The top looks Crimson once more

Players on the 2012-2013 All-USCHO D-I Women's teams (Brianne Jenner). (Tim Brule)
Brianne Jenner’s return from Team Canada should have Cornell competing with Harvard for the top spot in ECAC Hockey. (Darl Zehr)

ECAC Hockey is the oldest league, and of late, it has been the most stable. Greg Fargo has the least tenure at his current job, and he starts his third season at Colgate.

This could well be the best that the league has been from top to bottom, as several contenders feature Olympians and those battling to squeeze into the postseason have become much tougher to play against.

Dartmouth coach Mark Hudak is one who has been in his job for over 10 years.

“Everybody is getting a little bit better,” he said. “That’s the challenge and also the beauty if it works out well, of the job and the coaching part of it. What can you do that’s a little bit better, and it’s that challenge throughout our team. What are the things you can do to be a little bit better, because everybody is trying to do that.”

For the first time, the league can claim a defending NCAA Champion in Clarkson. Harvard returns coach Katey Stone and two players from a season spent with the United States Olympic Team. Brianne Jenner is back at Cornell after winning Olympic gold with Canada. Many teams get players back after they missed games or an entire season due to injury.

The ECAC typically has as much drama near the bottom of the race as at the top, because a third of the teams miss out on the postseason altogether. From all of that intrigue, I predict that the ECAC standings will shake out as:

1) Harvard
2) Cornell
3) Quinnipiac
4) Clarkson
5) Yale
6) Princeton
7) St. Lawrence
8) Colgate
9) Dartmouth
10) Rensselaer
11) Union
12) Brown

Harvard Crimson
USCHO prediction: First
Coaches’ prediction: First
Last season: Second (23-7-4, 16-3-3 ECAC)
The names
Weighing the gains and losses, Harvard seems to have benefited the most, and the Crimson were only a point shy of winning the league a year ago with Maura Crowell as interim head coach. The league’s coaches predicted they’ll finish on top this time, but Katey Stone isn’t sure what to expect.

“I haven’t been on the ice with half this team,” she said. “I’m not trying to be coy by any means, I just don’t know. I think it’s very nice to be preseason No. 1, but as [Quinnipiac] coach [Rick] Seeley mentioned, it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. There are a lot of question marks for me. The kids had a tremendous year last year, and we brought in some good kids, but very unproven what this squad will be able to do.”

In February, Harvard battled Clarkson and Cornell to the wire, but those teams have graduated their starting goaltenders, while Harvard returns a couple of great options.

“We’ve got two strong goaltenders in [junior] Emerance Maschmeyer and [sophomore] Brianna Laing that both proved themselves last year quite well,” Stone said.

On defense, Michelle Picard returns for her sophomore season after winning a silver medal. She joins seniors Sarah Edney and Marissa Gedman as stalwarts for the unit.

The forwards also gain an Olympian with Lyndsey Fry back as a senior. The top four scoring forwards from a year ago are all back, led by junior Miye D’Oench with 21 goals and 39 points.

The numbers
One of the more surprising numbers is the 26 players on the roster, after many seasons where the Crimson were on the thin side.

“The great thing about a deep roster is you get a lot of competition, and I love that, and our kids have embraced it in the off season,” Stone said.

The prognosis
The biggest difficulty for Harvard may be assembling all of the pieces in optimal fashion in the limited time available, but in a year where everyone else is short on talent or experience at one or more positions, it’s a nice problem to have.

“Every team wants to get into a rhythm and play well consistently and stay healthy, which I think is becoming more and more of an issue in our game,” Stone said. “So we’ve got to stay healthy and we’ve got to present every game like we’ve got something to prove, and if we can do that, I like our chances, for sure.”

Cornell Big Red
USCHO prediction: Second
Coaches’ prediction: Second
Last season: Third (24-6-4, 15-4-3 ECAC)
The names
“Obviously, the return of Brianne Jenner from the Olympics is the player we’ll be getting back for this season and is going to contribute in a lot of ways both on the ice and off and will be our captain this year,” coach Dough Derraugh said. “Up front, we have Jillian Saulnier and Emily Fulton returning, both of whom were leading scorers in the ECAC and the NCAA last year.”

Derraugh could chose to play those three seniors together, and they may prove to be the most dominant line in college hockey.

“Then we think we have a pretty strong surrounding cast at the forward position,” Derraugh said.

Junior Taylor Woods and sophomore Hanna Bunton are the most prolific scorers in that cast. It’s lower on the line chart where the questions start to arise.

“Defensively, we lost two in Cudmore and Gagliardi last year, so we have some young defensemen coming in,” Derraugh said. “We’ll have a young D corps. Syd Saracco, one of our incoming freshmen, I don’t think is going to be able to play this year. She underwent hip surgery on both hips during the summertime, so I think she’s going to be out, and that was a freshman that we were counting on, but we still have Erin O’Connor and Sarah Knee and a strong group of returning defensemen.”

Junior Cassandra Poudrier will be counted on to shoulder more of the load.

“[We are] losing Lauren Slebodnick, who was a senior last year, but we still have Paula Voorheis and Stefannie Moak, two goaltenders that I think will be fighting for a starting position, along with Amelia Boughn that we brought in, who was in the running for the Under-18 Canadian team,” Derraugh said. “We feel like we’re strong in the goalie position as well.”

Perhaps strong, but at this point, unproven.

“We’re going to have to use our practices to figure out who’s going to get that starting position,” Derraugh said. “It’s open right now. We do not have any preseason exhibition games. We’ve got Boston College right off the bat. We’re going to try to use a lot of our practices and our Red-White game to determine who is going to be the starter, but I would think early on you’re going to see a rotation there until we get somebody who is a solid candidate. We’ll see what happens over the next month.”

The numbers
In their respective junior seasons, Jenner, Saulnier, and Fulton scored 35, 28, and 21 goals. Last year, 18 teams scored fewer goals than their total of 84.

Cornell had the third-best scoring offense in the country last year, and the production of 3.56 goals per game will likely rise with Jenner.

The prognosis
The questions in scoring defense make it hard to predict Cornell will finish above Harvard, but the offense should be explosive enough to keep the Big Red in contention.

Quinnipiac Bobcats
USCHO prediction: Third
Coaches’ prediction: Fourth
Last season: Fourth (22-6-9, 11-4-7 ECAC)
The names
Quinnipiac is another team the presents a riddle of whether losing players will hurt more than getting some back will help.

“Kelly [Babstock] did a lot for our program in terms of recognition and getting us there,” Rick Seeley said. “Her points production has been steady for four years, and she ended up with over 200 points, so it’s not that it’s easy to replace by any stretch.”

Seeley hopes that even if they don’t have a single player of Babstock’s impact, they can suffice with several additions.

“We’re very fortunate, Nicole Kosta, who was an injury redshirt last year, is joining us,” he said. “She’s been for all intents and purposes our top player over the last few years, and we missed her dearly last year. Another top scorer for us in the past, Erica Uden Johansson, took last year off to prepare for the Olympics with Sweden and is back with us. For us, that’s just like two monster recruits joining the roster. A new freshman coming in, T.T. Cianfarano — very fortunate that things worked out for us and she’s joining us. Those three alone, you’re adding a top line that didn’t exist for us last year.”

Among returning players, senior Shiann Darkangelo led with 23 goals and 40 points.

“Shiann Darkangelo just had a monster year for us last year, probably the top player, producing in every game, big games and ones that scheduling you wouldn’t look at as big, but very consistent for us,” Seeley said.

Defense has long been a staple of Seeley’s teams.

“We have our big three D, [Cydney] Roesler, [Kristen] Tamberg, and [Lindsey] West, are all going to be juniors this year and they’ve all kind of grown up in the program together,” he said. “We’re really excited about what they bring to the table.”

Quinnipiac had to face replacing a franchise player last season as well, and that turned out okay.

“In net, Chelsea Laden stepped out last year from basically the shadows of [former goaltender Victoria] Vigilanti and had a great year,” Seeley said. “So we’re kind of confident in all areas. It’s a just question of working hard together and putting it all together.”

The numbers
Babstock had at least 40 points and as many as 59 in her four years at Quinnipiac. Only one other Bobcats player has ever reached 40, Darkangelo last season.

Quinnipiac fell just shy of reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time, despite only having six losses, leaving the Bobcats fit to be tied.

“We proved last year over and over, if we don’t come ready for a game, if we’re not motivated to get the next goal after the first one, we’ll end up with nine ties and that’ll eventually hurt us,” Seeley said.

The prognosis
“We’re not going into the year with a ‘Rest in Peace’ sign on Quinnipiac because Babstock graduated,” Seeley said. “We think we’re stronger this year than we were last year, and it’s basically that simple.”

Okay, I’ll buy that, but I won’t pay very much, and I may want my money back if it turns out that Babstock is more sorely missed than first thought.

Clarkson Golden Knights
USCHO prediction: Fourth
Coaches’ prediction: Third
Last season: First (31-5-5, 16-2-4 ECAC)
The names
Clarkson begins defense of its title missing a lot of the people that helped earn it. Even the coaching staff has turned over. Matt Desrosiers is back, but now the title of head coach is all his, as his wife, Shannon, has decided to step down and concentrate on raising their family. He has two new assistants: Meghan Duggan has an impressive resume as a player as a three-time NCAA champ at Wisconsin, Patty Kazmaier Award winner in 2011, and a silver medalist at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. Britni Smith had 20 goals and 54 assists in her four seasons as a St. Lawrence defenseman.

It has the makings of a great staff in time, but a college season doesn’t afford much time before it is underway.

“Obviously excited to get going this year, see how we can come out and defend the national championship,” Desrosiers said. “Definitely a lot of turnover for our team. It’s going to be a totally different team. A lot of change, losing two coaches and seven members of the team from last year.”

Those seven graduates include four of the team’s top five scorers, including the program’s first Patty Kazmaier Award winner, Jamie Lee Rattray, and a four-year starter in goal in Erica Howe.

“There’s going to be a lot of kids put into different situations, responsibilities, different roles, but I’m really excited about it,” Desrosiers said. “I thought our returning players did a great job for us down the stretch in our playoff run near the NCAA Championship, kind of stepping up and scoring some key goals for us.”

The Golden Knights’ march to the championship was made more challenging by the loss to injury in the ECAC tournament of defenseman Erin Ambrose, the team’s highest returning scorer (14-36-50).

Others, like junior Renata Fast, managed to fill the void created by her absence.

“Just looking for her to continue with that confidence that she gained by playing those many minutes and kind of stepping her game up towards the end of the season,” Desrosiers said. “Down the stretch, she kind of took it upon herself, as did the other three D as well. They kind of took it upon themselves to step their games up, and I expect them to all maintain that level of play right from the start of the season. It doesn’t necessarily matter if Erin is in the lineup or not, I expect them to play that way every game.”

He hasn’t announced a replacement for Howe just yet.

“We actually have four goaltenders on the roster right now,” Desrosiers said. “They’re all competing pretty hard for each other. They know that it is kind of up for grabs, which we like. There’s a little bit of competition there, and we haven’t kind of had that in the past. It’s going to be nice to kind of see who over the next few weeks kind of puts themselves in that starting position.”

The numbers
Clarkson scored 150 goals last season, but the scorers of 87 of those goals graduated.

The three returning goalies have combined to play 121 minutes at Clarkson.

The prognosis
Before they need worry about defending their NCAA title, the Golden Knights will attempt to repeat their ECAC season championship.

“We’re making it very apparent to our players that you’re going to see every team’s best every night,” Desrosiers said. “To be honest with you, as a coach I’m really excited to see how we step up to that kind of challenge and see if we can bring our best every night as well. They definitely know that they have the big target on their backs this year. I definitely think that we’re prepared for it.”

Yale Bulldogs
USCHO prediction: Fifth
Coaches’ prediction: Sixth
Last season: Seventh (9-16-7, 6-9-7 ECAC)
The names
Swiss Olympian Phoebe Staenz was one of the most exciting players to appear on the roster of a lower division team in quite some time, and she is one of the reasons that many expect Yale to continue its rise.

“Our record last year without her was 1-7-5,” Joakim Flygh said. “Not that our team was dependent on one player last year, but she just gave us a little extra confidence when she was here.”

The problem for the Bulldogs was that Staenz wasn’t there often enough. Between national camps and international competitions leading up to the Olympics and the games in Russia, she was forced to miss a lot of Yale games and practices and deal with fatigue and jet lag when she was around.

International commitments should be minimal this year, and Flygh’s roster is being reinforced.

“We have eight freshmen coming in, too,” he said. “We feel it’s probably top to bottom our best recruiting class.”

Three of the rookies will bolster the blue line, a position that Flygh admits may be young, but is also heading in the right direction.

Up front, the Bulldogs add another player with international experience in Eden Murray, a gold medalist with Canada’s U-18 team, and sister of Yale senior defenseman Madi Murray.

“We’ve got nine of our top 10 forwards coming back, and I think that offensive production should be there,” Flygh said.

In goal, the Bulldogs return senior Jaimie Leonoff, whose .921 save percentage ranked sixth in the ECAC.

The numbers
With 26 points in 20 games, Staenz was the first Yale player to average at least a point per game since Crysti Howser in 2007-08.

The Bulldogs haven’t reached double digits in wins since 2010, but that appears to be on the horizon this season. Last year’s seventh-place finish gained them their first postseason for the entire roster, where they forced Harvard to three games in a very competitive series.

“I think they gained a lot of confidence, too,” Flygh said. “It’s obviously a disappointing playoff loss, but I think our kids handled it really well and they’re extremely motivated coming out of that, too. As coaches, we were impressed with how our kids responded in the spring with our workouts and they carried that through the summer, too. We got to our testing over the last few weeks and this is by far the fittest team we’ve had. I think kids realized that we’re not that far off from being able to compete with the top four teams in our league on a consistent basis.”

The prognosis
Yale appears a safe bet to stay a playoff team for the immediate future. The question this year is can the Bulldogs climb higher?

Princeton Tigers
USCHO prediction: Sixth
Coaches’ prediction: Seventh
Last season: Sixth (14-13-4, 10-9-3 ECAC)
The names
After missing out on the postseason in 2013, Princeton rallied to finish a solid sixth last season.

“We’re excited about our results last year, and we’re looking forward to getting better,” coach Jeff Kampersal said. “We’ll be led by our captains, Ali Pankowski and Brianna Leahy.”

Their leadership will be important as the team adds five rookies.

“We have good freshmen coming in, we think,” Kampersal said. “Kiersten Falck, Alev Baysoy, and Emily Achterkirch from Minnesota, all skate well, they’re all skill players, so [anxious to] see what they can do at the next level. Hannah Sorkin is another D, and Alysia DaSilva is a goaltender that will help push our starter, Kimberly Newell, and that will give us depth in goal that we haven’t had in a little while. Hopefully, it will be a good, healthy competition.

“Our team is young. We have a lot of sophomores, which they were primary contributors to our team last year, so they’re only going to be better after a year, so we’re excited about that. If we stay healthy, we like the direction the program is heading.”

Injuries have taken a large bite out of the Tigers in recent years.

“We have one player, Molly Contini, who scored nine goals for us as a freshman, she’ll be back,” Kampersal said. “She missed a whole year with a hip injury. It’s like what Doug was saying for Cornell. Hips are huge now in women’s hockey, torn labrums, and concussions, so we’re one of those teams that has suffered through our fair share of hips and heads. So right now, knock on wood, everybody is fairly healthy. We have a couple potentially threatening hip situations, but the kids are going to try to play through the year and see if they can make it through and then get further fixed in the spring and summer.”

The numbers
The Tigers are either home or away for weeks at a time. After traveling to Colgate on November 1, they aren’t on the road again until December 5.

“Our schedule is kind of crazy this year,” Kampersal said. “We have four road games in a row, and then we have like eight home games in a row, so it’s kind of unique. Scheduling is always like trying to fit a puzzle together.”

The prognosis
When a team jumps up several spots in the standings, there is a always a question of whether it is getting back to where it belonged, or if it overachieved a bit. I’ll say that in the case of Princeton, it is the former.

St. Lawrence Saints
USCHO prediction: Seventh
Coaches’ prediction: Fifth
Last season: Fifth (13-19-3, 12-7-3 ECAC)
The names
Chris Wells’ team is one of the more difficult clubs to slot in the ECAC. Of late, they’ve hovered somewhere in that fourth to sixth range. Now they lose some players, gain others, and a few points here and there may mean the difference between starting the playoffs on home ice and having to sweat just to get into the ECAC tourney field.

“We start in the net with Carmen [MacDonald] whose done a great job with us over the last three years,” Wells said. “We expect the same from her senior year.”

MacDonald may produce even better if health is on her side.

“She got banged up last year with a high ankle sprain that took her probably about half a season to overcome, then came back in form and started to see her wins and losses shape up to the team where I thought we were last year toward the second half, when we got going pretty good,” Wells said. “A lot of it had to do with the injury and her finding her game. In a couple of clicks of the button you can find that her stats are noticeably better the second half of the season in all three of her years.”

SLU graduated its top two scorers in defenseman Mel Desrochers and forward Rylee Smith. Help is on the way to replace Desrochers.

“We do have Amanda Boulier, who was a first-team all league player two years ago, who was out with an injury last year, so she’ll be back,” Wells said. “She should make a significant contribution for us on defense and offensively as well.”

Up front, [sophomore] Brooke Webster and [senior] Kayla Raniwsky were tops in offensive production.

The numbers
After just six wins in their first 23 games, the Saints won seven out the next 10.

They could use a better start this season, as a demanding October schedule finds them playing Clarkson three times, Boston College and Robert Morris twice, along with Yale.

Wells is looking for contributions from his rookies to ease that start.

“[We] know that college hockey is a little different from where they came from and it takes them awhile to adjust,” he said. “We’re hoping they can adjust quickly, because our numbers are down a little bit. Everybody is going to get a pretty good chance to get their feet wet early on.”

The prognosis
“We get up and down the ice and not a lot of crap after the whistles,” Wells said. “We played Quinnipiac about a zillion times over the last three years, and it looks like if the coaches’ poll stack up, it looks like we’re squaring off again against them. Those games have been relatively penalty free, up and down games. That’s what I love about the women’s game is that you can play those type of games and still have a tremendous amount of entertainment value to it. That’s the way we like to play. We don’t do a lot of slowing things up. We like to go up and down the ice, and if we have to give up a couple of chances to get a couple of chances, then we’re certainly going to do that.”

So if you want to know where the Saints will finish, figure out where Quinnipiac will be, and then slot SLU to create a first-round playoff matchup.

Colgate Raiders
USCHO prediction: Eighth
Coaches’ prediction: Eighth
Last season: Ninth (tie) (10-22-2, 7-15-0 ECAC)
The names
“One of the big keys for us is to get off to a great start both in nonconference play and in league play,” coach Greg Fargo said. “I think looking back at our first couple years at Colgate, it’s been a little slow out of the gate, a little slower than we wanted. Although we finished strong down the stretch, we kind of dug ourselves a hole. The emphasis for us going into it is to get out of the gates really strong.”

To his point, the Radiers started 3-11-2 two years ago before rallying to make the playoffs. Last year’s 5-19-2 and 2-12 in the ECAC proved too much to overcome.

“We’re really happy with the group that returns,” Fargo said. “We have some upperclassmen here that are well experienced heading into their senior year, so we’re looking for their best hockey, their best seasons to date. Where I think we’re really strong again is on the back end on D. We’re really experienced back there, and I think we’re bringing in a couple players that will help.”

Strength on defense can often extend to good numbers for goaltenders.

“We have two seniors and a junior in net,” Fargo said. “Ashlynn Rando played a lot of minutes for us in her first two seasons, and now she’s an upperclassman that has some more experience. I think any time you feel comfortable with who’s in net for you, it’s a good thing.”

Colgate’s results tended to mirror how its goalies were playing.

“Last year was a challenge with Ashlynne,” Fargo said. “She had an injury early on in the year, and it took her a while to recover from it. When she found her stride again, our team started to pull it together. When our goaltending was good, we got the results we wanted.”

The numbers
The key number is the seven freshmen forming an incoming class that opened some eyes.

“I think our staff, our assistant coaches, did a great job of recruiting,” Fargo said. “This was a group that when we first got here a couple years ago, we put a lot of time and energy into this group, knowing that down the road these were some of the kids that were going to be kind of the core of our team as we move forward. I think right off the bat, players like Annika Zalewski, Lauren Wildfang, Breanne Wilson-Bennett — to be honest, all seven of them come in and they can provide our team with some things that maybe we’ve been lacking a little bit in the past.

“I think for the forward group, they’re all proven scorers for where they’ve come from. They all compete really hard. Then on the back end, Lauren and Kaila [Pinkney] are different players, but they’re exceptional at what they do. Kaila is a really strong, physical, really good defender and puck mover, whereas Lauren brings a little bit more of the offensive side to the game. She was the captain of the Canadian U-18 team last year. Not only are they a skilled group, but they also bring in a lot of experience playing for championships and what not. We hope that kind of mentality or makeup in a player is something that has a good impact on our culture here as well.”

The prognosis
Last year, Colgate allowed more than a goal per game more on average than it scored. If the freshmen can make the hoped-for impact, then that gap will close and the Raiders will return to the postseason.

Dartmouth Big Green
USCHO prediction: Ninth
Coaches’ prediction: Ninth
Last season: Eighth (9-20-1, 8-13-1 ECAC)
The names
Dartmouth closed well enough to secure the final playoff spot in the ECAC.

“We did a much better job after the break,” coach Mark Hudak said. “I was really happy with the second half of our season.”

After a 2-7-1 start in the league, the Big Green closed at a 6-6-1 clip. Once in the postseason, they played top-seeded Clarkson tough in a pair of 2-0 defeats.

“We talked with the team about that at the end of last year,” Hudak said. “We lost to the national champion by two goals. I don’t mean that it means we’re only two goals away from the national championship.”

Now the roster must be retooled to find another playoff-worthy lineup.

“A big loss certainly last year was Lindsay Holdcroft, who started for us all four years,” Hudak said. “We’re really happy with what we did see out of our freshman goalie last year, and she’ll get kind of the nod as our starter this year, and that’s Robyn Chemago.”

A dependable blue line can go a long way toward making life easier for a new goaltender.

“I think we’re really solid back on D,” Hudak said. “Morgan Illikainen, one of our assistant captains, senior back there, and then across the board, I think we’re really solid.”

Among freshmen, he expects Hailey Noronha to contribute to that defense, while Brooke Ahbe makes a mark up front. Hudak foresees added offense from another source.

“Ailish Forfar missed all of last year with hip surgery [and] is back,” he said. “Looking forward to having her back.”

The numbers
Dartmouth was tied for ninth in both scoring offense and scoring defense. The offensive production fell off dramatically late in the season, and according to Hudak, there was an explanation for that.

“Karlee Odland was a junior for us last year, a very good player up front; her father died in a pretty tragic car accident and she ended up missing the last quarter of the year,” he said. “That was just one of those things where I thought we were making some good progress moving forward, and then to lose that team member.”

The prognosis
Dartmouth should be better at most positions this year, but a tougher league and inexperience in net could keep the Big Green out of the postseason.

Rensselaer Engineers
USCHO prediction: 10th
Coaches’ prediction: 10th
Last season: Ninth (tie) (10-20-3, 6-14-2 ECAC)
The names
It’s one thing to miss out on the playoffs when a team is just overmatched. That wasn’t the case for the Engineers last season, as they were in contention for home ice and wound up on the outside looking in when the ECAC tournament started.

“I think that was a little bit of our immaturity last year, being young in some key positions,” coach John Burke said. “I think that’s something we talked about as a group to address and to try to be more consistent with our day-to-day practice habits. That will lead to more consistency in games. I thought we were pretty consistent with that last year, but I think it’s an area that we can always get better at.”

Rensselaer has also tried to get better in the weight room.

“We’re excited about development on the ice as our returnees get stronger,” Burke said. “A couple of our key components up front that we’re going to count on heavily are Lexi Gruschow is one player that with her speed and her offensive ability, she’s looking forward to having another breakout season as well. Lauren Wash is a player that stepped up her game last year. We’re going to get steady play out of our seniors up front, in [Taylor] Mahoney and [Ali] Svoboda. Our sophomore class had a tremendous summer in the weight room, and we’re expecting some good things out of [Laura] Horwood and [Katie] Rooney. Obviously, [defenseman] Heidi [Huhtamaki] is coming back with a ton of confidence after part of the summer I believe with a Team Finland Camp.”

The numbers
After a win on January 18, RPI was 6-5-1 in the ECAC. A final month produced an 0-9-1 record and the Engineers slid out of a playoff spot.

“It was definitely an interesting last month,” Burke said. “One thing is the fight that our team had last year. It was pretty frustrating because we felt we outplayed and outshot quite a few of those teams except for Clarkson in that stretch there, and we just could not find a way to get the extra goal or come up with a big save at a key time. It was frustrating, but I think our players used that as motivation in the springtime and into the summer to get back to where we should be.”

The prognosis
One player RPI won’t have is Jordan Smelker, who graduated after an 86-point career. Her loss may make it tough to gain much ground in the ECAC, but if the Engineers can avoid any long slumps, the playoffs aren’t out of reach.

Union Dutchwomen
USCHO prediction: 11th
Coaches’ prediction: 11th
Last season: 12th (9-24-1, 4-18-0 ECAC)
The names
One has to like Union’s chances to improve on its last-place finish of a year ago.

“We have a core bunch of seniors that I think will really contribute to our team,” coach Claudi Asano Barcomb said. “Of the seniors on our team, we have three defensemen, which is great, a goaltender who has seen the majority of the playing time for our goalies, and then there’s two forwards that I think will really be able to contribute. At this point, we’re injury free, which is excellent, so I’m hoping for some great things.”

That goaltender, Shenae Lundberg, ranked in the top 10 in ECAC save percentage, and has started 74 games in her three seasons for Union.

“I think with her tremendous amount of experience, it gives our team a lot of confidence,” Barcomb said. “It’s really helped our team in a lot of ways.”

Being healthy is another big key, as injuries put a damper on the Dutchwomen’s previous campaign.

“Jess Kaminsky, who was one of our leading scorers in early January, had a significant shoulder injury that really hurt us,” Barcomb said. “Then in January, I think we had six or seven injuries that really hurt us. So how do you keep kids injury free, that’s the big question. I think our kids have come back stronger and fitter, so that they’re able to sustain such a long season.”

The numbers
Although Union’s scoring offense was dead last in the ECAC, the Dutchwomen performed better with the skater advantage. Their power play was eighth with a 14 percent conversion percentage.

“I think some of it had to do with personnel,” Barcomb said. “Some of it had to do with something else we tried that we hadn’t tried before, and it was really successful. I think it surprised some of the teams that we played against. We had people in the right positions. Our kids had a lot of confidence in it, and I hope that we can continue that and work on it in other areas. But our kids just knew, if we had a power play, that they were going to be successful on it. There’s something to say about some positive mental aspects about being on the power play and just creating momentum with it.”

The prognosis
While the veteran leadership should help Union climb over Brown, it may be too high a hurdle to move any higher up the standings.

Brown Bears
USCHO prediction: 12th
Coaches’ prediction: 12th
Last season: 11th (4-20-5, 3-16-3 ECAC)
The names
The biggest challenge for Brown involves the person who isn’t here.

“Our biggest change from last year is the loss of Aubree Moore, and we have a freshman and sophomore,” coach Amy Bourbeau said. “At this point, we expect that they’ll be sharing time in the net.”

The sophomore, Monica Elvin, saw just shy of 74 minutes in goal as Moore’s understudy.

“For someone like Monica Elvin, it was incredible to watch and to have Aubree as a mentor,” Bourbeau said.

In particular, Bourbeau cited the effort Moore put in as being a positive influence on the rookie.

“She brought Monica Elvin’s work level up,” Bourbeau said.

Freshman Julianne Landry is the other Brown goaltender, and although they weren’t teammates, Bourbeau says that Landry also benefited from Moore by working with her in camps.

Even when they had Moore guarding the cage, the Bears had trouble scoring. This year, Bourbeau listed senior forwards Sarah Robson, Janice Yang, and Kaitlyn Keon, as well as sophomore forward Erin Conway, as forming the team’s core up front.

“All four of them will carry our offense,” Bourbeau said.

The numbers
Scanning the top scorers in the league, Robson at a tie for 57th is the highest scorer for Brown with 10 points. Other than Union, the other conference teams return multiple players who ranked higher, and the Dutchwomen had four players with at least that many points, but two were seniors.

Brown’s power play and penalty kill both ranked last in the league. The power play was a particular area of concern, converting only 7.6 percent of the time in ECAC action, with a resulting net of just plus four.

The prognosis
When a team improves and makes a push up the standings, it always seems easier to recognize that in hindsight. You notice forwards who had chances and started to bury them as upperclassmen. Goalies who were waiting in the wings come in and slam the door. The whole team becomes enthused and is more than the sum of its parts.

In the here and now, however, it is hard to feel optimistic about Brown. A low-scoring team with inexperience in goal is a rough combination.