Hockey East’s number of teams increases to eight with the addition of Merrimack, but the number of slots in the league’s tournament remains at eight, so after three years where everyone made the postseason, one team will be on the sidelines when the playoffs commence.
The venue for the tourney shifts. The site moves from Hyannis, Massachusetts, the home for the past few seasons, to Merrimack.
With the Warriors hosting the semifinals and final, it seems unkind to forecast that they’ll finish ninth and miss out on the postseason altogether, but I don’t know enough about them to place them anywhere else. I’ve been unfair to the rest of women’s hockey for years, so Merrimack has some catching up to do in that regard.
As for ranking the rest of the teams, Boston College looks to be the most clear-cut favorite of any league, particularly since the Eagles last season avoided those puzzling losses to lower-ranked teams that plagued them in the past. Their biggest competition during the regular season should come from last year’s BC team as we attempt to figure out whether or not this year’s edition is an improvement.
Boston University tends to be far less effective earlier in the season, but the Terriers are almost always playing their best hockey when the postseason arrives. BU did fine the year Marie-Philip Poulin was away at the Olympics, and the talent on this team should be deeper.
Northeastern should be BU’s closest pursuer and once again make it three Boston teams in the top three. Maine and Connecticut appear the best of the rest and should battle for home ice.
The other three holdover teams really struggled last year. Providence has experienced a hangover ever since Genevieve Lacasse graduated, and Vermont looked just as lost without Roxanne Douville. New Hampshire’s slump dates back even longer, which at least offers the hope that the Wildcats’ recovery should be imminent.
If Merrimack isn’t successful in terms of wins and losses, their opening weekend offered promise that it will at least be entertaining.
What’s not particularly exciting are my predictions, which look strangely similar to the coaches’ poll and the final standings in Hockey East last season. At least where this league is concerned, any time I’ve tried to be more creative it just blows up. But I did swap Vermont and UNH from how I initially had them in my first draft, because neither looks appreciably ahead of the other at this point, and that at least provides one departure from the coaches and last year’s standings.