In the before times, the best case scenario for season previews was to give somewhat educated guesses. Those guesses came from watching teams last season, watching many of the incoming freshmen in U-18 World Championships and looking at how teams’ schedules might benefit or hurt them. Most of that isn’t available to us this year. All the question marks and uncertainties this year mean predictions are downright laughable.
In this year’s conference previews, I’ll do my best to give the most up-to-date information I have, but it’s best to assume that things are fluid and check with individual programs for the most current information on rosters and schedules.
Fans are eager to understand what the postseason will look like, but it’s important to understand that the conferences are much more interested in and focused on successfully playing games in these opening weeks than hypothesizing what February or March might look like.
To some extent, it would be a waste of time and energy to create postseason plans when no one knows whether it will be possible to have a season. The Commissioners are well aware they have things to work out, they’re just taking things one one step at a time. The WCHA knows they’ll have to find a way to even out their schedule. There will have to be discussions about what the postseason should look like both in conference and at the NCAA level. NCAA rules state a conference needs six teams to receive an auto-bid and the ECAC is currently playing with four teams.
While the individual conferences and NCAA have created a plan for a modified 2020-21 women’s hockey season, it’s impossible to know what this season will look like before teams even take the ice. Condensed schedules focused on conference and regionally-appropriate out-of-conference games leave little room for error. Student-athletes may opt not to play. Professional sports leagues have shown us that positive tests and close-contact quarantines will be inevitable and a shortened season will make each loss mean exponentially more.
Beyond that, there’s no way to know how months of quarantine have affected the student-athletes – physically, but more importantly, mentally. A number of professional athletes struggled to match their pre-Covid output in their own shortened seasons. We all know how difficult it has been to complete even the simplest of tasks. College campuses and college towns have been hotspots for the virus and the switch to online or hybrid schooling is no easier for college students than it has been for younger kids. Being a student-athlete is stressful, busy and can be overwhelming in the best of times. There’s simply no way the effects of being a college student and athlete during this time don’t have an impact on these women.
A few rule changes go into effect this season:
- Overtime will now be five minutes of three-on-three sudden-death play. Should the game remain tied, a two minute rest will be followed by a three-person shootout which is not sudden death. If it is still tied after three shooters, ensuing rounds will be sudden death.
- Attacking teams will be able to choose which faceoff circle the puck would be dropped in at the start of a power play or after icing violations.
- Instead of throwing players out of the faceoff circle for a violation, officials will now issue a warning. If a second violation by the same team occurs during the same faceoff, a two-minute, bench-minor penalty for delay of game will be called.
In these unsure times, teams will be looking for consistency. One major storyline this season is how many teams have unanswered questions in net. A number of standout goalies graduated in 2020. Many were four-year starters and even more left their programs having set new records and benchmarks for their university. Bemidji State, Brown, Colgate, Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, Minnesota Duluth, Princeton, Quinnipiac, RIT and Wisconsin all graduated the goalie who handled the bulk of their starts last season.
Thus far, Robert Morris is the only school that has announced a schedule. They have Penn State on their schedule for the opening weekend, but the Nittany Lions have not released any plans to return to play. The conference has not released any information about an intent to return to play. Lindenwood and Mercyhurst also have not released any information about playing this season. Syracuse has two games scheduled against Colgate on the opening weekend, but has not announced anything further. RIT had cancelled their winter sports, but men’s and women’s hockey successfully campaigned to play and the university reversed their decision on Tuesday. The teams said schedules are forthcoming in that release.
Last season, Mercyhurst returned to dominance atop the conference, taking the regular season and conference tournament titles. Robert Morris finished one point out of the lead, with Syracuse another three points back. There does not look to be much separation at the top again this season, meaning every point will matter and the winner will likely be decided on the final weekend.
5-24-5, 3-15-2 (sixth). Lost to Syracuse in the opening round of the CHA tournament.
With no announcement yet about their season, it’s unclear if the Lions will take the ice this season. Other winter sports at the university look to be moving forward, so it may just be a matter of time with the university and the conference.
Under first-year head coach Shelley Looney, Lindenwood won just five games last season. Looney is looking to build a program from the ground up and that will take time. A shortened season and the inability to recruit in person do not work in the Lions’ favor as they work toward their goal.
They return most of their roster and that experience should serve them well. They allowed more than two games per goal more on defense than they scored on offense last season and need to find a way to even that out. The level of play in the CHA has picked up and with the top three teams battling each other, there’s an opening for teams to make up ground.
If they play, I think Lindenwood finishes fifth.
21-10-5, 13-4-3 (first).Won the regular season and tournament titles. They were slated to play at Cornell in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
Mercyhurst’s home conference cancelled winter sports, but the university announced on November 18 that they intend to pursue competitive opportunities for their student athletes. The men’s hockey team announced a full schedule, but postponed their opening weekend games against LIU. As yet, the women’s team has not announced a plan to return to play, though they did announce their most current recruiting class and show off their championship rings on Twitter this week.
Mercyhurst earned their first NCAA bid since 2014 last season. The Lakers lost two big pieces to graduation, with leading scorer Emma Nuutinen completing her career and Kennedy Blair using her final year of eligibility as a graduate transfer to Wisconsin.
I think the Lakers fight for the top spot again this year, but I have them second for now.
13-15-8, 7-8-5 (fourth). Lost to Mercyhurst in the CHA tournament semifinals.
Penn State’s athletics have been playing fall and winter sports, with the men’s hockey team opening their season November 18. The Nittany Lions appear on Robert Morris’ announced schedule, but have not commented on their plans to return to play. It seems unlikely that the women’s program would not take the ice this season while their other sports play on, so it’s likely just a matter of time before plans are announced.
A number of the team’s top scorers are not on this season’s roster and they’ll need some younger players to step up and support Natalie Heising. The team showed a bit more depth on offense last season, but was not able to win any more games.
The Nittany Lions have five goalies on their roster. Jenna Brenneman was absolutely stellar for them two seasons ago, but missed almost all of last season to injury. Chantal Burke set a program record with seven shutouts last season and has a program best career save percentage. It’s a good problem for Penn State to have and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.
Unfortunately for Penn State, I don’t think my prediction changes at all from last year. They are currently solidly the fourth team in the conference, but there’s room for them to move up.
12-19-4, 5-13-2 (fifth). Lost to Penn State in the opening round of the CHA tournament.
It’s been an eventful November for RIT. They announced on November 9 that they were cancelling all winter sports. The hockey teams pushed back and submitted plans for safe play. The university reconsidered and reversed their decision on November 17. In that announcement, the university said schedules would be released soon.
The Tigers will be led by first year coach, alumna Celeste Brown. Brown was with the program when it transitioned from DIII to DI and has been an assistant coach at Penn State for the last three years. She starts with a young squad – eight freshman and five sophomores, but the team showed a lot of growth over the last two seasons.
Without knowing more, I have to keep them in sixth, but I think they’re a team to keep an eye on.
20-12-4, 13-5-2 (second). Lost to Mercyhurst in OT in the CHA Tournament final.
The only conference team that we know for sure is playing this season, Robert Morris will have to replace program leading scorer Jaycee Gebhard this season. Lexi Templeman has shown she can also score and will likely lead the Colonials, but they’ll also be looking for some younger players to step up and fill that top line. They’ll also miss Sarah Lecavalier and her blocks on defense.
There are question marks, but I think the Colonials are more built to bounce back. I have them first.
14-20-2, 11-7-2 (third). Lost to Robert Morris in the conference semi-final.
Thus far, Syracuse has two games against Colgate on their schedule for this weekend, but nothing else. Their website says the conference schedule will be announced at a later date.
While it’s great that the blueliners contribute here, it’s not great that two of the Orange’s top four scorers last season were defenders. The team averaged just fewer than three goals scored last season, but allowed nearly just as many goals. There has to be more balance for them if they’re going to push RMU and Mercyhurst for the top spot.
Allison Small split time in net last season, but will likely see more starts this season.
It’s close, but I do think that the Orange are a small step between the top two teams. I’d like to see them be more consistent and for now, I think they’ll be third.
Union and RPI joined the Ivy Leagues in announcing they would not be playing winter sports this year. That leaves Clarkson. Colgate, Quinnipiac and St. Lawrence, but the Saints have already paused all winter athletics due to the number of Covid cases on campus. Thus far, Clarkson, Colgate and Quinnipiac each have four games scheduled in November and December.
The Ivy League announced on November 11 that they were cancelling all winter sports. Brown will not take part in the 20-21 season.
25-6-6, 14-4-4 (third). Lost to Princeton in the ECAC semifinal. They were slated to play at Wisconsin in the opening round of the NCAA tournament and finished the season ranked no. 7.
The Golden Knights suffered a number of injuries last season and lost five more games than they had the year before. I expect the team will bounce back and be among the top five this season, but time will tell. It helps that they return Senior Elizabeth Giguère, who won the 2020 Patty Kazmaier Award and have an experienced roster that features just four freshmen. Gabrielle David and Giguère made a great pair last season and we can only expect that to continue this year. Transfer Caitrin Lonergan missed most of the season and she’ll look to finish out her collegiate career differently this season.
It’s a weird year for everyone, but the decimated ECAC will be feeling it the most. Clarkson will have to work to find opponents and be prepared should the season continue into March.
I don’t know that ranking these four makes any sense, but Clarkson is definitely at the top.
17-15-6, 11-8-3 (sixth). Lost to Clarkson in the ECAC quarterfinals.
Colgate was young and talented last season – rookies Sammy Smigliani and Danielle Serdachny led the team in scoring. Scoring won’t be a question for them, but they did graduate a solid goaltender in Liz Auby and the remaining netminders on their roster don’t have a ton of experience. Defense wasn’t the Raiders’ strong suit last season (except on the penalty kill), so they’re going to need to shore that up to give whoever is in net a chance to get acclimated.
Somehow, Colgate was absolutely shut down on the PK, but could not seem to translate that as well on even strength. That might have been a product of the team’s youth, but if they can learn from that and expand it, they’re going to be a team to reckon with.
I believe they’re the second place team at this point.
The Ivy League announced on November 11 that they were cancelling all winter sports. Cornell will not take part in the 20-21 season.
The Ivy League announced on November 11 that they were cancelling all winter sports. Dartmouth will not take part in the 20-21 season.
The Ivy League announced on November 11 that they were cancelling all winter sports. Harvard will not take part in the 20-21 season.
The Ivy League announced on November 11 that they were cancelling all winter sports. Princeton will not take part in the 20-21 season.
19-15-3, 11-9-2 (seventh). Lost to Princeton in the opening round of the ECAC tournament.
There might not be a team I’m more excited to watch over the next few seasons than the Bobcats. Cassie Turner and her staff have brought in some of the most interesting young players and the next few recruiting classes only get better.
They’ll miss the experience of Sarah-Eve Coutu-Godbout up front and Abbie Ives in net and especially in this weird year, I think there may be some growing pains. The Bobcats are a team that I think would have benefited from consistency of a regular season, but that’s obviously not meant to be. Their year may hinge on how well the team as a whole handles this year.
I’ll put them third, but think they have so much potential.
RPI announced on November 16 that they were cancelling winter sports. They will not take part in the 20-21 season.
13-16-7, 8-10-4 (eighth). Lost to Cornell in the opening round of the ECAC tournament.
St. Lawrence shut down winter sports practices until at least 12/1, when it will reevaluate.
Assuming they get back on the ice, the Saints are another intriguing, young team. They graduated top scorer Kayla Vesper, but the next four highest scorers were all first year players last year. Lucy Morgan was named all-ECAC Rookie team goalie as well as to the league’s third team.
The Saints gave up more goals than they scored, though I expect that to change as the team’s roster continues to gain experience. If they can shore up the defense, I think the young offense will really flourish.
Until we know if they’ll play and we get to see them on the ice, I have to put them fourth.
Union College announced on November 17 that they were cancelling the men’s and women’s hockey teams. They will not take part in the 20-21 season.
The Ivy League announced on November 11 that they were cancelling all winter sports. Yale will not take part in the 20-21 season.
Of all the conferences, Hockey East seems most set up to be able to weather these unusual times. The men’s and women’s sides will have a mirrored schedule so that if there is an exposure, it’s limited to two schools. Nearly all their series will have day-of travel and feature home and home games. They also set up their schedule to allow for plenty of time to make up games as it becomes necessary.
While national polls disagree with me, I think Northeastern is the top team in the country. (Click here to read my explanation of how I voted in the preseason USA Hockey poll). They’ll only be helped by what is likely to be a consistent schedule that allows them the opportunity to play each week.
I think Hockey East will be the bellwether for women’s college hockey this season. If they aren’t able to successfully play their slate of games week after week, I don’t see how any other conference will or how a postseason is possible.
17-16-3, 14-11-2 (fourth). Lost to Connecticut in the opening round of the Hockey East tournament.
This was a young roster last season that handled itself well – six of the top seven scorers were underclassmen and rookie Hannah Bilka led the team with 14 goals and 23 assists. There are still just two seniors on this squad, so the Eagles have to rely on younger players to step up into leadership roles.
They picked up junior transfer goalie Abbey Levy from Minnesota State. The Eagles now have four junior goalies. Levy brings size and she was a huge part of the Mavericks’ evolution over the past few years. She’ll have to adjust to the style of play and fewer shots, but she could be a big difference-maker for BC. Maddy McArthur was good in net for the Eagles last season and I would imagine this will be a tough fight for the starting position.
I have the Eagles finishing third, but am excited to see how this young squad continues to grow.
24-8-4, 18-6-3 (second). Lost to Maine in the opening round of the Hockey East tournament.
BU has been very good at succeeding thanks to contributions across the board, instead of from one individual. They graduated last year’s leading scorer, but have a solid group of returning players that know how to find the back of the net. The Terriers are good at putting pucks on net, but I’d like to see them focus in on more dangerous scoring opportunities. They have the skill and experience to be more discriminate in looking for quality scoring chances.
Corrine Schroeder had a record-setting season for the program last year in net and being able to rely on her should give the offense the freedom to be more creative and loose on the attack. She’s important for them because their defensive corps is so young – they have one junior, two sophomores and four rookies on the roster as blueliners.
I expect the Terriers to finish second.
19-18-2, 13-12-2 (fifth). Lost to Northeastern in the Hockey East championship game.
The Huskies were set to open their season against Vermont, but will have to wait another week to drop the puck as the Catamounts had to postpone.
UConn tied a program record for conference wins and set a record for road wins last season. They’ll look to build on that this season. They swept just one weekend series last year, so I’m hoping to see more consistency from the Huskies. They were able to dominate the season series with BC, which I see as a good sign for them closing the gap between the top three teams and the middle of the conference.
They return the bulk of their scoring, but Samantha Carpentier-Yelle is their most experienced returning netminder, having appeared in 12 games last season.
I have them fourth, but think they have the ability to push BC for the third spot.
5-23-5, 5-20-2 (ninth). Did not qualify for the Hockey East tournament.
The Crusaders showed a lot of growth and potential last year, especially in the second half of the season. They scored more and kept games closer. This season I’m hopeful to see them take another couple of steps. They need to be able to regularly beat conference opponents other than Merrimack and they have to continue the scoring momentum they found after the winter break. Holy Cross splits time in the net with two very different goaltenders and I’ll be interested to see if that even split continues.
Head coach Katie Lachapelle was named head coach of the US U-18 National Team. She’s a very good coach with a ton of experience and I’m excited to see how Holy Cross can flourish under her guidance.
The Crusaders finish ninth.
15-14-8, 9-11-7 (seventh). Lost to Northeastern in the Hockey East semifinal.
The Black Bears are another team who closed the season strong, going 5-3-2 over their final 10 games. They swept BU out of the opening round of the Hockey East tournament and had wins over New Hampshire, Providence and BC. Maine showed flashes of what they’re capable of throughout the season and it would be great to see them reach that potential. They have been great at putting together great individual games, but not necessarily stringing it all together. And they’ve struggled with closing out opponents and taking two points from the teams they should be beating regularly.
They’re going to miss the playmaking of Tereza Vanisova, but Ida Kuoppola had a stellar rookie year, leading the team in scoring and was the second-highest scoring freshman in Hockey East. I’d love to see a bounce-back year from Celine Tedenby, who led the team in scoring her freshman year, but wasn’t as productive last season. If the team can find a way for these two to work together and complement each other, it could make for a scary top line.
I have Maine seventh, but think they have a lot of possible upside.
5-24-5, 2-20-5 (tenth). Did not qualify for the Hockey East Tournament.
This is a young team with a lot of potential, but not a lot of experience. There’s just one senior on defense. Their returning goalie played just nine games last season. Most of their leadership is up front, where they’ll be looking for depth of scoring and puck possession to give their young defense and goalie a chance to catch up and get acclimated.
The Warriors had five ties and nine one-goal losses last season. Just eight of their 24 defeats were by three goals or more. This is a tough league and while they finished last, Merrimack is clearly close to being able to break through and compete at a higher level. I have high hopes that they can start to put the pieces together this season.
I have Merrimack tenth, but there’s room for movement in the bottom half of the conference.
18-15-4, 12-12-3 (sixth). Lost to UConn in the Hockey East semifinals.
The Wildcats finished just five points out of third place last season. Their 18 wins were the most for the program in a decade and it was the first time they advanced out of the quarterfinals in the conference tournament.
While they return a solid, experienced goaltending and defensive corps, UNH graduated their top three scorers and they only averaged 2.2 goals per game last season. They have to focus on production and putting quality chances on net. It’s a tough league and allowing just two goals a game is pretty good, but the Wildcats could benefit from a stingier defense while the younger players find their roles up front.
I have UNH sixth.
32-4-2, 24-3-0 (first). Won the regular season and conference tournament championships. They were the three seed in the NCAA tournament and were set to host Princeton.
As I mentioned in the Hockey East intro, for my money, Northeastern is the team to beat this season. They return the bulk of a roster that won their third straight Hockey East tournament championship and second straight regular season title. They have last year’s second-highest scoring player in the country in Alina Mueller and goalie Aerin Frankel led the country in save percentage and was second in goals against average.
There simply isn’t a lot to critique for Northeastern. They had just four losses last season, but you can bet they’ve been studying tape to find why Providence seemed to cause them so much trouble. They took Wisconsin to overtime to start the new year.
Northeastern is a very good and that’s not going to change this year. They don’t have the same unknowns or questions to answer with their roster. They are the team to beat and I think they’ll be a good bit ahead of everyone else as the season starts. It’ll be a matter of if anyone can catch up.
I expect Northeastern to repeat as Hockey East Champions – again.
18-14-4, 15-10-2 (fourth). Lost to New Hampshire in the opening round of the Hockey East tournament.
Providence has the ability to make serious waves in Hockey East this season. They took down Northeastern twice last season, accounting for half the Huskies’ losses. But they are rarely able to string wins together and seem to go from big upset to bigger let down. Hopefully we’ll see them start to click more and find a way to hold on to those close games.
They return senior Sara Hjalmarsson as their leading scorer and have senior Sandra Absreiter in net, though I’m hoping we get to see some time from rookie netminder Mireille Kingsley.
They’ll face competition from UConn and UNH, but I do think it’s possible for one of these teams to work their way in the top three of the conference.
I have them fifth, but think there will be a lot of movement in the middle of the standings.
10-18-8, (eighth). Lost to Northeastern in the opening round of the Hockey East tournament.
The University of Vermont announced a delay to the start of men’s and women’s hockey and basketball until December 18. The pause affects six games for the Catamounts and would allow them to play their final two games before the winter break, but it seems likely that we might not see Vermont on the ice until January.
The Catamounts are a young team, but bring experience from last season to shore up the defense. They return their leading scorers and should be in play to shake up the middle of the standings.
I’ve got them eighth for now.
NEWHA has not announced any plans for return to play. Sacred Heart has scheduled games against ECAC opponents, but the other schools have yet put anything official on the calendar. The conference had plans to expand next year with the addition of a program at Stonehill, but that university has pushed back their debut a year due to the pandemic.
Sacred Heart finished ten points ahead of Franklin Pierce in the regular season and has to be the favorite this season, but LIU proved that they are a team to contend. Just four points separated Franklin Pierce, Saint Anselm and LIU. All three should be able to close the gap Sacred Heart had and it should make for a very interesting season as all four teams fight for position.
21-11-0, 13-7-0 (second). Lost to Saint Anselm after 5 OT in the conference semi-final.
The university said they plan to move ahead with winter sports starting in January 2021. They have not yet announced a schedule or a return to play plan.
It was a heart-breaking end to the year for the Ravens, who were second in the standings at the end of the regular season. This is still a fairly young team, but last year’s rookies made a major contribution to the squad. They graduated their point-getter, but bring back 10 double-digit scorers this season.
I see the Ravens finishing third, but think the top four teams could finish in any order.
14-18-0, 11-9-0 (fourth). Won the conference tournament
While the women’s hockey program has not announced any return to play plans, the men’s hockey team played their inaugural game on November 19 and the university appeared to be moving forward with other winter sports, so I expect the women will play, as well.
The Sharks shocked everyone by winning the NEWHA tournament championship in their first season. They were helped there by goalie Kenzie Harmison, who had three shutouts and 85 saves during the tournament. Carrigan Umpherville led the team with 19 goals and 14 assists.
There’s a lot to love about this team and they have nothing but confidence in themselves after the way they finished. It’s still a young squad, but what better first year to build on then the one they had? There is so much upside for the Sharks and it’s going to be fun to see how they can top last season.
I’m giving them the nod based on how they closed the season and putting them second.
Post announced on October 19 that they were cancelling all winter sports. Post will not take part in the 2020-21 season.
21-11-0, 18-2-0 (first). Regular season winner. Lost to LIU in the conference semifinal.
The Pioneers have six games on their schedule so far – two each with Colgate and Quinnipiac before the new year and two with Saint Michael’s in January. Their men’s program had to postpone the start of their season due to positive Covid cases, so we’ll need to keep an eye on what’s happening on Sacred Heart’s campus to see whether the women will be able to hit the ice.
Sacred Heart graduated their two top scorers, but have a strong junior class that accounted for much of their scoring.
I don’t think they’re the runaway favorites this year, but until we see more, I have to assume they’ll be atop the conference again.
16-14-3, 11-8-1 (third). Lost to LIU in the conference championship game.
The Hawks are part of the group of four teams that I expect to be fighting for position atop the conference. Senior Katy Meehan was last year’s leading scorer and returns to lead the team. They graduated Michaela Kane, who took the majority of the team’s starts in net, but Kia Castonguay and Caroline Kukas both split the rest and bring some experience to the competition this season.
I have Saint Anselm fourth only because I feel like I know more about the other three and ranked them first. I really do believe the way these four finish is totally up in the air.
5-21-4, 4-15-1 (fifth). Lost to LIU in the opening round of the NEWHA tournament.
Saint Michael’s does not have a schedule or return to play plan announced, but Sacred Heart has the Purple Knights on their schedule in January. It seems likely Saint Michael’s might be another team that returns to play after the new year.
They graduated three of their top six scorers and their starting goalie. It’s going to be difficult to get conference points from the competition this season and with all they’ve lost, they’ve got their work cut out for them.
It’s tough to move up in this conference and I think the Purple Knights stay in fifth place.
The WCHA has a schedule and plan to take them through November and December. At the moment, the conference is, for all intents and purposes, separated into two groups. Minnesota, Ohio State and Wisconsin are playing each other and Bemidji State, Minnesota State and St. Cloud State are in the other group. Minnesota Duluth will be playing teams from both. If you want to know more about this, check out my interview with Commissioner Jennifer Flowers.
Within 10 days of announcing a planned return to play, St. Cloud State had to put a pause on their season and postpone their first games due to at least eight positive Covid cases on their team.
16-18-3, 9-13-2, (fifth). Lost to Minnesota Duluth in the opening round of the WCHA tournament.
While the Beavers improved their overall record, they gained just one conference win last season and ended up in the same spot in the final WCHA standings. While two years ago they were three points out of fourth and eight points out of third in the standings, last year fourth-place UMD was a full 12 points ahead of them. With fifth year senior Lauren Bench opting to use her final year of eligibility with the Gophers, Bemidji needs a new starting goalie. Senior Kerigan Dowhy split time in net two seasons ago, though she only had six appearances last season.
The Beavers also graduated the vast majority of their scoring from last season. Senior Clair DeGeorge continues to be the team’s go-to player, but she won’t be able to do it alone. There are a number of players on this roster that have shown potential and they’ll need to step up in a big way this season. If they can consistently score, I think they give UMD a run for fourth place.
I think the Beavers finish fifth.
27-6-3, 17-5-2 (second). Lost to Ohio State in OT in the WCHA tournament semi-final.
The Gophers relied on Vermont transfer Sydney Scobee last season after Alex Gulstene was injured in the first game of the season and was forced to retire from the team and hockey in January due to lingering concussion symptoms. This year, it looks like Lauren Bench will take the reins as a redshirt senior transfer from Bemidji State. The Gophers’ other two goalies have limited experience – sophomore Olivia King did not see playing time in her rookie year and sophomore Makayla Pahl appeared in just three games.
It will be interesting to see how Bench adjusts in Minneapolis. A very capable goalie at BSU, she faced more shots than any other WCHA netminder last season, including stopping 70 shots against Minnesota Duluth during the opening round of the conference tournament. She should not be tested the same when she’s in the net for the Gophers, so her skills will be used in a different way. I’m excited to see what she can do with this opportunity.
Minnesota has one of the most intriguing rookie classes and I expect Abbey Murphy to be an immediate impact player.
There are so many unknowns that I find it difficult to know how to predict how Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio State will compare to each other. At least we’ll see them play each other right away.
I’ll pick Minnesota second for now, but think 1-3 is up for grabs.
18-12-6, 11-8-5 (fourth). Lost to Wisconsin in the WCHA tournament semifinals.
Junior Emma Soderberg will likely get the tough job of following behind Maddie Rooney as the starter in Duluth. She has international experience, but hasn’t had a lot of opportunity to show what she’s capable of in the WCHA.
Gabbie Hughes will continue to lead the team on offense, but she’ll need someone to step up and fill the hole that Sydney Brodt leaves. Not only was Brodt important on the score sheet, but was also a physical presence in the zone and great at moving the puck. Naomi Rogge lead the Bulldogs in scoring as a freshman and then missed last season due to injury. If she can return to form, she’ll be an important part of the Bulldog’s success.
I think there’s a gap between the top three and the Bulldogs. I have them finishing fourth.
11-20-6, 4-16-4 (sixth). Lost to Ohio State in the first round of the WCHA tournament.
While the Mavericks only improved by one win for the year before, it really felt like more. Mankato had been a team that could occasionally upset a team before, but last season they cemented the fact that they’re a team the rest of the conference has to take seriously and can take down anyone at any time.
They will be without goalie Abbey Levi transferred to Boston College, but will be relying on Calla Frank to take over starting full time. She was solid splitting starts last year and being able to rely on her makes that transfer hurt a whole lot less.
The biggest room for growth here is on offense. They aren’t a team that’s going to overwhelm the opponent, but they have to be more consistent in being able to score goals. It will have to be a team effort and it would be great to see more of the team reach double-digit or 20-plus point seasons.
I have the Mavericks in sixth, but I definitely think they push Bemidji State for fifth.
24-8-6, 13-6-5 (third). Won their first-ever conference tournament.
In a season with so many unknowns, Ohio State feels like a team that’s as question-free as possible. They return the bulk of their roster, have consistent scoring and can count on Andrea Braendli in net. They’re riding the high of winning their first-ever conference tournament and have nothing but confidence. While other teams have to figure things out anew this year, they can mostly just move ahead with what already worked.
The Buckeyes have thrived on being the underdog and working to prove they belong. I don’t think they have anything to prove anymore, so it’ll be interesting to see if their approach changes and how they handle being the team to beat instead of the one gunning for an upset.
I’ll pick Ohio State third since that’s how things shook out at the end of the season and I don’t have anything else to go on, but they’re in the mix for first through third.
St. Cloud State
6-25-4, 2-21-0 (seventh). Lost to Minnesota in the first round of the WCHA tournament.
It was a rough season for St. Cloud last year and it hasn’t started out well for them this year as they’ve had to pause their return to the ice. The Huskies will be counting on Klara Hymlarova, who led all WCHA rookies in scoring and Emma Polusny, who gives them a solid base to build out from the net.
The Huskies have a number of international players that bring age, maturity and experience. Many of them also bring size, which I think will be an advantage they can leverage in front of the net and against more physical teams.
I have SCSU seventh.
28-5-3, 17-4-3 (first). Lost to Ohio State in the conference championship game.
Once again, Wisconsin will be looking to shore up another young and inexperienced goalie corps with a transfer that started her career with a redshirt season at North Dakota – this time Kennedy Blair, who spent the past three seasons with Mercyhurst. She was named MVP of the CHA Tournament and finished her season with a 1.98 goals against average and .921 save percentage in 29 games.
I don’t believe the starting job is necessarily Blair’s to lose. I believe Wisconsin sees Jane Gervais as their goalie of the future and she should push to earn time in net in her rookie season. Blair gives the team an experienced option while Gervais gets comfortable.
Freshmen Casey O’Brien and Makenna Webster should make an immediate impact for the Badgers on offense, but they’ll also need someone to step up on defense if they’re going to be successful.
I have the Badger finishing first, but it’s going to be a tight race with Minnesota and Ohio State.