSU definitely can’t afford any more bad results against SCSU or MSU, as they’ve already lost in Mankato. The WCHA will get three teams into the field, and a fourth is possible, but too much strength at the top will work against that.
Before the season, coach Brian Idalski of North Dakota said his team needed to place itself firmly in the top three of the league. Are you at all surprised that UND has succeeded in that regard heading into its first showdown with Minnesota, although both OSU and BSU are within a game?
Candace: I tend to think good players get better as they hit their junior and senior year. We all knew the Lamoureux sisters were amazing players, but to me they’ve stepped up their game this season. In a one-game playoff like the NCAA tournament, that makes North Dakota very dangerous. So I would have to say I am not surprised at where the Sioux are.
Right before Thanksgiving, Quinnipiac upset Boston College with a dramatic last second comeback. Is it time to consider the Bobcats again?
Arlan: I think it is, in part because no one team has stepped up and declared their intention to be the second NCAA team from the ECAC. Dartmouth, Harvard, and Clarkson all look good one minute, and are flirting with .500 the next. The Golden Knights at 8-4-4 actually have the second-best overall winning percentage of ECAC teams with a .625 mark.
Earlier in the season, we speculated whether Victoria Vigilanti was off her game, or if failings of the Bobcats’ team defense was to blame for the team’s struggles. I noticed something puzzling in the recent box scores for the “Q.” Freshman Chelsea Laden got the start against BC, only her second for the Bobcats. She did well, stopping 33 of 34 Eagles’ shots, and was named ECAC Rookie of the Week. For the two games on the weekend against supposedly weaker opponents, Connecticut and Robert Morris, Vigilanti was back in net as the Bobcats won. So why the switch to Laden versus the highly-ranked Eagles? Was one of the goalies battling injury or illness? Did coach Rick Seeley want to avoid wearing Vigilanti out during a stretch where the team played five times in nine days? Was he just playing a hunch after BC put up five goals against Vigilanti earlier in Boston? In any case, Laden’s activity isn’t what one would expect from a lightly-used rookie, as her three appearances have all come against top-10 teams: a start at Northeastern, a relief appearance versus Cornell, and now the gem against BC. Seeing that Quinnipiac went 3-0 on the week, I guess that’s yet another reason why Seeley is a D-I coach while I’m scanning box scores.
One team that experienced the worst of times in the league was Harvard, going 0-3 and losing Michelle Picard to an ankle injury. Given the Crimson bench was already short, do you think Katey Stone’s troops will rebound?
Candace: I think Harvard will do OK. We’ll learn more when the Crimson have their rematch with Dartmouth on Wednesday. Harvard may just be another mercurial ECAC team. Dartmouth has totally messed up my picks on a weekly basis. Maybe the ECAC women are becoming more like the ECAC men. We discussed last week whether Hockey East is stronger. Maybe the ECAC will only be sending one team to the dance from now on.
Let’s look at Mercyhurst now. The Lakers swept St. Lawrence last week. Maybe they will make the tournament after all?
Arlan: Mercyhurst’s schedule and attempt to make the tournament remind me a little bit of Minnesota in the Gophers’ first year as a varsity program. The rules said that there had to be at least one western team, and Minnesota was the only team in the West playing D-I, so it was difficult for the Gophers to play themselves out of the tournament field. They had some games versus established teams in the East early, patched together a schedule of spare parts in January and February, and were in tough at the national tournament against seasoned competition. While many were hurt by the loss of Wayne State, the Lakers probably miss the games with the Warriors the most. They are left with a 31-game slate, four of them with Lindenwood. The PWR still loves the Lakers; they are nearly even with BC for the final home ice berth in the quarters, but they’ve yet to play a Team Under Consideration. Quinnipiac is their only opponent at .500 or better to date, and the Lakers and Bobcats split. MC has upcoming series with Cornell and BC, and a single game with the Big Red in February. Can they still qualify if they don’t win any of those? I guess it’s possible, even probable. Eight teams have to advance, and there’s not a lot of separation right now. But were that the case and Mercyhurst ran the CHA table, it would be one of the least inspiring 26-7 marks of recent history. I suspect that the Lakers will get a win on the road at BC, because those games will be more vital to MC than to an Eagles team focused on Hockey East. It would really help the Lakers if RMU or Niagara continue to improve.
In the meantime, we may start to hear some Bailey Bram buzz for the Kazmaier, and I’m sure she’s having a dynamic season, but it will be a little easier to evaluate once the competition that she is facing ratchets up. You mentioned the Lams earlier — are there others putting together individual campaigns that have impressed you in particular?
Candace: I’m not going to be so quick to write off the Eagles as too focused on Hockey East when they play Mercyhurst. BC has an excellent shot at home ice at this point, and games against teams like Merychurst will be key to that. I think BC will come out blazing, led by Alex Carpenter, who has impressed me very much. Yes, two other freshman, Jillian Saulnier and Rebecca Vint, are outscoring her, but Saulnier has a much better supporting cast at Cornell than Carpenter at BC, and Vint has gotten to put up mucho points against Lindenwood four times. Imagine how many points the Lamoureux sisters, Brianna Decker, and Amanda Kessel would have if they had four games against Lindenwood. And now, I will give the Easterners a shot at labeling me a WCHA homer. The scoring that has been put up by Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota is terrifying. Wisconsin has four players in the top 10 in the nation in scoring: Decker, Brooke Ammerman, Carolyn Prévost, and Hilary Knight. Decker is a junior, while the other three are seniors, so I am giving the underclasswoman some love and feel that Decker being second right now is amazing. I also feel that while Noora Räty has put up impressive numbers, Zuzana Tomcikova might be the best goalie in the WCHA right now, and she is a big part of the success the Beavers are having.
I also have to give props to Jen Schoullis of Minnesota. Yes, Kessel is one of the best pure offensive talents in the game, but when Schoullis went down, Minnesota lost. You get to see the Gophers play a lot; to finish off this week, what’s your take on Schoullis?
Arlan: Schoullis isn’t from the conventional speedy goal-scorer mold. She’s a very physical player, and my guess is that opponents who go up against her over the course of a series come out of the weekend with a few bruises. The Lamoureux twins are similar in that regard, but Schoullis is a little bigger. Maybe it is a Shattuck thing, because all three are great at battling in the corners, they protect the puck well, and when it is time to unleash a shot, they do so in a hurry.
You mentioned games against Lindenwood. Both Decker and Ammerman did have seven points in the season-opening series for Wisconsin versus Lindenwood. The Lams get their shot against the Lions with a single game in January, and they could put up huge point totals in a game like that if they are so inclined.
Knight has surprised me thus far. I expected her to come out and lay an emphatic claim to the Kaz, but her numbers really aren’t much different from those of Emily Erickson at Bemidji, and the Beavers are a far less explosive team. It could be that Knight is sacrificing personal glory to strengthen a second line for the Badgers, and if so, more credit to her.
The Cornell trio of Brianne Jenner, Rebecca Johnston, and Saulnier has played fewer games than those in the WCHA, so that makes their numbers, such as points per game, more volatile. If they have a huge game or a slump, their averages will move up or down more than the Wisconsin, UND, or Minnesota players. It will be interesting to see how they perform against the Lakers, and on the flip side, how Bram and Christine Bestland respond for MC versus the Big Red.