Strong out of the blocks
Of the 34 teams that make up the four Division-I conferences, only seven, the six Ivies and Robert Morris, have yet to play their first game. Among those 27 teams that are underway, five have perfect records: Boston University, Clarkson, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Northeastern. Mercyhurst, with one tie through six games, is also unbeaten.
Which of these teams is the biggest surprise thus far? Maybe UNH, although the Wildcats have just played twice, winning over Syracuse and Colgate. They are also least likely to still own a perfect mark a week from now, as the ‘Cats will see Vermont on Tuesday and play a home-and-home series against Boston College Saturday and Sunday. BU also has a tough week ahead, hosting Northeastern on Tuesday and Cornell on Saturday and Sunday. Friday and Saturday, Mercyhurst welcomes Clarkson to Erie. With that slate, a first blemish is certain to appear on the ledger of a few squads over the next week.
Things are wild out West
With 28 conference games per team on the docket, league action ramps up sooner in the WCHA than in other circuits, and the early returns in the WCHA continue to buck expected trends. Wisconsin, last season’s regular-season champion, returned home from Duluth with nary a goal to show for its 120 minutes versus the Bulldogs, and those two teams will be the subject of this week’s column. The Badgers remain stuck on five league points, good for only sixth in the standings. The sweep moved UMD into a four-way tie for second in the conference with North Dakota, Minnesota, and St. Cloud State.
The Huskies climbed into that tie on the strength of a pair of wins at Bemidji State. SCSU joins Wisconsin as the only road teams to sweep at the Sanford Center since the Beavers moved into their new home two seasons ago. The Badgers have triumphed in all four appearances in the building.
So who sits atop the WCHA? None other than Ohio State, a team I pegged to finish seventh in the league. Brilliant. The Buckeyes followed up their sweep of UMD with a split versus North Dakota and will try to remain on the top perch this weekend as they travel to Minneapolis for a series with the Gophers, the only team without a conference loss. Minnesota and last-place Bemidji State have only played a pair of conference tilts while the rest of the league teams have each played four.
Lindenwood, now a member of the CHA, has only had series versus WCHA opponents to date. Although outscored by a 34-6 aggregate over those six games with Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Minnesota State, that’s better than the 63-5 margin the Lions endured over six games against WCHA teams last year. Lindenwood is now off until November, when it will make its CHA debut by hosting Mercyhurst.
Padding the stats
Not everyone is embracing the latest wave of parity and tightly-contested games. Clarkson and Northeastern have outscored opponents 13-4 and 14-3 respectively, each through four games. After six outings, Mercyhurst has scored 32 goals and yielded but a dozen.
However, nobody has managed to tilt the ice to the degree that Minnesota has, building a 40-1 margin through six contests. The Gophers have recorded some gaudy numbers in the national statistics as well, boasting the leading goaltender and top-scoring power play, defenseman, and rookie. Perhaps nothing sums up the team’s dominance to date better than its numbers on the penalty kill; Minnesota is a perfect 100 percent on the kill, with four short-handed goals.
Babstock is rising
If a statistical category is not led by a Minnesota player, the odds are good that the leader is from Quinnipiac. Sophomore Nicole Kosta is tops in assists per game at 2.5, while junior Kelly Babstock reigns in goals per game with 2.0 and points-per-game with 3.5. Babstock, who piled up 30 goals and 59 points as a rookie, saw those numbers drop to 18 and 40 under increased scrutiny as a sophomore. At her current sizzling pace, one has to like the odds that both she and the Bobcats will post record seasons.
Crimson suffering early losses
Harvard was my preseason pick to claim the ECAC title, in part due to the talent and depth found on its blue line. However, its two top-scoring defensemen from last season, Marissa Gedman and Josephine Pucci, have reportedly suffered season-ending injuries and are no longer listed on the team’s roster. The Crimson begin competition with an exhibition versus McGill on Saturday.