Candace: After about a month of play, it seems that there’s really a clear divide in the game right now. Harvard, which is ranked fourth, hasn’t started play yet, so the Crimson are an unknown quantity, and Quinnipiac still hasn’t played a top opponent, so the jury is still out. However, No. 1 Minnesota and No. 3 Boston College both looked dominant in defeating top 10 opponents in No. 9 North Dakota and No. 5 Cornell, respectively. Minnesota won by 5-2 and 5-0 decisions, and Boston College won by identical 6-2 scores. While Wisconsin didn’t look quite as strong, the Badgers nevertheless swept. Other squads have had hiccups however, such as No. 6 Boston University, which lost, 4-2, to Maine on Saturday. Just when I was ready to write off Robert Morris and write in Northeastern, the Colonials took three of four points from the Huskies on the weekend. Previous weekends have seen puzzling results from teams that were supposed to roll, such as Mercyhurst. Were there any results that really stood out for you, and do you agree that there seems to be a divide right now?
Arlan: I’d have to include a “but” in my assent to your question about a divide existing. I’ve had Harvard in my top four all season, when I consider the Crimson didn’t graduate much, get a coach and two players back from the Olympics, and bring in a freshman class with a lot of talent. They can skate with teams like Wisconsin and BC, and they have more experience in net and the type of defensemen that can stand up to handling the puck under pressure. As good as the Eagles looked in demolishing Cornell, the Big Red looked pretty awful. Will they drift down and become one of those teams whose best chance to reach the NCAAs is to have all the other contenders lose, or, now that they’ve had a weekend to shake off some rust, will the Big Red show marked improvement moving forward?
I’m guessing that it will be more of the latter. Back in fall 2009, Cornell kicked off its season by hosting Mercyhurst in a series and got swept by identical 4-1 scores. In March of that year, the teams met in the Frozen Four and Cornell bounced the top-seeded Lakers from the bracket. Teams evolve to be much more than they show in week one, and if they open against opponents with one, two, or, in this case, three weeks of games behind them, it makes direct comparisons more complicated. This year, Cornell didn’t even have the benefit of an exhibition game before starting NCAA play; I’m tempted to at least partially dismiss getting trounced by BC when evaluating the Big Red.
As for what stood out, I’d stick with the BC sweep. Given what I said above, it isn’t that significant that Cornell lost in one-sided fashion. What I found more telling was that it just didn’t match up well defensively at all. Ever since that Mercyhurst series in 2009 when Laura Fortino and Lauriane Rougeau made their debuts, Cornell has been known for its blue line. Last season, that duo was gone but the Big Red still had Alyssa Gagliardi and Hayleigh Cudmore. Now only Cass Poudrier is left in terms of all-conference or above caliber players we’ve come to expect back there. I don’t think sophomore goalie Paula Voorheis is at the point in her career where she can be successful if she’s getting as little help as she did in Boston from the defensemen and the forwards. That will have to change, or Cornell will be vulnerable against a wide range of ECAC opponents, including Harvard, St. Lawrence, and Yale.
That series didn’t reveal as much about Boston College as I had hoped that it would. I already knew that BC can skate a line chart that is likely the fastest in the country, an opponent has to be aware of defensemen joining the rush, and that Alex Carpenter and Hayley Skarupa are lethal if given time, space, and the puck in scoring areas. I only saw a portion of each game, but Kate Leary did stand out to me on Friday with the pass she made between her skates to set up the game-winning goal. That flair in her game was a revelation.
What did you learn from the weekend?
Candace: Well, looking at Boston College again, I learned that they are not only the fastest team in the country, but that they are balanced. The attention is mostly on Carpenter and Skarupa, and rightly so, as those two would be top line anywhere in the country. BC has depth beyond that, however. You mentioned Kate Leary, and Saturday I saw her do an end-to-end rush right after a BC penalty expired in the third period that ended with her scoring by beating Voorheis cleanly. Andie Anastos had a good game Saturday, scoring a goal, and Kenzie Kent played well. Dana Trivigno had a couple of goals in Friday’s game. Two of their defenseman, Lexi Bender and Emily Pfalzer, have also been playing well at both ends.
I think Boston College’s production is especially impressive when you consider that Emily Field only has one point so far, and that Kristyn Capizzano is still recovering from the injury she suffered against St. Lawrence. Capizzano had five points in her first three games, but left the third game early after running into Carpenter, and her production has been hampered since. Field meanwhile, has averaged close to a point a game in her first three seasons, but hasn’t gotten untracked yet. If BC starts seeing production from those two, watch out.
Before turning to Minnesota’s dismantling of North Dakota, I want to look at a team we haven’t talked about much: Penn State. The Nittany Lions edged Princeton on Sunday, 2-1, and currently have a .500 record, at 3-3-2, for the first time in my memory. They’ve beaten Union, tied Quinnipiac, and beaten St. Cloud. Amy Petersen is producing well for them, and they’ve got some depth below that as well. Their goaltenders, Celine Whitlinger and Hannah Ehresmann, have platooned effectively so far. Penn State travels to Syracuse this weekend, and I guess we’ll know more about them after this coming weekend, but has Penn State been the surprise of this young season so far?
Arlan: The surprise team can change from day to day. One minute I think it is Bemidji State, then St. Lawrence, and Penn State looks like a good choice after it ruins Princeton’s debut. A Vermont or Dartmouth could be next, and that doesn’t consider all of the negative surprises. All of these teams have a wide range of performance from their best days to where everyone is misfiring or critical players are out of the lineup.
Looking at Penn State, I think it needs a few more players getting into the scoring column on a regular basis to continue to surprise. Through eight games, sophomore Amy Peterson is averaging a point per game, and classmate Laura Bowman is close with six points. After that, it falls off to a couple with three points, so the net result is that the team has scored 13 times and is shy of a scoring average of two. It puts a lot of pressure on the defense when the offense produces a goal and maybe a second, and that leads to upset wins, not sustained success. The Nittany Lions may be another solid recruiting class away from some attention-getting results.
You mentioned Minnesota sweeping North Dakota, and that is a prime example of how teams can vary from one day to the next. Friday’s contest was a one-goal difference with over two minutes to play when UND pulled its goaltender. Gracen Hirschy had a good scoring opportunity but didn’t convert, Milica McMillen picks up the puck, carries it over the red line, and hits the empty net. If Hirschy scores, who knows how the rest of the weekend plays out? As it is, the Gophers played what Brad Frost called their best 60 minutes of hockey in years on Saturday, and according to Peter Elander, North Dakota had its worst game in the five years that he’s been on staff. When they play in February, I’m not going to rule anything out.
Overall, I’d say Minnesota is starting to see more from its three freshmen that are getting regular shifts every game: Cara Piazza, Kelly Pannek, and Sydney Baldwin. They seem more comfortable just reacting to what is in front of them, rather than having to think about what is expected. Hannah Brandt and Dani Cameranesi have carried much of the offensive load, and now Maryanne Menefee has joined them the last couple of weeks and it has the makings of a strong top line. North Dakota is mostly a work in progress as it makes wholesale changes. UND and junior forward Becca Kohler will be the topic of this week’s column. What are your thoughts on the North Dakota at Minnesota series?
Candace: Well, I’m looking at Minnesota as the top squad in the country, and it’s not just because of how they beat North Dakota so convincingly on Saturday; I’m looking at it as back-to-back weekends. Two weeks ago in Madison, the Gophers won handily on the first night and then figured out a way to eek out a win Saturday, coming from behind in the last minute and winning in OT. This weekend, the first game was close, but the second the Gophers won running away. What I am seeing is that even an opposing squad’s best effort isn’t enough to beat Minnesota, and that it will take not only a supreme effort, but a little puck luck, to come out on top. I think that’s all the more impressive because the Gophers thought they would have Amanda Kessel back, only to see her sit out the year with an injury.
Brandt currently leads the country in scoring with 18 points, and she and Carpenter are both averaging over two points a game. Cameranesi has really stepped up in her sophomore year, and at her current pace would nearly double her production from her freshman campaign. Minnesota is also strong in net with Amanda Leveille, who has a 1.25 goals-against and a .951 save percentage.
Let’s turn our attention to Pennsylvania, where Robert Morris woke up to beat and tie Northeastern. I think that series took both of us by surprise, as I thought the Huskies were likely to win both. Robert Morris was still without the services of Brittany Howard, who has been down with an injury; there is no timetable for her return yet. Senior Rebecca Vint didn’t show up on the score sheet, but she was in the line-up against Northeastern, and I think her leadership really helped. It will be needed this weekend, as the Colonials face Mercyhurst in Erie. The Colonials have done well against their CHA rival in the past few seasons. Do you think the Colonials have woken up in time for that trend to continue?
Arlan: I wouldn’t say that RMU is now awake, because I never thought that they were asleep to start with. Over the last month or so of last season and the first four weeks this year, the Colonials just didn’t play good enough hockey to win on a regular basis. I’m not close enough to say exactly why that is, and perhaps even those with the program would have trouble pinpointing the problem or problems. We certainly can’t get too far in any discussion of winning or losing in hockey without talking about goaltending. Jessica Dodds was unbeatable during much of her rookie campaign. Her play fell back down to earth, and her team sputtered. Through 10 games, we’ve seen good and bad results for both Dodds and senior Courtney Vinet. Why is that? Maybe the goalie is a little off on a particular day, or her team breaks down in front of her early and her confidence takes a beating, or the bounces have been largely unkind. I have no definitive answer. Everybody at this level can play hockey, so when they take the ice against opponents that also have skill, it can wind up being a mental challenge of deciding that you’re going to find a way to win no matter how the puck bounces. When both teams think that way, something has to give, and this weekend Northeastern fell behind by multiple goals each day and was able to salvage only one tie out of two comeback efforts.
Despite the growing pains, there is no reason that the Colonials can’t have success in the CHA. When they are playing well, there aren’t any opponents that exist in a different stratosphere. They had a better result versus Northeastern than Mercyhurst did a week before, and Syracuse has been tying middling teams and getting pummeled by better ones. RIT is intriguing and has been the most consistent defensively, but the Tigers haven’t exactly been facing the who’s who of hockey powers. So yes, if the goalies can put a string of good games together, a blue line that is young on experience if not years in school can solidify, and Vint, Howard, and the other forwards can get their bodies and games healthy, RMU can have success against the Lakers and all the rest. But I think it is always going to be a thin line between triumph and disaster.
We’ve seen that with Boston University in past seasons and again this weekend. Both Marie-Philip Poulin and goalie Victoria Hanson contributed to Friday’s 3-0 win at Maine, but weren’t available when the Terriers fell on Saturday. Am I wrong, or do BU’s results swing on the availability of one or two players, Poulin in particular, more than most teams?
Candace: It certainly seems to be the case, doesn’t it? Last year, Minnesota, having been undefeated the previous year, lost their top scorer and Patty Kazmaier Award winner Kessel to the Olympic team, but Minnesota was one off period away from winning a third-consecutive NCAA Championship, in part because other players, like Brandt, elevated their games. That was also impressive because the Gophers lost Noora Räty to graduation. The Olympics took Carpenter from Boston College, but with Skarupa stepping up her level, the Eagles did win the Hockey East regular season tournament. They ended on a sour note, losing to the Terriers in the final of the Hockey East tournament and to Clarkson in the NCAAs, but they overall had a good year.
With Poulin playing for Canada in the Olympics last year (and breaking the hearts of U.S. hockey fans once again), Boston University struggled at times. In January, the Terriers lost five of six games at one point, and also lost both games in the Beanpot. Until the Hockey East tournament, the Terriers were struggling to find bright spots, though Sarah Lefort was definitely that for them. The Terriers were one loss from finishing fourth in Hockey East last year, instead of second.
The Terriers had looked good this year, aside from losing badly to Minnesota on opening weekend, but the Maine loss does seem to indicate that the Terriers might lean on Poulin a little too much, and if she goes out, it might take a while for others to really step up for them. Lefort actually leads the team in scoring, but I think Poulin not only gives BU scoring punch, she elevates her entire team.
Of course, the Maine loss could say something about the Black Bears as well. Maine opened the year by defeating New Hampshire and Robert Morris, and also has a tie against Mercyhurst to go with a one-goal loss to the Lakers. Maine is currently 3-5-1, and all five losses are shutouts. Like Penn State, it seems as though if the Black Bears score, they get points. Do you expect Maine to build on this weekend, especially with suddenly vulnerable Connecticut and Northeastern on tap this coming weekend?
Arlan: Last year, I was thinking of Kayla Tutino as the player whose injury seemed to cause BU to slump, although we definitely saw it three years ago when Poulin was injured for long stretches.
As for Maine, it seems to have some problems, but effort isn’t one. The only time I’ve seen the Black Bears this year was versus Quinnipiac, and they were at a speed disadvantage. That stopped most of their offensive thrusts before they could ever really take shape. Not many teams are as stout defensively as Quinnipiac, but it does suggest that speed could present a problem, and Northeastern is typically fast, although I haven’t seen this year’s edition. Maine isn’t really built to play from behind. Three times this year it has come back from a single goal, but more of a hill would likely be too steep. Coming into Saturday, it was averaging less than a goal per game, so a three-goal third period and back-to-back goals within a minute versus the Terriers would count as an explosion. Is that a sign of things to come? Maybe, but I’m inclined to believe that it will prove to be a rarity, and Maine’s best chance to win is to frustrate opponents by keeping a game scoreless and capitalizing on any mistakes that result. Both Huskies squads may be fragile enough at present that it won’t take as much to throw them out of whack. Northeastern, in particular, will probably be without Kendall Coyne and Paige Savage on Saturday due to the upcoming Four Nations Cup tournament. That should level the ice to an extent.
A number of teams are going to have to find ways to survive over the next couple of weekends without stars. Teams have tried to schedule a bye to mitigate the impact, but the United States is apparently following the Canadian operating procedure and requiring its college players to report earlier than in past years. This weekend, that means that a team like Wisconsin will be without Canadians Blayre Turnbull and Emily Clark and American Annie Pankowski as it faces a UND squad that will miss Halli Krzyzaniak. Just about all of the top teams are impacted to an extent. Erin Ambrose likely misses Clarkson’s game with Yale. Cornell won’t have Jillian Saulnier when it faces a Quinnipiac team missing Shiann Darkangelo, and presumably, Erica Uden Johansson. No Brandt, Cameranesi, and Lee Stecklein for Minnesota against Bemidji State on Saturday. BC has to play without five players: Carpenter, Skarupa, Trivigno, Pfalzer, and Megan Keller, for several games. That impact is mitigated in that its opponents include Northeastern and Vermont, which is minus Amanda Pelkey. Harvard waits this long to play and then loses Michelle Picard, although the Crimson are a deep team and will still be heavy favorites against Union. New Hampshire will be missing goalie Vilma Vaattovaara when it plays Boston University Sunday and Vermont the following Saturday, and Minnesota-Duluth will be missing Tea Villilä, Linnea Hedin, and Michelle Löwenheim when facing a Minnesota State team for a pair this weekend that will be without Elin Johansson.
Do you think we’ll be able to remember all that, much less sort it out, come February when trying to analyze why teams performed the way they did in November?
Candace: Well, it probably depends. These next two weeks will really be a good test of that depth thing that we were talking about earlier. Boston College, for instance, still has Field, Leary, Anastos, Bender, Capizzano, and Kent. Minnesota still has McMillen, Rachael Bona, Meghan Lorence, Rachel Ramsey, Menefee, and Leveille. Wisconsin still has Karley Sylvester, Brittany Ammerman, and Sydney McKibbon. Quinnipiac still has Taylar Cianfarano up front and Chelsea Laden in goal. Boston University still has Lefort.
In looking at the schedules, most teams seem to have avoided playing during Four Nations, except for the Hockey East squads. After Saturday, Wisconsin isn’t in action again until Nov. 13, while Minnesota, North Dakota, Cornell, Quinnipiac, and Harvard resume play on Nov. 14. Meanwhile, Boston University will face a stout test on Nov. 8 when, with Poulin either playing for Canada or still injured, the Terriers have to face Yale and Phoebe Staenz, and Boston College, as mentioned earlier, faces Northeastern and Vermont. BU also faces Northeastern on Nov. 11. It’s interesting that the Hockey East squads play on.
As far as puzzling results, you’re really only looking at one game for most of these teams, and they should be able to overcome it. Teams have to be more than one player, or they won’t have success in the long run. That’s why Yale, for instance, has to be happy that it’s getting production from Stephanie Mock, Taylor Marchin, Krista Yip-Chuck, Eden Murray, and Janelle Ferrara. If the Bulldogs were built only on Staenz, as they seemed to be at times last season, they’d be much more vulnerable if Staenz got hurt. In that sense though, playing on the weekend of the Four Nations should help teams like Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern, and Vermont come the playoffs, and, if they get that far, the NCAAs.
Moving on, let’s talk about Yale. Yes, Providence and Sacred Heart aren’t exactly the stoutest test, but the Bulldogs are off to a good start. We’ll know more about the Bulldogs next weekend after they host travel pair St. Lawrence and Clarkson. Do you see the Bulldogs moving up the ECAC ladder?
Arlan: I do. Yale was a seventh-place team last year. Every rung up the ladder is earned at someone’s expense, so for Yale to move up, at least one team has to drop. The Bulldogs should be fairly safe from pursuit from behind. None of the four teams that missed the playoffs is above .500 so far. Eighth-place Dartmouth is, but that is just after one game. Princeton looks to be within range. The Tigers were four points better last time, so a two-game improvement by Yale could be enough. Before the season, I thought that St. Lawrence may also be at risk from a Yale surge, but the Saints are looking pretty strong. Quinnipiac looks more likely to move up than down. Cornell and Clarkson have had their wobbles, but they finished 14 and 17 points ahead, respectively, so that’s a big gap to close.
I still think Harvard wins the league. So, if Yale finishes higher than sixth in the ECAC, I think it’ll have to be due to either some team near the top really falling off the map in a way we don’t anticipate, or the Bulldogs making a jump similar to what Cornell did in 2009-10. To do anything close to that, Yale will have to stay healthy, and that’s been an issue in previous seasons. Senior Jackie Raines is the career leader in points on the current roster, and she averaged over a point a game last year, but played in only 15 contests. Raines played Friday but not Saturday, so hopefully, she isn’t sidelined for any length of time. Yale may be better positioned to survive an injury or two now. Joakim Flygh said this may be the best incoming class he has had at Yale, and I thought both his current sophomore and junior classes were quite strong. If nothing else, the Bulldogs can say they have the best record in the country at present.
There are some other teams with winning records that we haven’t discussed all that much. One is Vermont. Initially, the loss at Bemidji looked like a bad loss, but given Wisconsin had a tough time putting away the Beavers this weekend, maybe it deserves a second look. The Catamounts’ only other loss is to RIT, but Mercyhurst can attest that it can be tough to score on Ali Binnington. Vermont also has a win over the Tigers and a victory at North Dakota. Sophomore Madison Litchfield is handling her duties in net fine with a .932 save percentage, and Molly Depew made her debut this weekend by blanking Union. The roster looks to have the makings of at least a couple of lines that can score and some young talent on the blue line.
Ohio State didn’t get much accomplished in Madison, but then, few teams do. Those are its only losses, and it is tough to gauge the value of home sweeps of New Hampshire and Bemidji State. The Buckeyes are going predominantly with rookie Kassidy Sauve in net, and as she gets more comfortable, there could be some upside later in the year. Twins Sara and Kari Schmitt, although not widely known outside of the league, may lead their team to some great things in their senior season on the blue line.
Any thoughts on the Catamounts, Buckeyes, or other teams that we may have overlooked?
Candace: Vermont has just been a little inconsistent, but maybe the Catamounts can use this past weekend against Union as something to build on. Ohio State is sort of similar to Vermont, in that I see the Buckeyes as a four or five team in their conference that can potentially trouble the squads above them, but is probably a little lacking in the depth needed to do so on a consistent basis. Ohio State hosts St. Cloud this weekend, and then travels to Minnesota State, and I would think is well positioned to win all four of those games. I think we should hold off on evaluating the Buckeyes until perhaps Nov. 16 or Nov. 23, as Ohio State faces Mercyhurst on Nov. 11, then hosts Minnesota for a pair, then travels to North Dakota for a pair. Given UND’s inconsistencies, a split between Ohio State and North Dakota could tell us a lot about where the Buckeyes might finish.
Vermont looked good with its opening win against North Dakota. As you said, the Bemidji loss may not be as bad in retrospect. The tie with Rensselaer is really their only inexplicable result, especially since it was at home. I’ll be interested to see how Vermont does against Boston College on Nov. 9, as well as at Syracuse the following weekend in a pair.
RIT has also played well initially. The Tigers strange result was the loss to New Hampshire. They start CHA play this weekend against Lindenwood, then travel to Princeton for a pair the following weekend. That series could become important. RIT’s series against North Dakota in December could really help the Tigers in the PairWise if they at least split, but they can’t afford to falter against Princeton, Penn State, or Rensselaer before that, and ideally should get at least a split against Mercyhurst their series in three weeks.