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Women’s College Hockey: Defensemen Breakdown

The Ice Garden’s defensemen analysis at the quarter mark of the NCAA season

2016 NWHL first overall Kelsey Koelzer is one of many bright NCAA defensemen
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While not the most glamorous job on the ice, a solid blue-line can make or break a game. Good defensemen dive into the action, doing whatever they can to stop the opponent from scoring. This includes throwing themselves in front of the puck and even diving on the ice to make a save. Despite this effort, defense is one of the least rewarded positions in college hockey.

Rarely do we see these defensemen on the scoresheet, and when we do they usually aren’t the goal scorer, but have assisted on the play. Defensive player awards typically go to goaltenders over defensemen. The most prestigious award in women’s college hockey, the Patty Kazmaier Award, has only been given to one defensemen since it was first awarded in 1998. With the important role they play and the rise in star-quality defensemen, this might be the year we see a second.

WCHA

University of Minnesota: Sydney Baldwin

On Thursday October 27, Baldwin led her team in blocked shots (2) and plus/minus (+4). This defensive prowess helped propel the Gophers past St. Cloud State in the 5-2 win. The following night, she came up with 3 shots on net as well as another blocked shot. In 10 games played this season, Baldwin has 25 shots on goal, 19 blocked shots, and a +14 rating.

In the 2015-2016 season, she set the program’s single-game plus/minus rating with +8, finishing the season with a +46 rating. Her 42 blocked shots and career high 22 points helped Minnesota repeat as national champions. Not only has she helped her collegiate team win, but she was also won silver for Team USA in both the 2013 and 2014 IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championships. If she keeps up this impressive performance, we might see her again lifting the NCAA championship trophy.

Bemidji State University: Madison Hutchinson

Last season, Hutchinson finished the season with 70 blocked shots. This, along with her 13 points, allowed the Beavers to finish in 3rd place during the regular season, just behind powerhouses Wisconsin and Minnesota. Her performance last season caused her to be named captain of the team this year.

So far, Hutchinson has 17 blocked shots and 8 points. She currently leads all WCHA defensemen in points, and is tied for second across the entire NCAA. Last Saturday, she picked up an assist during Bemidji’s 5-2 loss to North Dakota. She is well on her way to surpassing her career high 14-point season in 2014-2015. With her solid two-way play, she looks to lead Bemidji into the NCAA tournament, after just missing it last year.

ECAC

Princeton University: Kelsey Koelzer

On June 18, Kelsey Koelzer was selected first overall by the New York Riveters during the second NWHL draft. Now entering her senior season as the captain, Koelzer is hoping to push her team to the top of the ECAC and Ivy League. Last season she finished the season 2nd in the country in scoring among defenders with 33 points. This led her to be named, ECAC Defender of the Year, Ivy League Player of the Year and national honors of first-team All-American and Patty Kazmaier top-10 finalist.

This season, she is off to a great start. With just four games played, Koelzer has 3 points, a plus/minus rating of +3, and 9 blocked shots. She also has an impressive 19 shots on goal. Last Sunday, October 29, Koelzer assisted on the game-tying goal against Yale with just 1:29 left in the game. Koelzer has shown she can be dangerous on both offense and defense and she doesn’t seem to be stopping.

Clarkson University: Savannah Harmon

After sweeping UNH on October 22 and 23, co-captain Savannah Harmon was named Clarkson Student-Athlete of the Week. During the road series, Harmon scored three goals. The next week, she tallied two assists in the 6-1 victory over Dartmouth. So far Harmon has 8 points and a +4 rating.

An offensive defenseman, the junior is looking to lead her team to back-to-back Frozen Four appearances. Last season, Harmon had 22 points in 40 games, including an assist in the national semi-final overtime loss to BC. She also finished the season with an amazing +30 rating.

Hockey East

Boston College: Megan Keller

Entering her junior year, Keller is looking to break records at BC. She is currently ranked fifth in career defenseman scoring (76 points) and career defenseman goals (16), third in career defenseman assists (60), and is also the fastest defenseman to reach 75 career points (77 games). She also holds the record for a single-season defenseman points, surpassing Emily Pfalzer by 10 points. Last season she was named first team All-American, Patty Kazmaier top 10 finalist, and Hockey East Best Defenseman. She was also voted to the All-New England team and Hockey East All-Star First Team.

The alternate captain for the Eagles is currently donning the red, white, and blue of Team USA in the Four Nations Cup. In Monday’s 6-0 rout of Sweden, Keller got an assist on Meghan Duggan’s goal. The next day Keller got a goal of her own against host Finland. Keller will miss this week’s series against rival Boston University, but she will continue to make an impact when she returns.

Merrimack College: Paige Sorensen

When you think elite teams, Merrimack probably doesn’t come to mind. But Paige Sorensen is an elite defender. So far this season she has 25 blocked shots, tied for the highest in Hockey East with teammate Dominique Kremer, and fourth in the country. Not only that, but she also has 3 points and 28 shots on goal over the course of this year. When playing Robert Morris, she hit the post in overtime keeping the score tied.

In Merrimack’s inaugural season last year, Sorensen led defensemen in goals (7) and points (18). She also led her team in assists with 11. Among freshman defensemen, she led Hockey East in scoring and tied for third in the nation. Without Sorensen’s contribution to the Merrimack blue-line, the Warriors would be in a far worst position then they are today.

CHA

Pennsylvania State University: Kelly Seward

On October 28, Seward tallied an assist during the 5-0 defeat of RIT. With that assist, she tied her season total from last year with 6 points. This season, Seward has gotten 22 shots and 19 blocked shots, and she currently leads her team in blocked shots as well as power play points (4).

Throughout her time at Penn State, the senior has improved significantly. Head coach Josh Brandwene said: "She's been that much more well-rounded, that much more dominant and she is off to such a good start, and she is going to go on to do great things this year." With this improvement, she hopes to help her team win the CHA championship this year.

Robert Morris University: Kirsten Welsh

During her freshman season, Welsh led the CHA in scoring among defensemen with 25 points, and also placed second in freshman scoring. Her outstanding freshman season landed her on the CHA All-Freshman team. She is hoping to improve this year and lead her team to the CHA title.

So far this year, Welsh has 5 points, all of them coming from goals. Her latest goal came last Friday against in-state rival Mercyhurst during RMU’s CHA opener. After failing to capitalize on a 5-3, Welsh skated on with just under 2 minutes left. She took a slap shot from the point and netted the puck right over the glove of the Mercyhurst netminder. With her dangerous ability to produce both offensively and defensively, Welsh will remain one of the NCAA’s top blue-liners for years to come.