It would seem that once again, this is Boston College’s conference to lose. The Eagles have won five straight regular-season titles and return three gold-medal-winning Olympians back to the roster this season. The weak point for the team last season was on the blue line, so these three elite defenders will make an immediate impact.
From there, much of the rest of the standings looks to be up for grabs. Northeastern won the Hockey East tournament last season, but lost quite a bit of offense to graduation. They’re slotted in second for now, but a surge from Maine or Providence is definitely possible. If nothing else, Connecticut’s run to close out the season should prove to the whole conference that anything is possible and everyone has a shot. A lot of teams showed promise last season and will be looking for consistency this season. The aforementioned Huskies, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Boston University have questions to answer and a need to produce on a more consistent basis, but if they can find answers, will be teams to contend with come February and March. Holy Cross joins Hockey East and Division I hockey full-time this season and looks to find maturity and growth from their squad.
Last season: 30-5-3, 19-2-3 (first). Lost to Ohio State in the NCAA quarterfinals.
“I think a year where you lose three kids to the Olympics and make the NCAA tournament, that’s a positive. We have essentially 10 new players on the roster from last year to this year,” said coach Katie Crowley. “We’re getting three players back who are very experienced on the blue line.”
Names to know
Sophomore Daryl Watts is the reigning Patty Kazmaier Award winner, the first-ever freshman to win the award. Cayla Barnes, Kali Flanagan, and Megan Keller won gold with Team USA in Pyeongchang. The biggest issue for BC last season was defense, and now they’ve got the best one in the country. Junior Caitrin Lonergan tied Boston College’s single-season record for assists last season. She was a Patty Kazmaier top-ten finalist and a unanimous first-team all Hockey East selection.
1. Who is taking over in net? Katie Burt was a four-year starter that was as solid as can be. Now there are two incoming freshman and junior Molly Barrow, who has less than 14 minutes of actual game experience. I mean, with that defense in front of the net, there will be a lot leeway for someone to get settled in, but they still need to have a decent goalie to succeed this season.
2. What will it take to win a title? Despite having some of the best on-paper teams in the country the past few years, the Eagles haven’t been able to take the final step. They’ve won Hockey East for the past five years straight, yet they’ve played in just one national title game, losing to Minnesota in 2016. This is one of the most stacked rosters that’s ever existed in women’s college hockey, and expectations are pretty much “national title or bust.” Unfortunately for BC, there are at least three other teams with similarly impressive rosters and résumés with the same end goal in sight. Do the Eagles have what it takes to take that next step?
3. Are the defensive struggles solved? This seems obvious, but I’m also not sure it’s fair to just assume that the return of Flanagan, Keller, and Barnes will fix any and all issues, especially with the big question mark in net. Obviously they are all elite, but it’s about more than just individual talent.
Boston College will win their sixth straight Hockey East title.
Last season: 14-17-6, 8-11-5 (sixth). Lost to Maine in the opening round of the Hockey East tournament.
“Last year was a down year for us, and as we head into the year, there’s definitely some question marks,” said coach Brian Durocher. “Last year, one of the things that held us back is we never, in our head, got confident in close games. That’s our team challenge this year, is to make sure that we’re able to generate some confidence, and the best way to do that is have results.”
Names to know
Sophomore Jesse Compher is the highest returning scorer with 26 points. She was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team. Redshirt junior Sammy Davis was on the Hockey East All-Rookie Team her freshman year. She was injured last season, and the Terriers will be looking for her to take a bigger role this year. Junior Abby Cook had 66 blocks and also 26 points last season.
1. Who starts in net? Corinne Schroeder started 25 games last season, but her 2.51 goals-against average wasn’t great. There are two incoming freshman, so the role might be wide open. Last season, they scored more than three goals per game while giving up 2.70 goals per game. The Terriers could count on stellar scoring to overcome a shaky defense last year, but that’s just not the case now.
2. Who’s stepping up? Victoria Bach was a Patty Kazmaier top-three finalist and averaged more than two points per game last season. She and Rebecca Leslie accounted for 40 percent of the team’s scoring last season. More than half the squad is underclassmen, so the Terriers need younger players to take on big roles.
3. How can they be better on the PK? This was a question last season, as well. BU continues to be very good on the power play, but struggles on the penalty kill. With questions in goal, they have to get better on the blue line and giving their goalie a chance.
I’ve got Boston University sixth.
Last season: 16-14-9, 7-11-6 (seventh). Lost to Northeastern in the final of the Hockey East tournament.
“We’ve seen a lot of the good and bad out there. First half, we were playing well, just maybe not getting the wins and in the second half we turned things around and getting those one-goal games to go our way,” said coach Chris McKenzie. “I don’t think (last season’s run) is how anyone wants to draw it up, but I was adamant that I really liked the work ethic of our team and dedication and how they approached the games. We would out-shoot teams, more often than not. We were in a lot of games but we would have a lead and find a way to tie it, so it was kind of a let down. The team never stopped believing in each other. … It was a memorable time for our program and brought a lot of attention to our program.”
Names to know
Sophomore Natalie Snodgrass was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie team. She led the team with 21 goals and 38 points. Junior Briana Colangelo was third on the team in scoring and led with 17 assists. Shavonne Leacy is a 5-foot-11 forward that missed last season due to injury but could be a nice addition to the offense.
1. Can they replicate last year’s late-season magic? The Huskies went on an incredible run late in the season, winning nine of their final 13, including six over ranked opponents, qualifying for the Hockey East tournament in the final game and then losing the Hockey East tournament championship by a single goal. Coach McKenzie joked he’s already bald, so it didn’t matter, but he doesn’t recommend waiting to qualify until that late in the season.
2. Who’s in net? The Huskies are another team without a lot of experience in goal. Junior Morgan Fisher played in nine games last season, and the other two options are rookies. For Connecticut to keep the momentum going, they have to find a strong starter in net quickly.
3. Can they be better in close games? They played 19 games that ended in a tie or were decided by a single goal and were 4-6-9 in those games. They showed they can be better, now they need to put it in action.
I think Connecticut finishes fifth.
Last season: 16-9-3. This is Holy Cross’ first season playing a full Division I schedule and first season in Hockey East.
“It’s quite a challenge, as you might expect. We’re working on getting ready. Right now, we’re focusing on what we do and what we want to do and working on getting that set, on getting them ready and upgrading the speed of operation in our practices,” said coach Peter Van Buskirk “The challenge this year is the consistency, game in and game out. To have that consistent success, it’s going to take us a few years to add some layers.”
Names to know
Senior Maeve Reilly is the top returning scorer. She had eight goals and 21 assists for 29 points last season. Senior Julie Matthias will serve as one of the captains. She was second on the team with 11 goals and 15 assists for 26 points. Junior Rachel Moore is a transfer from Boston College who adds Hockey East experience to the roster.
1. What will constitute growth? Holy Cross added a few Division I teams to their roster last season and tallied a win over Harvard and a tie against RIT. It’s likely it’ll be a tough transition season, so they have to find confidence and momentum in something other than the scoreboard.
2. How quickly can they acclimate? They played the same small handful of D-II teams last season, so the expanded travel area and tougher schedule is going to be a bit of a shock to the system. Merrimack managed to make the Hockey East playoffs in just their second season in the league, so there’s precedent for a quick entry and finding success early on for them to follow.
3. Who’s going to be in net? Sophomore Julia Pelletier and junior Marcia LaPlante split time in net last year, and now they’ve added rookies Sarah Street and Jada Brenon. It would seem the starter spot is wide open, and there’s opportunity for someone to step up and impress.
It’s going to be a rough season and I expect Holy Cross to finish 10th.
Last season: 19-14-5, 11-9-4 (third). Lost to Northeastern in the semifinal of the Hockey East Tournament.
“What’s different for us is that last year we were an underdog. (This year, we’re) coming in and understanding that people we’re playing against are probably going to be looking at us differently and we’re preparing for that,” said coach Richard Reichenbach. “For the first time in a long time, we have a really good experienced group. They’ve been playing in key roles since they were freshman and sophomores, and they can lead and guide our underclassmen how to do the same.”
Names to know
Junior Tereza Vanišová followed up her rookie season where she was the co-Hockey East Rookie of the Year by nearly doubling her point output. Her 16 goals and 30 assists led the team. Junior Carly Jackson started the bulk of the games for the Black Bears and ended the season with a 1.95 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. Senior Alyson Matteau led the team with 79 blocks. She tallied 15 points and was second-team All-Hockey East.
1. Can they build off last season? They won the program’s first-ever playoff series, and Reichenbach was named coach of the year in Hockey East. They have just six freshmen, three of whom come from Europe and have international playing experience. They won’t be catching anyone by surprise, and how they handle the increased attention will have an impact on their season.
2. Can they finish strong? Maine finishes the regular season with two games at home against Providence, two games at Boston College, and a game at home against Vermont. It seems likely that every conference point is going to matter this year, so those games will all be incredibly crucial. Last season, they were 1-6-2 over the final nine games, so they have to improve that part of their game.
3. Can they pass Northeastern? They lost to the Huskies in the Hockey East tournament, and Northeastern is the team likely to finish ahead of them in second place. With the growth the Black Bears have shown, moving up into that second spot has to be on the radar and one of the big goals for the season. At the moment, there seems to be a gap between the two, most notably in net, but moving up is certainly something Maine can do with this roster.
I’ve got Maine in third, though think they have to worry about Providence just behind them.
Last season: 11-20-3, 6-16-2 (ninth). Did not qualify for the Hockey East tournament.
“I thought that we competed hard and had opportunities to put ourselves in a better position in the end, I think we’re taking some of those positives with us into the upcoming year,” said coach Erin Hamlen. “Last year, a third of our games were within a goal or two goals, and we were up on teams and gave away a lead. We were in a position where we could have been a playoff team.”
Names to know
Katelyn Rae set a program record with 30 points last season. She led the team in all offensive categories. She was one of just six Hockey East players to average more than a point per conference game. Mikayla Grant-Mentis was second on the team with 23 points. Felila Manu led the team with 64 blocks.
1. Will experience make a difference? The Warriors did not lose any players to graduation this off season. There should be a wealth of maturity and experience on this squad, which has moved from “new kid on the black” with the addition of Holy Cross.
2. Can they do better in close games? 22 of their games were decided by two goals or fewer, and they were 9-10-3 in those games. In order to continue to climb the standings, they have to find a way to pull out more of those wins and not give up late leads.
3. What’s the legacy of Merrimack’s “first” class? There are 11 seniors on the roster this year. The Warriors made the conference tournament two seasons ago, but failed to return last season. This group wants to have a lasting impact, and how the Warriors do this season will help define them.
With everyone else in the conference showing signs of promise, it’s difficult to pick Merrimack higher than ninth.
Last season: 14-15-7, 9-10-5 (fifth). Lost to Northeastern in the opening round of the Hockey East tournament.
“We’re hoping to build off successes last year,” said coach Hilary Witt. “We started off hot and cooled off and had ups and downs, ebbs and flows, so our goal is to be a little bit more consistent this year.”
Names to know
Freshman Tori Palumbo will be playing both field and ice hockey at UNH and will join this ice hockey squad when the field hockey season ends. Meghara McManus, Taylor Wenckowski, and Carlee Turner led the team, each tallying 20 points.
1. Who steps up on defense? The graduation of Julia Fedeski and Amy Schlagel leaves a big hole on the blue line. Fedeski led Hockey East in blocks, and Schlagel led in faceoff percentage. They were a huge reason for the team’s success, and the Wildcats will need some younger players to take on bigger blue line roles.
2. Can they survive February? New Hampshire has two games each against Boston College, Maine, and Boston University, plus one against Merrimack, to close out the regular season. The team was up and down last season and will need to finish strong.
3. Can they be better on the road? Just six road wins all season will not cut it. Consistency is really the big thing for UNH this year. They need to tighten things up in all kinds of places.
I’ve got New Hampshire seventh.
Last season: 19-17-3, 11-11-2 (second). Lost to Colgate in the NCAA quarterfinal.
“I’m really optimistic about this season. Last year, winning our first Hockey East championship was a big year for us,” said coach Dave Flint. “We have a lot to replace, so it might be a little bit of a rebuild for us. We have eight new players, and I think it’s going to kind of hinge on how quickly they can adapt to the game and how quickly some of our other players can step up and fill that void.”
Names to know
Rookie Alina Mueller has played in two Olympics with Team Switzerland. When she won bronze in Sochi, she was the youngest player to win a hockey medal in Olympic history. She’s a big, big addition for this team. Brittany Bugalski set a program record for goaltender minutes played last season and put up a respectable 1.98 goals-against-average and a .928 save percentage.
1. Can they widen the gap? Team offense last season was 2.74 goals per game while the allowed 2.56 goals per game. They need to find a way to widen that gap and give themselves some more breathing room.
2. Who steps up on offense? This team relied on McKenna Brand and Denisa Krížová, but they and five other seniors graduated and left a lot of room for someone to step up and fill the holes. Expect Mueller to be one of them, but what other players will take on bigger roles?
3. Will splitting time in net continue to be successful? I’m always skeptical that this can be a positive, but Flint said having two goalie is a luxury. Brittany Bugalski struggled last season after having a big sophomore year. Aerin Frankel allowed nearly a goal less per game and may have stolen the top spot.
For now I’ve got Northeastern second, but think they are vulnerable to be overtaken.
Last season: 17-13-7, 12-7-5 (second). Lost to Connecticut in the opening round of the Hockey East tournament.
“We’re changing some things up, and we’re looking forward to some challenges right off the bat. It’ll be a good test for us. There’s some good energy right now,” said coach Matt Kelly. “You have to be consistent. You have to show up every day. You have to make sure you’re showing up and you’re prepared to play.”
Names to know
New coach Matt Kelly has an interesting background. He was head scout for USA Hockey and the women’s national team. He maintained the player pools for the U-18 and U-22 squads, in addition to the women’s national team. During his time with USA Hockey, Kelly won a total of 11 gold medals. Freshman Maureen Murphy led the team with 28 points as a freshman. She was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie team. Senior Christina Putigna missed seven games to injury and was still third on the team in scoring
1. Can they jump over Maine? There’s a big gap between BC and Northeastern, but it looks like that third spot is in reach for Providence.
2. Can they get better on the power play? They graduated some scoring and were in the middle of the pack in goals per game, so they have to take advantage when on the power play. They did a great job staying out of the penalty box as compared to season’s past, so now they need to capitalize.
3. How will Kelly fare? It’s clear he has a great pedigree, but he also hasn’t helmed a squad. He was with Clarkson for their 2014 national title, but how he translates his experience into being a head coach will make a difference for how things go for Providence.
I’ve got them fourth, but think the push for spots three through seven could get very interesting.
Last season: 10-20-5, 7-13-4 (fifth). Lost to Boston College in the opening round of the Hockey East tournament.
“We had some highlights with wins over Clarkson and Minnesota,” coach Jim Plumer. “Those were big wins for us and an opportunity to show what we can do. Our goal scoring was pretty inconsistent. I don’t think there’s too many eighth-place teams that had significant wins against NCAA teams. We’re looking forward to being a better and more consistent team this year.”
Names to know
Junior Eve-Audrey Picard led the team with 14 goals and 25 points. Senior Alyssa Gorecki was second on the team with 18 points. Senior Taylor Flaherty transferred from North Dakota before last season and led the Catamounts with 48 blocks.
1. How will the defense fair? Most of the blue liners on this squad don’t have significant ice time on their résumés. It’s going to be a bit of trial by fire, and they have to pick it up quickly. They allowed nearly a goal more than they scored last season, so this has to be a point of focus and will be necessary if they want to be more consistent.
2. Who’s in net? Sydney Scobee saw most of the time last season, but she transferred to Minnesota. Melissa Black was very solid for Vermont in big games two seasons ago, but the Catamounts have added Blanka Škodová from the Czech Republic, who could push for the starting role.
3. Can they find that consistency? They never won more than three-in-a-row last season. They beat some of the biggest names in the country, but lost to Merrimack and tied RIT. There has been so much potential in this squad, and it’s not clear what it’ll take to see them realize it.
I expect them to finish seventh.