And we’re back …
What is to be learned from the games and exhibitions over the first couple of weeks?
As is often the case early, results can be unpredictable. Consider the CHA, where the only team with a winning record is Penn State, a second-year program that took its lumps last season. The Nittany Lions had unexpected success at Vermont as they did a year ago.
Granted that there is little data to go on at this point, like those early returns on election night with less than one percent of the precincts reporting, but some trends are emerging.
Listen to coaches around the country and one keeps hearing comments like, “I think we play in the strongest conference,” or, “Our league is the most competitive from top to bottom.”
Such conference loyalty is commendable, but which leagues have done the best job of backing up the claims so far?
Given Penn State is its only winning team, it obviously isn’t the CHA. Collectively, the league has gone 5-9-2 in the early going, a .375 clip, and has been outscored by 21 goals.
Hockey East has struggled even more. HEA teams are 4-8-1 versus teams from other conferences, a .346 winning percentage, and are minus 17 in goal differential. It’s worth noting that neither Boston College nor Boston University, the circuit’s two Frozen Four teams from last spring, have started their nonconference schedules.
ECAC Hockey, minus the six Ivies, has recorded a 6-5-1 mark outside the league, a .542 percentage, and is nine goals to the good.
The WCHA leads the way with a 9-2-2 record in such games, a sizzling .769 percentage, outscoring opponents by 29 goals, with only Wisconsin yet to play outside of the league.
These numbers are swayed by which teams have traveled or faced tougher competition, but lower-division teams from some leagues have fared better. We’ll revisit these records around Thanksgiving to see how the balance has shifted.
In the early going, the No. 3 Clarkson Golden Knights have given every indication that they are who we thought they are. While not quite unscathed by roster turnover from last season, it’s safe to say that they have been less beset by such scathing than most of the other top contenders. With its core intact, Clarkson has surged out of the blocks. It had a pair of strong wins over rival St. Lawrence in non-ECAC games, 5-2 and 4-1, after opening with a 12-1 demolition of RIT.
Streak in jeopardy?
No. 7 Mercyhurst has qualified for the NCAA tournament in each of the last nine seasons, often by getting off to a quick start and not looking back. The Lakers split at Minnesota State to open the season, losing 4-2 and bouncing back with a 3-2 win. After an overtime defeat on home ice on Saturday inflicted by Ohio State, 4-3, Mercyhurst finds itself on the wrong side of the .500 mark.
However, their streak has grown so long because of what the Lakers do when faced with a challenge. Two years ago, after the same one-of-three start, they rattled off nine consecutive wins. In October 2008, Mercyhurst opened with a particularly tough stretch that saw it post three wins and four losses. The team responded with a run of 28 wins in its next 29 games and reached the NCAA Championship.
What do Kylie St. Louis of Robert Morris and Taylor Kuehl of Ohio State have in common? Both scored in overtime to upend Rensselaer and Mercyhurst respectively. In each case, the losing team had erased a two-goal deficit, only to ultimately have its rally negated.
Clarkson has the top offense in the country, averaging seven goals per game, and defenseman Erin Ambrose is a major reason why. The sophomore tallied hat tricks in her first two games and is averaging three points per contest.
A number of newcomers have already burst onto the scene, none in more spectacular fashion than Susanna Tapani of North Dakota. The Finnish product contributed six points in her first college series. She’s not the only one doing heavy lifting at UND, as junior Josefine Jakobsen matched her point for point against Lindenwood.
In the absence of Alex Carpenter, No. 2 Boston College needs a big season from Haley Skarupa. She delivered in her sophomore debut with three points, including a couple of slick goals, versus Maine in a 5-1 win.
Rachael Bona was asked to fill Amanda Kessel’s spot on Minnesota’s top line, and the junior responded with seven points at Colgate. Her new center, Hannah Brandt, avoided a sophomore jinx with a six-point weekend.
In goal, Julie Friend of St. Cloud State and Kayla Black of Minnesota-Duluth have yet to be scored on this season. Both turned in shutouts in their only appearances, although Friend had to settle for a tie when her team was blanked at the other end versus Quinnipiac.
How the rest of the top 10 fared
Last season, No. 1 Minnesota didn’t allow a goal until its third game or trail until its ninth game. The Gophers didn’t make it two minutes into the new season before falling behind. In all, they faced three deficits over the weekend against Colgate; they only trailed nine times in 41 games last year. Minnesota did emerge with 3-1 and 8-3 wins over the Raiders.
No. 6 Wisconsin opened WCHA conference action by dropping Minnesota State by 3-0 and 5-1 scores.
No. 8 North Dakota kept Nicole Hensley of Lindenwood busy during 5-1 and 6-1 wins. The sophomore made 46 and 69 saves in playing both ends of the weekend set.
No. 10 Northeastern was the only other ranked team to taste defeat. The Huskies lost a 4-1 contest to Syracuse and came from behind to claim a 5-4 win over RIT on Saturday.
No. 4. Cornell, No. 5 Boston University, and No. 9 Harvard have yet to commence NCAA competition.