Women’s D-I: A baker’s dozen to watch in 2012

A few days and games still remain in 2011, but a new year will be here before the action fully revs up once more. Here’s a look at notable games and series that hold promise in advance of the postseason.

Jan. 6-7, Wisconsin at Minnesota: No. 1 taking on No. 2 is always intriguing. Minnesota is the only team to have beaten Wisconsin since November 28, 2010, meaning the Badgers have lost but once in their last 47 games. Once again, international competition impacts teams’ rosters, with Sarah Davis expected to miss the series for the Gophers, while the Badgers figure to be without Carolyne Prévost, Brittany Haverstock, and Saige Pacholok.

Jan. 14-15, Wisconsin at North Dakota: While North Dakota has undergone a metamorphosis over the last 15 months, the success hasn’t translated against Wisconsin, as the Badgers have won all seven contests over that timeframe. For UND to establish itself as a bonafide threat in March, it will need to avoid being swept for the second time this season.

Jan. 17, Northeastern at Boston College: The two squads will meet again two weeks later in the Beanpot, but Hockey East supremacy won’t be on the line as it will here. The Huskies have managed to stay in the league race despite losing the first two games with BC, in part because of the Eagles’ inconsistency. The game features a pair of rookies that currently lead their squads in scoring, Kendall Coyne and Alex Carpenter.

Jan. 20, Cornell at Harvard: Cornell remains the odds-on favorite to win the ECAC, but Harvard has maintained control of its destiny in the standings. The Big Red won at Ithaca, but this meeting should be more telling, as each team was minus several players and a head coach due to the Four Nations Cup. Performances in this game could impact individual honors as extensively as team rankings.

Jan. 20-21, Mercyhurst and Robert Morris home-and-home: These games look to provide the best indication to date of just how much the Colonials have improved under Paul Colontino, as his new team squares off with that of former boss Mike Sisti. For RMU to make a run at the NCAA tournament, these games are critical, while the Lakers could really use a CHA rival that will force them to play for 60 minutes.

Jan. 20-21, Minnesota-Duluth at Wisconsin: The combined winners of the last six NCAA titles clash in Madison, with the Bulldogs in jeopardy of going winless in this season series for the first time ever. Shannon Miller’s teams have been in contention so often in part due to her ability to fix what is broken, while Mark Johnson is a master at making sound opponents look broken.

Jan. 21, Cornell at Dartmouth: The Big Green silenced early talk of Cornell compiling a perfect ECAC slate by taking advantage of a short Big Red bench in November. Dartmouth gets a chance on home ice to prove that win was not a fluke and interject itself back into national prominence. Cornell has a shot at double retribution, because its only two ECAC losses in successive seasons have been inflicted by Dartmouth.

Jan. 25, Boston College at Boston University: After a bumpy first half, including losses in five of the its last six, BU can’t afford many missteps the rest of the way, particularly at home. Some say that the women’s rivalry lacks the passion found on the men’s side, but I’m not sure that the players agree.

Jan. 31 & Feb. 7, the Beanpot: The semifinals pit BC vs. Northeastern and Harvard at BU, and none of the possible permutations on the second Tuesday would be a surprise. Competitively, this tournament has come a long way from the time when the field consisted of a national power, a squad struggling to inspire any comparison to its past greatness, a club team, and a scholarship program that played like a club team.

Feb. 3-4, Ohio State at Minnesota-Duluth: Over the years, this series has served up a little bit of everything, from a player suspended for spitting on an opponent to a water-flinging chancellor. The season’s first meeting demonstrated that the shenanigans didn’t depart with Jackie Barto. For those who’d rather just focus on hockey, the teams feature two of the game’s premier forwards in Natalie Spooner and Haley Irwin.

Feb. 7, Mercyhurst at Cornell: The rubber match of the season series, as the teams split in Erie, is also the eighth meeting of the two nonconference foes in three years. The Lakers have taken four of the first seven, but Cornell claimed the biggest victory in the 2010 NCAA semifinal. Such a history takes games between contending teams to a higher level.

Feb. 11, Clarkson at Quinnipiac: Rick Seeley’s current team was unable to generate anything on the scoreboard in his return to Potsdam. For either team to emerge from the second tier of the ECAC, these are the type of games that must be won.

Feb. 17-18, North Dakota at Minnesota: The Lamoureux twins come calling as their original class is honored as seniors. UND entered last season winless in this rivalry, but they’ve since won four of six meetings, including a sweep in Minneapolis last year. The weekend could play a huge part in deciding playoff seedings for the WCHA tournament and beyond.