Wednesday Women: Scouting the ECAC and WCHA heading into the second half.

Wednesday Women: Scouting the ECAC and WCHA heading into the second half.
Micah Zandee Hart and a stingy Cornell defense have the Big Red atop the ECAC heading into the second half of the season. (Photo: Patrick Shanahan/Cornell Athletics)

This is the second part of a mid-season check in on each Division I women’s team. The first part can be found here.

Arlan: In some ways, I find ECAC Hockey to be the most interesting conference. You and I are both more familiar with the WCHA, and an argument can be made that the schedule in that league, which has a round robin times four where each team hosts every other member for two games, provides a truer test and a more deserving champion. However, that can also lead to teams getting stuck in the same tier from year to year. The WCHA never seems to produce a team like Princeton, that suddenly rises to be an NCAA tourney team every so often, and then retreats until its next surge. Maybe that’s as much a product of having almost twice as many teams and being able to generate more story lines from every campaign.

Nicole: I loved that the conference came down to the final weekend and any one of four different teams could have won last year – that seems like such a foreign concept to those of us here in the Midwest. But, while the top has seemed to have a lot of movement and volatility, there’s a tier system in place here, too. The order of the top changes, but there’s still a pretty big separation between the haves and have-nots and I’d argue that the gap here is bigger than in any of the other conferences. I’m a sucker for an underdog and we’ve seen teams like Minnesota State and Holy Cross improve and move up in their respective standings, which just really makes me want to see the same from Brown, Dartmouth and Union. 

Rensselaer 

Arlan: The Engineers tend to be the Princeton of the lower division, following cycles with lower highs, and lower lows. RPI took advantage of the services of standout goaltender to reach the playoffs three times in her four seasons and gave a good account of itself once there. But now, Selander is gone and the cycle is flirting with rock bottom. Even her presence likely would not change things much, because the Engineers struggle to score. That should be in all caps, because their scoring average is a paltry 0.68. The result has been a single tie at Holy Cross, surrounded by 18 losses.

Nicole: I’m hoping for their sake that the moderate success they saw while Lovisa was there can give them a recruiting bump, because as you said, the offense is brutal. The players that were producing for the team last year just simply have not been clicking this year. Part of that is because the Engineers are struggling to spend time outside of their defensive zone. But even taking that into account, they don’t have anyone with double-digits in points and their top scorer has just 25% of the points she scored last season. 

Brown 

Arlan: The Bears reached the ECAC Championship Game in 2006; they’ve qualified for the playoffs only once since, a first-round knockout in 2012. That drought looks destined to continue, as Brown sits at 1-11-1 at the break. The road, where the Bears are 0-9 and have been outscored 50-10, has proved particularly daunting.

Nicole: The Bears one great weekend last year where they beat both Colgate and Cornell and I was hopeful that was a harbinger of the potential of this team. Thus far, that hasn’t borne out. That being said, Cara Wahlig is in just her second season and I do think she has the chops to make a difference for the Bears. Brown also has to find a way to score more. They’re averaging 1.31 goals per game, but no one on their team has double-digit points and they 38th in the country in team offense. 

Dartmouth 

Arlan: The Big Green enter the break in 10th place. The good news is that they are only two points behind eighth-place St. Lawrence and the final playoff spot. Dartmouth hasn’t been missing by much. Two of its four conference losses were by a single goal, and a third loss would have been but for an empty-net goal.

Nicole: What’s most exciting about Dartmouth is how young they are. Three of their top six scorers are freshmen and two are sophomores. They seem to be on the edge of something and they’ve got a core of young talent to build on for a few years, which could make a big difference. 

Union 

Arlan: Fans sometimes ask, “If the Union men can win an NCAA Championship, why can’t the women?” The answer is a little like the joke where the guy prays every night to win the lottery, and finally God answers, “Help me out; buy a ticket.” The Dutchwomen have never advanced to the ECAC postseason. In order to win, you have to be in the game. However, this could be the year. They’re just one point behind a Saints team that has yet to discover a scoring touch in conference play. It is likely too early to point to a single game, but that first playoff spot could hinge on SLU’s visit on January 28.

Nicole: I mean, I could write a dissertation about that concept and it certainly doesn’t only apply to Union. This team is just a few years removed from having a winless season, but I’d also hoped to see a bit more improvement from the Dutchwomen in the past season or two. They slowly improved each season following that low point, but it feels like they’ve plateaued again. They have to put the puck in the net – they’re just slightly better at it than Brown, but still near the bottom and things won’t get better until they can do that with regularity. 

St. Lawrence

Arlan: The Saints reached the NCAA Tournament back in 2017 with a team that went undefeated through its first 17 contests. It feels to me like SLU has been in a gradual downward spiral ever since that first loss three years ago. Season wins fell by a half dozen in each of the next two years. If nothing else, the rate of decline looks to have slowed this year. Even more encouraging, Chris Wells has talent in his freshman class in the likes of goalie Lucy Morgan, forwards Anna Segedi and Shailynn Snow, and defenseman Rachel Teslak. I expect the Saints to bottom out and rebound either this season or next.

Nicole: Segedi is one of the most interesting rookies that no one really knows about yet. I think you’re right that this is a team on the precipice. I hope for their sake that the upswing is coming sooner rather than later. Having a solid goalie and a goal-scorer are a great start and seems to separate them from the schools below them in the rankings. Their post-break schedule should let them get some momentum and that might help them as they play some of the teams above them in the standings. 

Colgate

Arlan: The Raiders are another team that’s hovering around .500 overall now with the promise of better days on the horizon. Goaltender Liz Auby is really the only senior whose loss will be painful next season. Freshman Danielle Serdachny, who leads the squad in scoring and has four points in her last three games, figures to be key to any rally in the second half of this campaign.

Nicole: The Raiders are scoring just .25 more goals per game than they’re allowing, which definitely leaves really thin margins. The good news is they’re very good on the penalty kill. The bad news is that they have one of the worst power plays in the country. Being able to take advantage of the extra player would likely make the difference between hosting a first-round series in the tournament or not. 

Yale

Arlan: While I’m not entirely sure what the ceiling is for the Bulldogs in Mark Bolding’s first season in charge, they did go into the break with a record over .500 for the first time in 15 years. That has been accomplished with big contributions from underclassmen, including the team’s six top scorers. The challenge will be to stay above .500, facing a second-half schedule that starts with a trip to Minnesota and includes seven games versus the five teams that join Yale in the top half of the league.

Nicole: The Bulldogs are one win away from tying last year’s season total, so things have already started looking up. I think they have a really interesting coaching staff and Bolding’s philosophy of giving the team ownership of their improvement seems to have gotten the team to buy in despite a whole lot of turnover in New Haven. You mentioned the contributions from young players and I think we’ll be talking about Elle Hartje and her teammates even more in the years to come. There seems to be a ton of potential here, so it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out. 

Quinnipiac

Arlan: The Bobcats look destined to improve on last year’s 12-win season. They currently have nine victories, and their schedule is favorable for pushing that total to 17 or more by March. Sophomore Lexie Adzija is tops in scoring, but the roster will need contributions from many to make that a reality.

Nicole: Adzija leads the team and then there’s a group of players that have decent first-half totals, so you’re right in saying it would be nice to see some of those players step up and break out in the second half. The Bobcats are a defense-first team, but if they’re going to crack that top-four, they have to score goals. 

Clarkson

Arlan: While much of the narrative surrounding the Golden Knights’ first half has been one of disappointment, they hit the break with only two losses, their fewest ever. Elizabeth Giguère has a good shot at posting her third straight 70-point campaign, one of eight Clarkson players who have hit double digits in points. We shouldn’t overlook a team that has reached at least a national semifinal in each of the last four years.

Nicole: I believe it was you that first said to me that you’d never count out Matt Desrosiers, especially in the postseason. It’s easy to get bogged down in week-by-week results or plays, which is why a big picture look like this is a good idea. I’m definitely surprised by that wins stat you just dropped, so I guess it’s time to give them the benefit of the doubt. They’re likely to get some of their injured players back and this is a team that has always built as the season progresses. 

Harvard

Arlan: Given the recommended strategy of “Buy low, sell high,” I’d be tempted to unload Harvard stock right about now, because I don’t see the Crimson maintaining their current perfect ECAC record. They do look very well-positioned to be hosting a quarterfinal, with a three-game lead and a game in hand over Yale in fifth place. That would set Harvard up well to reach its first league semi final since claiming the ECAC Championship in 2015.

Nicole: I was pleasantly surprised by the Crimson when I saw them in Nashville, but folks in our Fan Forum think I’m crazy for saying that. There was a lot of talent on the ice that weekend and given how Harvard has been in the past few seasons, I was concerned we’d see very different results. Instead the Crimson held their own and I thought played and adjusted well. Dominique Petrie is a very good player that needed a supporting cast and I think she’s got it this year. And Lindsey Reed can steal a game all on her own. I keep waiting for the pendulum to swing back, but they keep beating teams. I’d love to know what changed from last year to this one. 

Cornell

Arlan: The Big Red are second in the ECAC standings, second in the PairWise Rankings, and second in the nation in winning percentage. However, one could at least make a case that they’ve been the best team in the country thus far. Cornell is one of three teams with a single loss, and it is entirely possible that it won’t have added any defeats by the time it hosts Clarkson in a vital contest to close out January.

Nicole: I definitely thought that about Cornell at least a few times during the first half. When either Wisconsin or Minnesota are firing on all cylinders, it’s a murkier picture, but I do think that day in and day out, the Big Red have been better and more consistent. They’re getting scoring from their two top lines, they always have one of the best defenses and Lindsay Browning currently leads the country in both save percentage and goals against average – she’s the only netminder allowing fewer than one goal per game. That stretch in late January and early February includes Harvard, Colgate and Clarkson and will be their toughest test before the postseason.

Princeton 

Arlan: A year ago, the Tigers were still undefeated in conference play a game into February, before slumping with a 3-4-0 mark to close out the schedule. Although they’ve already dropped three league contests, their 16 points does top the circuit. Perhaps even more significant is Princeton holding down the fifth position in the PairWise Rankings, albeit with both Ohio State and Clarkson nipping at its heels.

Nicole: Princeton was in the driver’s seat for many weeks in the second half last season and just could not close it out. I assume the memory of that finish is driving them this year, but they simply have to be stronger. They’ve already dropped two to Cornell, which may come up in terms of tie-break situations. That being said, they only have one game against Clarkson and one against Harvard that really stand out on their schedule. Of course, there are plenty of games that could trip them up. 

Arlan: After a historically low 12 months that included the 2017-18 season that saw one of its programs fold and none of them reach the NCAA Final, the WCHA looks to have rebounded nicely. Wisconsin put the league back on top of the pile come tournament time in 2019, and the conference has four ranked teams at the break, including the top two. The trick will be maintaining that strength after the new year, given precious few games outside the league remain.

St. Cloud State 

Arlan: The Huskies have yet to win a conference game and will see only WCHA opponents the rest of the way. In Steve Macdonald’s first year, no clear area of strength has emerged. His team ranks 30th in scoring offense, 31st in scoring defense, and 32nd in scoring margin. Special teams have been slightly better; the Huskies’ power play ranks 18th, while their penalty kill is 20th. 

Nicole: I’ve loved watching the growth in Mankato, but that invariably means that another team has fallen to the bottom of the conference. Things had seemed to be on an upswing in St. Cloud under Erik Rud, but his abrupt departure left things really muddled. They have two very good goaltenders in Emma Polusny and Janine Alder, but Polusny has faced the second-highest number of shots in the country (543), behind only Union’s Bella McKee (620). The goaltenders can’t do it alone. They’re scoring more than two goals per game, which is pretty good for them, but they’re giving up more than three. The defense simply has to step it up.

Minnesota State 

Arlan: The Mavericks’ improvement is visibly apparent on the ice. The difficulty for John Harrington and his charges is demonstrating that improvement in wins and losses. This season could play out eerily similar to last, when MSU was three games over .500 before winning only once in its final 20 games. This time, the Mavericks pushed their mark to 6-4-2 before dropping six of their last seven.

Nicole: I have high hopes for their second half. They end with a tough run, but early on they have winnable games, plus two with Ohio State, who they just really seem to be able to give a difficult time. It’s nearly impossible to make a jump in the WCHA, but I hope the Mavericks don’t get discouraged if their work doesn’t show in their record. As you said, the program’s improvement is so obvious. Many of their top scorers are underclassmen and Abbey Levy is so great in net, so I expect things to only continue improving. 

Minnesota-Duluth 

Arlan: The Bulldogs likely hoped for more than a .500 start in Maddie Rooney’s final season. UMD needs to gain some momentum as it hosts the Minnesota Cup and plays series versus Bemidji State and St. Cloud State. The sledding gets tougher over the final eight games, six of which are against top-five teams.

Nicole: UMD is a team that feels like it’s just a small ways away from it all clicking, but I also don’t know what it is that’s missing for them. There are a lot of really great pieces in Duluth that individually and on paper should probably add up to better than an 8-8-2 record. I don’t really know how to process the cumulative information of their wins, losses and ties, honestly. They don’t add up for me and I’m left wondering why the team that skates with (or better than) Clarkson, Minnesota and Wisconsin is getting swept by Bemidji, getting one point from Ohio State and losing to Quinnipiac. 

Bemidji State 

Arlan: Jim Scanlan is as good as any coach in the country at maximizing the results from the talent available to him. The Beavers sit at a very commendable 11-8-1, despite suffering through a six-game losing streak imposed by Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ohio State, all top-five teams in the polls. Unfortunately, half of BSU’s next dozen games are against that trio. Bemidji will face that gauntlet with a veteran crew; 11 of the team’s top 12 scorers are upperclassmen.

Nicole: Scanlan really is one of the best at creating a whole that’s better than the parts. The Beavers are always a really strong unit. The first thing I thought when you mentioned the experience is that this will be another high before a big low. This team really goes in cycles and I’m hoping to see some more consistency where they don’t fall off when they graduate a senior class. It’s nice to see them build and see the payoff where upperclassmen make a big step, but it’ll be so big for this program when it doesn’t feel like a constant rebuild. 

Ohio State 

Arlan: Nobody played a tougher slate in the first half than the Buckeyes, as half of their 20 games were against teams that are currently ranked. The second half may be slightly less rigorous; however, Ohio State must travel to Minneapolis, Duluth, and Madison. OSU could use more depth offensively from its forwards in support of its top line, a trio of juniors who have all exceeded 25 points. After those three, the next four in points are all defenders.

Nicole: I don’t think it’s easy to get a complete read on Ohio State and I think that’s by design. We don’t talk about their offensive defenders the way we do the group at Boston College, but they’re a huge part of the Buckeyes’ game. There have been moments of great play from players like Brooke Bink and Sara Saekkinen and I’m hoping more of the women down the depth chart can contribute down the stretch. OSU has that tough stretch, but they also have to be very diligent to not drop points to Bemidji or Mankato. 

Minnesota 

Arlan: Good balance enabled the Gophers to post the second-best offense over the first half, as it doesn’t have anyone who ranks above 20th in average points per game. With anticipated starter Alex Gulstene being unavailable for all but one period, senior Sydney Scobee backstopped the vast majority of the minutes for the country’s No. 4 scoring defense.

Nicole: The Gophers seemed to be the tiniest bit unsure in finding their footing early on, but they showed up when they needed to against Wisconsin and I think answered a lot of questions I might have had. As you mentioned, this team is scoring by committee up and down their line sheet. There have been plenty of times where I think a team should be playing their top defense against Minnesota’s second line and that makes them difficult to play against and plan for. 

Wisconsin 

Arlan: The pack may have gained slightly. A leakier-than-normal defense adds to the perception that the defending champions are more vulnerable than in past years. Yet with a dynamic top-line that includes Daryl Watts and Abby Roque, the nation’s top two scorers, it will be difficult to bet against the Badgers adding their sixth NCAA Championship come tournament time. 

Nicole: Wisconsin has to figure out the lapses on defense if they’re going to repeat. I think I’ve said this before, but for me it wasn’t the less-than-ideal showing in Minneapolis that’s concerning, it’s that it was still happening against Minnesota Duluth a month later. The plus side for Wisconsin is that they have such a potent offense that they can push past that against pretty much anyone but Minnesota and Cornell. Northeastern has also been very stingy on defense and the Badgers may face them this weekend in Pittsburgh, so it could be another good test of the work they’ve done.