With a busy weekend ahead in women’s college hockey, we take a look at how each conference is shaping up and which players to keep an eye on as the season kicks into high gear.
The CHA is often overlooked on the national stage, especially considering they haven’t competed in the Frozen Four since 2014, when Mercyhurst was gutted by Clarkson in the semifinal round. That being said, Mercyhurst has historically been the CHA’s most dominant team — and this year is no different.
Mercyhurst is currently tied with Robert Morris for first place, each with four conference wins apiece. Penn State and Lindenwood sit at the bottom of the standings with no conference wins to their name; despite their abysmal conference records, however, both have better overall win percentages than the Syracuse Orange, who are at present tied for third place in the conference.
The points leaderboard is dominated by Robert Morris and Mercyhurst players, with Jaycee Gebhard of RMU sitting comfortably in first place with 25 points to her name. Mercyhurst senior Emma Nuutinen is close behind, with 11 goals and 20 overall points, but there are no other clear contenders vying for the lead.
RIT is struggling offensively what with the graduation of point producers like Mallory Rushton, Kendall Cornine, and Brooke Baker to the Metropolitan Riveters and Kandice Sheriff to the Buffalo Beauts. In 10 games, they have only 25 goals for and 30 against, giving them the narrowest differential in the conference. That being said, they’ve been blessed by goaltender Terra Lanteigne, who has kept the team largely afloat with her .918 save percentage.
Our forward to watch in the CHA is definitely senior Emma Nuutinen, whose play at both the collegiate and international levels sets her apart from her teammates and competitors. Though her collegiate career has been interrupted many times — first by the termination of the women’s program at the University of North Dakota, where she spent her freshman season, and then by the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics — Nuutinen has dominated the CHA and is already on track to beat her personal point totals from the past two years.
On the blue line, Syracuse’s Jessica DiGirolamo is second on the team in blocks (18) and, impressively, leads the Orange in scoring, with 10 points over 13 games. She has also generated 59 shots on goal thus far, topping the CHA leaderboard, and registers nearly 5 shots per game. Not only is DiGirolamo proficient offensively, but she’s also not afraid to make gritty, dangerous plays — ones that often end with her in the penalty box, to which her 58 career penalty minutes can attest. If she can manage to stay out of the sin bin this season and stay on the ice, DiGirolamo is going to prove to be a very, very dangerous two-way defender in the CHA.
Make sure you’re keeping your eye on sophomore goaltender Annika Asplundh of Lindenwood, whose 313 saves on the season have her at the top of the leaderboard. She ranks third in save percentage, but second in time played, and is the clear choice for the position of Lindenwood’s starting goaltender. Though she stood on her head and made a personal best 49 saves against Robert Morris this past weekend, Asplundh has only a single win to her name (a 30 save match-up against Union). Nonetheless, she’s definitely an up-and-coming goaltender to keep track of.
Three teams in the ECAC remain undefeated through conference play: Harvard, Clarkson, and Cornell. The Crimson lead the charge, with four games (and four wins) under their belts, while the Golden Knights and the Big Red met last Saturday to determine who would get the first loss of the season (they tied, because of course they did, and both stand at 3-0-1).
Interestingly enough, they have the same goal differential as well, so they’re locked at a stalemate until play resumes this weekend. The bottom of the standings are rounded out by Quinnipiac, whose only point comes from a tie with Dartmouth, and Rensselaer, who was handed their fourth straight loss on Saturday.
The offensive leaders in the ECAC come as no surprise to anyone — Clarkson forwards Élizabeth Giguère, Gabrielle David, and Michaela Pejzlová dominate the points race with the three highest totals, while Giguère, David, and St. Lawrence’s Kayla Vespa sit at the top of the leaderboard for goals scored.
Despite the presence of a couple of forwards in the offensive race, St. Lawrence has fallen victim to the ECAC’s scheduling quirks; with only two games played against conference opponents, they’ve had very few opportunities to earn valuable points in league standings, and currently sit in ninth place. They’ve fared much the same, though, even when you do take non-conference games into consideration, maintaining a .500 win percentage no matter which category you look at.
In terms of players to watch, St. Lawrence first year forward Anna Segedi has been making a name for herself and skating fast on the heels of both her teammates and her opponents. She’s ranked fifth in points (12) in the conference, fourth in goals (6), and tied for third in shots on net (36). She also scored her first career goal and first career hat trick in the same night — a 4-1 rout of New Hampshire. Though Segedi has yet to make her international debut, she is tabbed as one of the Chinese women’s national team’s rising stars, and is expected to join the team this spring as they compete in the 2020 IIHF Women’s World Championship Division IB in Poland.
Clarkson defender Ella Shelton is also high on the list of players to keep an eye on. Shelton was recently selected to represent Team Canada at both the joint training camp this past weekend and at the 2020 Rivalry Series. She has been lauded as one of the greatest two-way defenders in the nation, and that’s not without reason — she ranks second only to Clarkson teammate Giguère in shots on goal (43) in the entire conference. Shelton is also ranked first in points (10) and tied for first in power-play goals (2) among all ECAC defenders.
RPI freshman Ena Nystrøm has big shoes to fill this season as her team reels from the loss of Swedish star Lovisa Selander, but she’s not letting that stop her from shining. Though RPI currently sits at the bottom of the standings and has zero wins to their name, Nystrøm is ranked third among all ECAC goaltenders in terms of save percentage (.936), and has made the second most saves in the entire conference (276). She has also competed for Team Norway in the IIHF Women’s World Championship Division I tournament since 2017, and earned Best Goalkeeper honors at the 2019 tournament.
It will come as a surprise to very few that the Boston College Eagles are sitting comfortably at the top of Hockey East standings with an 8-1-1 record. Their 17 conference points are unrivaled by pretty much anyone in the rest of the conference — UNH comes in at a distant second, with 11 points and 3 fewer wins than the Eagles. Keeping a sharp eye on the heels of the Wildcats’ skates is Northeastern, whose 5-1-0 record has them ranked above even the Eagles on the national stage.
Resting winless at the bottom of Hockey East is Holy Cross, whose offense has only generated one goal through seven games of conference play. Even Merrimack and Providence, who have historically struggled in such a competitive and offensively-driven conference, each have four points to their names.
The majority of the conference’s offense is concentrated within the top three teams, who have combined for 85 goals while simultaneously allowing only 41. It’s no surprise that the scoreboard is topped by Northeastern’s Alina Mueller, and Boston College’s freshman phenom Hannah Bilka and sophomore superstar Kelly Browne. Together, those three have combined for almost one quarter of all goals scored by the top three teams in conference play. UConn’s Natalie Snodgrass, who is averaging 1.20 points per game, rounds out the top five scoring leaders. UConn, though ranked #5 in conference play, is undefeated when Snodgrass notches a point.
Natalie Breakaway = Goal!— UConn Women's Hockey (@UConnWHOC) November 9, 2019
Snodgrass with her fourth goal of the season makes it 4-1 'Skies! pic.twitter.com/cFuE1u75x7
Perhaps overlooked because of her tenure on a team at the bottom of the standings is MiKyla Grant-Mentis, a senior forward for Merrimack. Grant-Mentis currently has a firm grip on fourth place in conference point totals, but is rivaling freshman superstar Hannah Bilka in goals scored (10). Just a month and a half into the season and Grant-Mentis has already reached the halfway point of her previous season high point total, so her supporters and competitors better be sure to keep a close eye on her as the season pushes on.
Defenders to watch include, of course, Boston College sophomore and Olympic gold medalist Cayla Barnes, who not only leads the conference in blocked shots, but who is also sitting at a comfortable 1.20 points per game average. Not to be overlooked, though, is Vermont sophomore defender Maude Poulin-Labelle, who’s producing at the same level as Barnes on a team that could more desperately use some offensive firepower.
No goaltending analysis would be complete without mention of Aerin Frankel, Northeastern’s junior starter who boasts not only the highest save percentage in the conference (.959), but also the lowest goals against average (.90 — less than 1 goal per game). However, it’s also worth acknowledging that sophomore Maddy McArthur has quietly been making a name for herself between Boston College’s pipes. Though the numbers she’s put up are fairly average given her work load, McArthur has the second highest win percentage in the conference (.833) and is heading into the season was Boston College’s undisputed starter.
The newest D-I conference in the NCAA, NEWHA is rife with players and teams desperate to prove themselves. Since the conference is not guaranteed an auto-bid into the tournament at the end of the season, the teams have to work doubly hard to even qualify for the postseason. New to NEWHA this season are the Long Island University Sharks, who hosted an exhibition game against the Metropolitan Riveters of the NWHL and challenged the reigning NCAA champions Wisconsin Badgers in New York.
That being said, Franklin Pierce and Saint Anselm are currently deadlocked at 10 conference points and five conference wins each, though Franklin Pierce has the upper hand with fewer games played. At the bottom of the standings is Post, who have only been able to squeak out a single win eight games into the season. Long Island and Saint Michael’s are tied with four points and two wins apiece, but with fewer games played, Long Island has the advantage in the standings.
Franklin Pierce and Saint Anselm have combined for the greatest offensive totals, with 51 goals between the two schools. Much of Franklin Pierce’s offense came in their weekend rout of Post, where they completed the games by a score of 9-0 and 8-1. Though the conference itself doesn’t offer comprehensive player statistics, examination of individual team score sheets suggests that much of Franklin Pierce’s offense can be attributed to juniors Haley Parker and Nicole Amato, both of whom have four goals apiece and tallied multi-point games in their outing against Post. Not to be forgotten, though, is Long Island freshman Carrigan Umpherville, who currently leads the team in goals (5) and shots (24).
Franklin Pierce defender Stefanie Caban has also frequented the scoresheet herself, and currently sits second only to Haley Parker in Franklin Pierce scoring. The freshman has 9 points to her name and 19 shots on goal so far this season. Freshman defender Paula Bergström also currently sits at the top of Long Island’s scoresheet, with 3 goals and 3 assists for 6 points in 10 games.
Saint Anselm has allowed the fewest goals against this season, letting in only 12 goals on 160 shots. Their success can largely be attributed to a formidable blue line, but, nonetheless, there would be no such triumphs without a solid player in net as well. In four games played for the Saints, senior Michaela Kane has made 69 saves for a save percentage of .945.
Though all signs point to the reigning national champion Wisconsin Badgers having dominated the ice thus far this season, the WCHA standings suggest a slightly different story. The Badgers currently sit in third place after the Minnesota Golden Gophers handed them a pair of losses a couple of weeks ago, and the Ohio State Buckeyes have surged past Wisconsin to claim second place. The bottom of the standings are currently occupied by a winless St. Cloud State and a struggling Bemidji State team.
The WCHA is one conference that isn’t lacking when it comes to offense, and the top five points leaders come as no surprise to anyone who’s been keeping up with the conference. Juniors Grace Zumwinkle (Minnesota) and Emma Maltais (Ohio State) have control of the top spot with sophomore Taylor Heise (Minnesota) close on their heels; fourth place is a four way tie between two Buckeyes, a Badger, and another Golden Gopher. Senior Beaver Haley Mack leads the charge at Bemidji State with 6 points, but St. Cloud State isn’t represented on the scoreboard until close to the end of the points race, by senior forward Kiki Radke.
There are forwards aplenty to watch in the ever-dominant WCHA, but at this point in the season, we’ve got to hand it to Ohio State junior Emma Maltais. Maltais, who took the weekend off to compete with Team Canada in the Pittsburgh friendly, has quietly snuck into the first place rankings for both points (16) and assists (10), and is second only to Minnesota’s Grace Zumwinkle in terms of shots on goal (46 to Zumwinkle’s 52). Maltais is just getting started this season too — having dominated Ohio State’s scoresheet in her freshman and sophomore seasons, she’s looking to once again take home the team title for most points on the season.
Ohio State senior and captain Jincy Dunne is our defender to watch, as she’s thrown a whopping 28 shots on goal through just ten games. Dunne has always been a very offensively productive defender, but that doesn’t mean she’s slacking when it comes to her position. With eighteen blocks on the season thus far, Dunne has cemented her presence on the Buckeyes’ blue line. Also quietly making a name for herself is Minnesota State sophomore Anna Wilgren, who leads the conference in blocks (33) over just 8 games played. Interestingly enough, the Mavericks are also undefeated when she notches a point — of which she has eight so far this season.
Only one team has evenly split the work load between their goaltenders, and that’s Minnesota State, where Abigail Levy and Calla Frank are battling for the starting role. Levy seems to have the upper hand with the second highest save percentage in the conference (.931) and an additional year of experience under her belt, but the crease is technically still up for grabs.
All data courtesy of the NCAA, CHA, ECAC, Hockey East, NEWHA, and WCHA websites, as well as Elite Prospects and individual team websites.