UNH Favored in Women’s Hockey East

For the first time in Hockey East women’s history, someone other than Providence is ranked No. 1 in the league’s preseason poll, even though the Friars are coming off winning the league’s first two postseason crowns.

Defending regular champion New Hampshire, the bridesmaid in each of the Friars’ championship wins, ranked No. 1 with four first place votes, and Providence ranked second with two first place votes. The Wildcats and Friars have dominated the league since its inception-UNH is 28-0-2 all-time in Hockey East play against the bottom four teams in the league, and Providence has been almost as dominant with a 26-2-2 record.

The preseason favorite Wildcats have proven players at every position, even though the team’s roster has just one senior and three juniors-two of which are transfers. The Wildcats have strong proven commodities returning at forward and goaltender. The defense is young having lost two All-League players to graduation, but it does feature two Canadian Under-22 players. Providence is also young at defense, having lost Meredith Roth and All-American Kelli Halcisak to graduation.

The surprise in the poll was the third-place ranking of Boston College, who is just 3-28-4 all-time in Hockey East play. BC also surprisingly placed fourth in the poll in last year, but still finished deep in the cellar, 11 points back of UConn. The team is expected to be much improved given Coach Tom Mutch’s first recruiting class, which includes national camp invite Deborah Spillane, but the Eagles have a lot of ground to make up.

Maine, last year’s third-place team, finished fourth in the balloting, despite a new coach, and the graduation of the school’s two top all-time scorers in Meagan Aarts and Karen Droog, as well as its longtime No. 1 goaltender Lara Smart. Connecticut was picked fifth, although the team returns almost all of its healthy competitors from a year ago.

Northeastern, which graduated All-American goaltender Chanda Gunn and lost nearly all of its defensemen prematurely in the offseason, was picked last. It was the second straight year Northeastern had been picked last in the preseason poll. Last year’s team rebounded to finish fourth, but it will be tougher for first-year coach Laura Schuler to repeat that feat this year without a previous All-American on her roster.