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2018-19 NCAA Preview: Seniors to Watch

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Here are eight seniors you’re going to want to keep an eye on this year

Northeastern University forward McKenna Brand AND Clarkson University forward Loren Gabel during a game between Northeastern University and Clarkson University in Boston, MA on Sept. 29, 2017. (Photo by Michelle Jay)
Michelle Jay

Today at the Ice Garden we’re turning our attention to several must-watch NCAA players who are entering their senior or red shirt senior seasons.


Loren Gabel, Clarkson University

Last year Loren Gabel led all junior skaters in goals, assists, points, shots on goal, power play points, and plus/minus. So, yeah, she had a pretty big year for the Golden Knights. It was a big year that ended with Clarkson’s second consecutive NCAA title and her being named a Top-3 Patty Kazmaier Award finalist; she was also the only junior to be named a Top-10 finalist in 2018.

Clarkson is counting on Gabel and Élizabeth Giguère to build off of the lethal chemistry they developed together last year. Gabel finished the 2017-18 season with 75 points — 60 of which were primary — in 41 games. If she and Giguère click like they did last year, Gabel could eclipse 80 points and Clarkson should be well on its way to a three-peat.

Is this Gabel’s year to win the Patty Kaz? We’ll soon find out.

Makenna Newkirk, Boston College

Newkirk had 61 points in 38 games last year for the Eagles to finish seventh in the nation in scoring, and there’s good reason to believe that her numbers will be even better in 2018-19.

For the second year Newkirk will be one-third of the Eagles’ dynamic trio with Daryl Watts, who won the 2018 Patty Kazmaier Award as a freshman, and Caitrin Lonergan. Together, they’re the best forward trio in college hockey.

Watts and Lonergan may have finished with more points last year, but it would be a mistake to overlook how valuable Newkirk has been to Boston College. It’s important to mention that 24 of Newkirk’s 37 assists last season were primary last year. She also scored three shorthanded goals and led all juniors in power play goals (8) in 2017-18. Newkirk isn’t just along for the ride, she’s helping to fuel Boston College’s elite offense.

The pride of Arizona is primed to have a big senior season for Hockey East’s resident powerhouse. This just might be the year when the spotlight is finally fixed on Newkirk’s stellar two-way game.

Boston College forward Makenna Newkirk during the Beanpot Finals in Chestnut Hill, MA on Feb. 13, 2018. (Photo by Michelle Jay)
Michelle Jay

Olivia Zafuto, Colgate University

Zafuto, a defender for the Red Raiders, describes her play style as offensive, and it’s easy to see why. She’s one of the most intimidating and electric players in college hockey.

Zafuto is coming off of a huge year for Colgate where she led all junior defenders in the nation in points (33) and shots (133) and proved her physicality by finishing the season with 56 PIM. The only defenders who scored more points than Zafuto last season were Savannah Harmon and Toni Ann Miano, both of whom have graduated and are about to play their first season of NWHL hockey.

Last year Zafuto stepped up her game when it mattered most. She had a two-point game, including the game-winning goal, in the quarterfinal against Northeastern. She followed that performance with a clutch assist in the National Championship Game, setting up Malia Schneider’s game-tying goal. Unfortunately for Zafuto, Colgate lost in overtime. This year she’s looking to write a different ending to that story.

Jessie Eldridge, Colgate University

Eldridge has designs on earning recognition as Colgate’s Offensive MVP for the third straight season this year.

Last season, the 5-foot-9 winger led Colgate in goals, assists, power play points, shorthanded goals, shots ... you get the idea. The only juniors to score more points than Colgate’s big winger in 2017-18 were Gabel and Newkirk. That’s pretty good company for a player who simply hasn’t received enough recognition for her exceptional career with the Red Raiders.

Eldridge’s strong, skilled hands helped lead Colgate to the National Championship game last year. As a result, Colgate named Eldridge the captain of the Red Raiders for the 2018-19 season. There will be a lot of pressure on her to spearhead Colgate’s offense again this year, but she already has a history of handling that pressure with aplomb.

Emily Clark, Wisconsin

Clark earned her first Olympic medal at Pyeongchang with Team Canada last season. But this year “the Rocket” is back with the Badgers and is sure to have her third 45-point NCAA season.

Clark is a blazing fast two-way center who knows a lot about making big plays. She led the nation in game-winning goals (9) and led the Badgers in primary assists (22) in the 2016-17 season. Clark also led Wisconsin in plus/minus (48) and shots on goal (192) that year.

Her experience at the 2018 Olympics — where she scored a goal in a game against the Olympic Athletes from Russia — has only galvanized her. Clark has her eyes set on a national title this year and she’s ready to play a big role for Wisconsin to make that happen.

Annie Pankowski, Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s other big returning senior is Pankowski, but unlike Clark, Pankowski didn’t get to play in the Olympics. She was cut from Team USA’s roster and had to watch her national team win gold for the first time in a generation without her. Now, she’s a woman on a mission.

“That was a really tough experience, but to be honest, Madison has been here to pick me up,” Pankowksi told Alec Ausmus of ABC-WKOW. “Everybody here, the teammates that were here, the coaching staff. Everybody has been amazing since January when I did come back. They were the driving force to put me back on my feet and I’m really thankful for that.”

The 2015 WCHA Rookie of the Year is hungry to have a big senior season. The winger led the Badgers in scoring in all three of her previous NCAA seasons and is on pace to finish her collegiate career with over 200 points. Now that she is reunited with Clark, Pankowski has a real chance to lead the nation in scoring and have a senior season worthy of the Patty Kaz.

Kelly Pannek, Minnesota

Pannek is a Minnesota native who has already won two National Championships with the Golden Gophers and an Olympic gold medal. She picked up two assists in five games for Team USA at Pyeongchang — not a bad result after leading the nation in scoring in her junior year.

What sets Pannek apart from other elite players is her vision and her hands. Pannek had 31 primary assists in her junior season. To put that number into some context: Geneviève Bannon had 38 total assists that year, and she finished second in the nation in helpers (behind Pannek). Nicole Haase wrote about Pannek’s gift for moving the puck earlier this month for The Victory Press, here is an excerpt from that article:

Teammate Sarah Potomak said that it feels like the game slows down for Pannek. When she has the puck on her stick and enters the zone, no one is better at seeing how plays could develop and dishing the puck.

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 10 Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Pannek is ready to wheel and deal the puck for Minnesota in her senior season and recapture the nation’s scoring title. She had 62 points in 39 games as a junior. With talent like the Potomak sisters and Grace Zumwinkle around her, she might approach 70 points this year.

Kassidy Sauvé, Clarkson University

Sauvé, a transfer from the Ohio State University, is the only goaltender on our list of seniors to watch in the 2018-19 NCAA season. What makes her so special? Well, Sauvé posted a .938 save percentage for the Buckeyes last season and she is skating into a goal crease that was most recently occupied by Shea Tiley who helped Clarkson win back-to-back National Championships. So yeah, you could say that all eyes are on the 5-foot-9 goaltender right now.

It’s impossible not to wonder what kind of numbers Sauvé can put up playing behind Clarkson’s skaters. She’s already expected to lead the nation in wins and, even though Savannah Harmon has graduated, she’s a safe bet to lead the nation in save percentage. Remember, Sauvé did post a .942 save percentage in her sophomore year with the Buckeyes.

Sauvé was a Patty Kazmaier Top-10 Finalist last year for a reason. She was Ohio State’s best player and helped lead her team to the national semifinal. Even if Sauvé wasn’t playing behind the Golden Knights’ outstanding group of skaters, she’d still be a must-watch senior in 2018-19.