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Freshman phenoms: Five standout NCAA first-year players

A crop of new faces has been off to a roaring start through the first full month of NCAA play

Emma Maltais has been a key factor in Ohio State’s success this season
Ohio State Athletics

One of the most satisfying parts of a new season is getting to watch highly touted recruits begin their NCAA careers. Across the country, several firstyear players have begun their careers with impressive Octobers. Here’s a few standouts heading into November.

Coco Francis, Goaltender, Union

NCAA goaltending tends to be really fickle. Incumbent goaltenders rarely see back-to-back years of success unless they come from that upper echelon of netminders we revere so much. Freshman goaltenders have it just as tough, as many of them have a difficult time making the jump from high school to collegiate hockey.

Union’s new starting goalie, Coco Francis, has yet to experience that difficulty.

Call it beginner’s luck, but Francis has started off her collegiate career going 2-0-1 with a 1.61 GAA and .947 save percentage. She recorded a career-high 31 saves against Brown for her first win, then stopped 30 shots from Yale to win back-to-back ECAC games.

Francis was named the ECAC Rookie of the Week for her performance against Brown and Yale.

So, are you coo-coo for Coco?

Because you should be.

Elizabeth Giguere, Forward, Clarkson

Hailing from Quebec City, Giguere was put into a position to succeed by joining the reigning national champion Clarkson Golden Knights. Giguere was able to join the top line at CU, skating alongside Loren Gabel and Michaela Pejzlová. Together the unit has been one of the best in the country, scoring a combined 21-25-46 through 10 games played.

Giguere has accounted for seven goals and 11 assists in her young campaign, and she already looks the part of an NCAA power forward.

In this video, from a game against Cornell, Giguere finds Pejzlová with a quick behind the back pass to set up the goal. Being comfortable making creative passes is something some freshman struggle with, but Giguere has already found her stride in the NCAA.

Standing at 5’10”, she poses a threat along the boards, in front of the net, and in open ice. She has already been named ECAC Player and Rookie of the Week and was just given the ECAC Rookie of the Month honors as well. All signs point to Golden Giguere continuing her hot streak into the rest of this season.

Daryl Watts, Forward, Boston College

I put it off as long as I could, but there was no way to not talk about Daryl Watts. She leads the Eagles in scoring. She leads all NCAA freshmen in scoring. She leads the NATION in scoring. She’s averaging three points per game.

Watts was named the Hockey East Player and Rookie of the Month, as well as the NCAA Player and Rookie of the Month. Much in the same vein of players like Caitrin Lonergan and Delany Belinskas before her, Watts is continuing a tradition of standout Eagle freshmen. She recorded two assists in her first career game against Minnesota Duluth, and then scored a hat trick in her second career game the following night.

It’s unreal.

There’s a laundry list of passes and goals from Watts, but something about this one sticks out to me. She’s almost shooting from outside and below the dot and finds the back of the net.

Three points per game is absurd, and I cannot say I expect her to continue this pace, but Watts has been incredible in a small sample size this year.

Allison Attea, Defenseman, Holy Cross

The level of competition faced by these independent schools is less than stellar, but that doesn’t mean the individual talent is any less exciting. Allison Attea is a perfect example of a name you may have not heard of because of the perceived pedigree of Holy Cross hockey.

The Buffalo, N.Y., native is tied for third in Crusader scoring with a goal and two assists in her first four career games. Attea was a very highly regarded recruit coming out of the Nichols School and has already started contributing both defensively and offensively to Holy Cross.

Here’s what head coach Peter Van Buskirk had to say about his freshman defenseman:

“Allison has been able to play regularly right away this year and has gained confidence as a result. She has learned a lot already from her game experience and practices, which has shown in her execution. It is always nice to score, and defenders who can get their shots through to the net have a chance to score, and Allison has had positive results in managing the puck at the blue line.”

Attea is the beginning of a new generation of Crusaders and will be a part of the Hockey East conference next year. This gap year of NCAA play within the independent scheduling consortium will greatly boost her play before the 2018-19 season.

Emma Maltais, Forward, Ohio State

THE Ohio State University has added one of THE premiere forwards in the WCHA this season. Maltais was just named the WCHA Rookie of the Month after an impressive October. The Burlington, Ont., native tallied five goals and seven assists in one of the best starts in Buckeye program history.

Maltais has also been named WCHA Player of the Week in October and has been an integral part in Ohio State climbing to No. 4 in the USCHO poll. She has shared first- and second-line duties with junior Charly Dahlquist (1-5-6) and fellow freshman Tatum Skaggs (5-4-9).

Also, no one looks like they’re having as much fun in their goal celebration gifs as Maltais does in hers.

If anything, this cast of characters should be a good indicator that the future is bright for NCAA hockey. Yes, many of these athletes hail from Canada, but it is a very positive sign they are willing to come to the States to play for American colleges and universities. The question for these players now shifts from “How will they transition to the NCAA?” to “Can they keep it up?”

We shall see!