Candace: Aside from the current top two teams in the poll, everybody had some struggles this weekend. Clarkson lost to Colgate, but beat Cornell, which beat St. Lawrence, which beat Colgate. Meanwhile, Wisconsin earned its first road sweep of Minnesota in a decade and Boston College’s Daryl Watts and Caitrin Lonergan continued their torrid offensive output.
I think the real story of the weekend though happened with a pair of Hockey East teams, as Providence swept Northeastern, in the process beating the Huskies for the first time since Nov. 15, 2014. Providence won two very different games, earning a close 2-1 victory at home Saturday and then running up the score Sunday and holding off a late Huskies rally in a 6-4 win.
Arlan, you have been on the record as saying you never really saw Northeastern as a challenger for Boston College’s continued Hockey East dominance this season, and that is certainly shaping up to be the case.
What can we take from this weekend? Boston University continues to struggle, going 1-5-1 so far, and Northeastern is a middling .500 team, while New Hampshire currently sits atop Hockey East, in part because the Wildcats have played two more games than BC, and Providence is 6-2-2 overall and undefeated in Hockey East. Can the Friars keep it up and win the race for home ice? Does this weekend signal a power shift in Hockey East away from Boston, excepting the Eagles?
Arlan: I could argue either side of these questions, as long as we conclude by saying that HEA is still BC and everyone else. Northeastern’s losses are mounting, but they have been losing to quality teams, and the Huskies have been competitive in those games and aren’t far from being in the mix. Providence looks ready to climb to heights that it hasn’t occupied in quite a while. I watched the Friars a bit this weekend and was impressed, but they can’t take one penalty after another as they did while trying to close out Sunday’s game and have long-term success. BU’s record is heading in the wrong direction, but the Terriers outshot BC in losing. Even more hopeful is that in the tie with UNH, freshman Corinne Schroeder gave BU the type of strong goaltending that has so often been lacking in recent years.
Add in Connecticut, Maine, Merrimack, and Vermont, and it seems like most of Hockey East can be good or bad depending on whether they are on their toes or back on their heels, or whose goalie looks like a wall versus a funnel. I’ve not seen either UConn nor UNH this year, and the Wildcats are intriguing.
For years, UNH has had one goaltender after another that would be steady for a few games and make one think that she could be the answer in net, and then her play would tail off. She might find herself on the end of the bench until other options went through a similar rise and fall, and as many as four goalies might get minutes. Now the Wildcats are getting more than solid play from freshman Ava Boutilier, about whom I know little other than that she stops 93.5 percent of the shots she faces and allows under two goals a game. If UNH, or some other team, suddenly discovers the next Genevieve Lacasse, then the balance of power truly will shift and there will be some separation in that BC-trailing pack. UNH also has a new look up front. Jonna Curtis bore the standard for the offense through her career, and in the early going, sophomore Meghara McManus is shaping up to be her successor, leading the attack with 11 points through eight games. I’m hoping to watch the Wildcats sooner rather than later and put some players to the names.
While Boston College continued its roll this weekend, there was news that could impact the Eagles later this season. Team USA has added standout freshman defenseman Cayla Barnes to its roster. Barnes is the third member of Katie Crowley’s blue line plucked by the national team, and as much as the BC staff is happy for Barnes, they’re trying to win an NCAA title. That’s hard to do under any circumstances, but if you’re missing the top half of your defensive core, that will be felt at some point. Against Maine, the Eagles solved the problem by increased pressure from its forwards, and I assume that Katie Burt took up the slack versus BU. Do you think at some point BC will run into an opponent that will be able to exploit the absences on defense?
Candace: Sure. All you have to do is look to two years ago, when the Eagles started the season 40-0 before falling in the national championship game to Minnesota. Right now, BC has the top two scorers in the country in Watts and Lonergan. The offense is producing 4.14 goals per game. The 2015-16 Eagles were led by Alex Carpenter and Hayley Skarupa, who were first and third in the country in scoring, and the offense overall averaged 5.2 goals per game, while the defense was much stronger, with the team only giving up 1.24 goal per game and Katie Burt sporting a 1.23 goals-against and .943 save percentage, compared to her current .925 save percentage and 2.12 GAA.
That BC team, interestingly enough, also started its season with a sweep of Minnesota Duluth, just like this year’s team. Throughout the first half of that year, the goals came in bunches, with BC being held to less than four goals only once going into the break. In the second half, it was mostly more of the same, though Merrimack and Harvard each held BC to two goals, the only time all season BC scored less than three goals until the Minnesota game. The Gophers could match BC offensively with Amanda Kessel and Hannah Brandt, and were arguably deeper with Sarah Potomak, Kelly Pannek, and the team’s leading scorer that year, Dani Cameranesi. I sometimes wonder how that national championship game would have gone if Minnesota hadn’t scored just 13 seconds into the game; that score seemed to make BC tight, and the Eagles never quite recovered.
Generally, defenses get better as the season progresses, and goals are harder to come by. There are goalies and defenses that can stand up to the likes of BC’s relentless assault, and are deep enough that they can stay with the fast skaters of the Eagles until the third period comes and they perhaps lose a step. Shea Tiley of defending national champ Clarkson is one such goalie, and Ohio State’s Kassidy Sauve is always steady. Freshman Liz Auby is also off to a great start for Colgate.
Ultimately, unless BC gets challenged more by teams in conference, it might hurt them down the stretch, just like it did a couple of years ago. It is interesting to me though that BC, not always regarded as the best team defensively, has four defenseman on the U.S. Olympic roster when you count Emily Pfalzer, who graduated in 2015. Minnesota, by contrast, only has three representatives, while New Hampshire and North Dakota each have one. Strange that there are no Wisconsin players.
It’s interesting to me looking at offense after one month, because the WCHA only has two skaters in the top 10 in points, and only one of those is from the traditional powers Wisconsin and Minnesota, Badgers forward Presley Norby. Emma Maltais is off to a great start at Ohio State and is 10th, and you wonder if she can keep scoring at that clip. Minnesota lacking a potent scorer was a problem again for the Gophers this weekend, and perhaps one reason they got swept at home by Wisconsin, the first time in a decade that’s happened. You were at those games; what did you see? Has Minnesota at least broken out of its early-season funk? Is former North Dakota goalie Kristen Campbell really all that and a bag of chips for the Badgers, or is the generally stifling Wisconsin defense a big part of it?
Arlan: Bring your own bag of chips, although the Wisconsin defense likely won’t allow you the time nor the space to eat them. I can’t conclude a lot about Campbell, because she wasn’t tested all that much. The Gophers went long stretches, particularly on Sunday, without even an attempted shot. There have been UW goalies over the years whose primary responsibility was handling dump-ins, and their numbers looked a lot like those of an All-American. I don’t think Campbell is destined for national team appearances and individual recognition like Jessie Vetter, Alex Rigsby, or Ann-Renée Desbiens, but I don’t have evidence to support that. About the only thing to consider is that the Badgers have allowed seven power-play goals so far, after surrendering only 12 all of last season, so the rate has roughly doubled. Obviously, that’s not all on Campbell.
After watching Clarkson’s first period against Colgate on Friday, I was convinced that the Golden Knights are the best team in the country. Then I saw Wisconsin’s first period Saturday versus Minnesota, and the Badgers looked like the No. 1 squad. Neither team was able to maintain that level throughout its game, so when the smoke cleared, Wisconsin’s record decided the issue. Comparing records isn’t exactly apples to apples, because I do think that Clarkson has faced tougher opposition than teams like Wisconsin and BC, but it will have to suffice for now. So I have the Golden Knights ranked below the other two, but I promised myself that I wouldn’t underestimate the defending champs as I’ve so often been guilty of doing with Clarkson.
The strength of recent Wisconsin teams has been up front and in goal, so that’s where you’ll find its Olympic representatives. I’m a little surprised that someone like Kelsey Koelzer with more college experience wouldn’t get the call, but I don’t pretend to know what Team USA needed to accomplish or whether they think Barnes is ready to defend against the likes of Meghan Agosta, Marie-Philip Poulin, and Natalie Spooner.
I wouldn’t describe Minnesota as being in a funk. This is just where the Gophers are right now. In net, they’ve primarily gone with senior Sidney Peters, who was inconsistent in her one prior year as the starter. She’s mostly done all right this year, but her level hasn’t been enough to save her team from its porous transition defense.
On defense, senior captain Sydney Baldwin is the only holdover from the championship teams. She has her strengths, but she’s not a shutdown defender who minimizes mistakes. As such, it is often hard to tell her from the four underclassmen with whom she shares the position. Collectively, the group has talent, but the lessons continue to be learned in a painful manner.
Offensively, three players average a point a game, and only one is a forward, senior Caitlin Reilly. She’s given the team everything they could reasonably expect, and junior Sophie Skarzynski has as well after making her annual transition from defense to forward. The top career scorer is Cara Piazza, and she’s not really the natural scorer that typically anchors a top line.
Wisconsin was dealt similar losses by graduation and centralization as Minnesota, but the Badgers were deeper offensively and better able to withstand the losses. They have more playmakers and scorers, from smaller speedsters like senior captain Baylee Wellhausen and sophomores Presley Norby and Alexis Mauermann to power forwards like Abby Roque and Sam Cogan, plus former Buckeye Claudia Kepler. I think it remains to be seen whether the Badgers are the best team in the country, or just the dominant team in a depleted league.
From what I’ve been able to see, the ECAC has the most national contenders of any of the circuits. What to you make of its wild opening weekend of play, that left Union with the only perfect record in conference?
Candace: I think that the obvious answer is the ECAC is the deepest conference in the country right now. That is all the more obvious with the loss of the storied North Dakota program in the WCHA, a victim of budget shortfalls that were never really explainable. The ECAC currently has what I would consider five potential NCAA tournament teams, and a sixth that I’ll take a flyer on based on its opening round of play. I put Clarkson ahead of everybody. They can’t always win, but the Golden Knights will beat the teams they should, and more often than not will win against tight teams. That’s the easy takeaway from their first loss of the year, which still had to go to OT against a tough Colgate team, and the Raiders needed a power-play goal in the third to tie it and a power-play goal in OT to win it. In fact, three of Colgate’s goals came on power plays, so if the Golden Knights tighten up their PK a little, they’ll be even harder to beat. Their rout of Cornell the next night showed how strong they are, and also possibly makes me rethink Cornell as a team that could have NCAA aspirations, but the Big Red did beat St. Lawrence in their opener, so we’ll say they have the potential.
When you look at the ECAC, you’ve got Clarkson, Colgate, Cornell, and St. Lawrence as the obvious teams to consider potential NCAA tournament teams. Colgate is young and had a good season last year, even if the Raiders faded down the stretch. The Saints made the NCAA tournament last year, losing to BC, and while they have started inconsistently, I think there’s enough talent that they will contend. Cornell was a win against Clarkson in the ECAC tournament last year away from making the NCAA tournament, so it’s still possible for them to be there. And then you have Princeton, which made the NCAA tournament two years ago and was a couple of poor losses away from PairWise contention last year.
I still don’t know what to make of Harvard, but they at least split their opening weekend, although the loss to a Quinnipiac team that lost to Dartmouth the night before says this year may be more like last for the Crimson than three years ago, when they made the NCAA championship before losing to Minnesota.
It’s still early, but right now I think there are 11 teams in the ECAC that are at least vying for the ECAC tournament; the only team I’d rule out based on early results is Brown, which seems to not have enough of a defense to challenge. Regardless, it would appear the ECAC teams are in for interesting times this Olympic season.
Of course, it does seem there is that stratification in the other conferences. As you say, HEA appears to be BC and everyone else, and the WCHA, at least right now, is Wisconsin and Minnesota, plus everyone else. Ohio State looks good early, so they are probably in that conversation, but I’m not completely sold on the young Buckeyes yet. This past weekend in the WCHA also saw splits between Minnesota State and St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth and Bemidji State. It would seem that those four teams will be battling all year as well. What’s your take on the WCHA?
Arlan: You mentioned Clarkson needing to shore up its penalty kill, but that unit has actually done the job 88 percent of the time. The bigger problem is that the Knights are averaging almost 12 minutes of penalties a game. One way to not surrender power-play goals is to not be on the kill 20 percent of the time. Surprisingly, BC is near the top in penalty minutes as well, but I think it is harder to stay out of the penalty box in Hockey East; from what I’ve seen, those referees like to blow the whistle.
I’d rank the WCHA differently than you. Wisconsin is a clear favorite, and I’d say Ohio State is the only team with a realistic shot at knocking the Badgers out of the top spot. Everyone else already has too many losses to threaten UW. Without UND and having four fewer conference games this year, the odds get stacked against a slow-starting team much more quickly.
I wouldn’t call the Buckeyes young; maybe in an ordinary year, but not this one. Everybody who is contending for home ice in the league quarterfinals is young by that definition. This season, youth isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Of the 21 players who have 7 points or more, 12 are underclassmen. Maltais is scoring at the highest rate of anyone in the WCHA, and OSU has the top goaltender in Sauve. Its blue line is at least the equal of any in the league, so I don’t see them fading as they have in the past when getting off to a fast start.
I would put the Gophers third, but closer to Minnesota-Duluth and Bemidji State in fourth and fifth than they are to the two leaders. St. Cloud State and Minnesota State definitely have opportunity to climb this year, but I’m not sure either has the roster to do so. If nothing else, they can hope to spring an upset and advance to the semifinals.
Who makes the NCAA field from the WCHA? Wisconsin for sure. Ohio State is likely; I’d put the Buckeyes at about a 75 percent chance of advancing for the first time. I’d say that Minnesota is more likely to see its run of 10 straight national tournaments come to an end than it is to extend that string. The Gophers are tied for 13th in the early PairWise Rankings, and they have only four schedule games left with teams in the top 16. Those are road games at Wisconsin and Ohio State, the teams ranking first and second. I’ll give them a 30-percent chance, and even that sounds generous. They’ll add nine players next year when they can look to start a new NCAA streak.
In many years, we could list who we think will wind up as the top 10 in the Patty Kazmaier voting before the season starts and be right on at least seven of our choices. This year, I’d have been lucky to get four right. I’d say the only strong contender in the WCHA is Sauve. Brittany Howard is the best bet from the CHA, and I’d say she and Sauve have a decent shot at the top three.
Howard’s Kazmaier case would be strengthened if Robert Morris has another winning season. The Colonials had a puzzling split at Maine, and this weekend at Penn State needed rallies to salvage a couple of ties. What do we learn from those games? Is RMU less formidable this season, or is Jeff Kampersal’s presence changing the landscape in the CHA?
Candace: Dangit, that was the question I wanted to ask you first! Robert Morris has really been puzzling early season. I thought the Colonials would build off last year’s NCAA tournament appearance, but I think what we’ve learned instead is how much they miss Jessica Dodds in net. So far, Howard is having a great year, with 15 points in eight games, and Jaycee Gebhard and Amber Rennie are also contributing well. The scoring from the forwards falls off pretty dramatically after those three; the Colonials’ next three highest scorers are defenseman. I think that is one thing that is making them vulnerable. So far, Elijah Milne-Price is seeing most of the minutes, and she hasn’t taken a loss yet and her stats are actually pretty solid, with a .947 save percentage and 1.16 goals against. Milne-Price is a senior, but she’s for all intents and purposes a rookie; prior to this season, she’d played in four games total in her previous three years.
Milne-Price’s stats may be inflated thanks to the two games against Brown, which struggles to score, though she did hold the potentially explosive Maine Black Bears to a single goal in the Colonials’ 2-1 win. Junior Lauren Bailey was in net when Maine beat Robert Morris 5-2. However, Milne-Price also gave up three and two goals respectively to Penn State, which prior to this weekend hadn’t had two consecutive games with multiple goals all season long. Admittedly, Penn State has played a tough schedule, with losses to Minnesota Duluth, Merrimack, and Clarkson, but the Nittany Lions also played Union and could only register a single goal in a 1-1 draw.
Robert Morris is still the favorite in the CHA, though I’m not sure that’s as much about how good they are as how inconsistent the rest of the teams are.
As for Penn State and Kampersal, I’m sure he will turn that program around in time, but for the foreseeable future, he’s working with recruits from his predecessor. Sometimes those players pan out, and they have a huge impact in a coach’s first or second year, such as last season with Minnesota Duluth, where Maura Crowell had seniors like Lara Stalder and Ashleigh Brykaliuk who had outstanding final years; they had been recruited by her predecessor. Sometimes those players don’t pan out. It will take at least four years to see Kampersal’s full impact be felt.
When you mentioned Howard and Sauve as top three contenders for the Kazmaier, I did a bit of a double take. Howard is only sixth in scoring right now, though she is admittedly third in points per game. What’s really interesting is that the top three scorers are two freshmen and a sophomore right now. In fact Howard is the only senior in the top 10 for scoring, and one of only three in the top 20. I guess we can chalk that up in part to it being an Olympic year. It made me curious though, so I looked up a couple of recent superstars’ rookie seasons. Amanda Kessel was only 13th nationally in scoring her freshman year, finishing with 50 points, and wasn’t even the highest-scoring rookie that year; instead, it was Kelly Babstock of Quinnipiac, who had 59 points. The top points producers that season were Meghan Duggan, Meghan Agosta, and Hilary Knight, so that’s understandable. In Kendall Coyne’s rookie season, she only had 45 points, and Alex Carpenter that year only had 40.
It is early, but Daryl Watts of Boston College already has 21 points in just seven games, and Elizabeth Giguere of Clarkson, another rookie and third in scoring, has 18 points in 10 games. Both are on pace to eclipse the rookie campaigns of those storied players above. Would you think a freshman might be able to win the Kazmaier? Certainly if Watts continues to average three points a game, you’d almost have to give it to her.
Arlan: I typically consider points per game far more than total points, just as for goalies, I think save percentage carries more weight than goals-against average. A record-setting season of around 120 points is almost certain to win, even from a freshman, but it would still come down to what kind of season others were having, especially Lonergan. The most recent season approaching that type of production was Natalie Darwitz with 114 points in 2004-05, and she didn’t win the award, which went to Krissy Wendell, who had 10 fewer points. It was a crazy season, with Harvard senior Nicole Corriero scoring 59 goals and not even finishing in the top three.
Over the years, the voters have definitely favored upperclassmen. Agosta had 74 points her first year at Mercyhurst, averaging over two points per game, and lost out to Harvard senior Julie Chu with 66 points, albeit in only 30 games. Agosta played in a weaker league, but she also came into the year with plenty of name recognition, having won the first of her three Olympic gold medals in 2006. Chu had personal experience with the difficulty freshmen face when she wasn’t a finalist in 2003 with 93 points as teammate Jennifer Botterill earned her second Kazmaier via a 112-point season. More recently, Hannah Brandt had 82 points and made the top 10 in 2013 while three of her teammates finished atop the voting.
As great as Watts has been, she has been great for seven games. That isn’t a lot of time to get your name out there. Someone like Loren Gabel has only four fewer points, and she has a resume that includes an NCAA Championship ring after skating on Clarkson’s dynamic top line. Now that Gabel is producing again with new linemates, she will deserve watching.
I agree that Watts has jumped on the sport with both feet and established herself as the frontrunner. But as I write this, it’s still October, and seven games is a limited sample. BC’s next seven games will take us to Thanksgiving and include a series at St. Lawrence, plus a pair with Connecticut, the team that tied the Eagles and held them to two goals. If she stays healthy and the points keep piling up at the same rate, then maybe hers will be a freshman season that the voters will have to reward.
While BC has done a lot of winning in recent years, Union has sometimes struggled to win at all. I remember us speculating when that first win might come in more than one campaign, and as recently as 2015-16, it never did, as the Dutchwomen went winless on the season. So kudos to Union and goaltender Coco Francis. The freshman has made three starts and has yet to come out on the losing end. She held Penn State to a single goal in her debut to earn a tie, and this past weekend, she earned both wins as Union kicked off its season with home wins over Brown and Yale. Good for her and the team. I hope Josh Sciba is able to build on these positives in his second season in charge. Do you see any way that the Dutchwomen could find their way into the ECAC’s postseason for the first time?
Candace: I think the Dutchwomen certainly served notice by beating Yale that they intend to be competitive, and I don’t see why they can’t push for a spot in the ECAC tournament. Beating Brown 6-3 doesn’t really tell me much except that Bears’ defense might be more porous than I thought. As happy as I am to see Union rack up a couple of conference wins, let’s not forget that the Dutchwomen had three goals in their previous five games, which had four losses and a tie. They had scored three goals in their opener against Providence, so multiple-point games are still not a consistent thing for Union.
Union needs to show me a little more before I’m ready to write them into that eighth spot in the ECAC tournament. They have only two conference games in November, a road series against the Quinnipiac/Princeton travel pair, plus games against Merrimack and Maine, which for some reason I don’t see Union winning. In its four prior Hockey East contests, against Providence, Vermont, and Connecticut, the fewest goals the Dutchwomen gave up were five, and they twice gave up a touchdown.
Like you said when discussing Watts, it’s still early, so it’s hard to get too much of a handle on things, especially since the Ivies just started play. I think we can both agree that Clarkson, Colgate, Cornell, Princeton, and St. Lawrence will make the ECAC tournament, which leaves three spots available for Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard, Quinnipiac, Rensselaer, Union, and Yale to fight over. Of those teams, the most consistent so far has been Rensselaer, but there’s still a lot of hockey to play, and a lot of time for the teams to establish themselves. I’d love to see Union in the ECAC tournament, but they might just have to accept the possibility of still being in contention in February.
I mentioned Merrimack, so let’s end by circling back to Hockey East. The Warriors made the Hockey East tournament last season, but the Warriors only have one win since beating Minnesota. Of course, I think the rest of Hockey East is equally confusing. Who do you think might be the odd team out at the end of the season, and who do you think has the best chance to make some inroads in the conference this year? I think we can both agree that Boston University, which currently has the worst record of any Hockey East school, both in conference and out of conference, will eventually rebound, although if you have any insights on the Terriers, please share.
Arlan: I think that I’d have better odds predicting whether or not Watts will win the Kazmaier than I will in saying who finishes ninth. Some of these teams have only played three of their 24 Hockey East games. At this point, I can take most of the teams and spin it either way.
For example, Connecticut doesn’t have a league win and has the fewest points. But looked at more optimistically, the Huskies’ point came by tying Boston College, and they have a .500 record overall. What do the Huskies have in their arsenal? Senior Leah Lum is on pace to reach 100 points for her career, something nobody has done in Storrs since the days of Dominique Thibault and Jaclyn Hawkins. Chris MacKenzie has other veteran scoring threats like Theresa Knutson and Justine Fredette, and the future looks bright with leading scorers Briana Colangelo, who had 25 points as a freshman, and Natalie Snodgrass, the hero of the USA’s U-18 Gold Medal victory a couple years back. Senior Annie Belanger and sophomore Morgan Fisher have combined to stop over 93 percent of the shots fired at them. So while the Huskies are last right now, they don’t have the makeup of a team with no hope that is destined to remain there.
You mentioned the Warriors struggling since opening with wins over Boston University and Minnesota. Mikyla Grant-Mentis scored a goal in the first game in Minneapolis, and I thought why aren’t we talking about this kid all of the time? She’s a dynamic player who is both speedy and slippery. The next day, I barely noticed her at all, and she went eight games without a goal before breaking the drought in her most recent game versus Vermont. It’s hard for kids to stand out on a regular basis at this level. Watts has made it look easy, but those players are few that can step into the college game and shine from day one. The Warriors scored six goals in their first 90 minutes of action this year, but they’ve only added 10 more tallies in nine and a half games since then.
They have difficulty scoring — I could use that phrase to describe a good many teams, and I’m sure I’ve said essentially that a number of times in the years we’ve been writing this column. Boston College does not go into prolonged scoring slumps, and that’s why they’ve reigned supreme in Hockey East for the last few years.
I agree that BU will improve. We generally see the Terriers playing their best hockey by the postseason. However, with each season that passes of late, it seems that their best doesn’t carry them quite as far as it did the year before. They are scoring fewer than three times a game, and we’d have to go back to the prior Olympic year to find a season where they didn’t reach that threshold. This time, the cause is not that they are missing an Olympian, as it was then. A lot of the key cogs on offense graduated, and most of the scoring load now falls on seniors Victoria Bach and Rebecca Leslie.
So with the offense declining, it is paramount that BU figures out its defensive game. The quickest way to do that is to get reliable goaltending, and that’s why the effort of Schroeder at New Hampshire was such a ray of hope. Her .944 save percentage in her fledgling college career compares favorably to the .903 career mark of senior April O’Neil. If a goalie can stop an additional four pucks from every 100 shots, it will save her team around a goal every game. With as close as most games are, that translates into more points in the standings by season’s end.
I realize that I didn’t answer your question regarding which team gets left out of HEA’s postseason. I’ll put some more thought into it, and by March, I should be able to come up with a fairly confident answer.