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2020-21 NCAA Preview: Hockey East, part 1

A look at the teams that finished fifth through tenth in the standings last season

UConn Athletics

It is, apparently, that time of year again: time to preview the upcoming season and take our best guesses at where each team will fall when all is said and done. This is the strangest year I’ve ever previewed in all my time covering NCAA women’s hockey—some teams are forgoing the season completely—but Hockey East is choosing to move forward with a return to play.

There are likely to be lots of hiccups this year. Vermont, for one, already postponed the start of its season until Dec. 18. But, under the circumstances, here’s my best guess at how things might go this year.

Connecticut

Key Losses:

  • Catherine Crawley, F: Finished second on the squad with 31 points (15 goals and 16 assists) in 39 games.
  • Briana Colangelo, F: Finished third behind Crawley with 24 points, and led UConn with 17 assists as a senior.
  • Tristyn Svetek, D: Led the team with 82 blocked shots and finished second among defenders with 12 points last season.
  • Morgan Fisher, G: Started 29 games in 2019-20 and finished with a .907 save percentage and 2.35 GAA.

Key Returners:

  • Natalie Snodgrass, Senior, F: A bonafide star for the Huskies, she led the team with 16 goals, 17 assists, and 33 points in 2019-20.
  • Morgan Wabick, Senior, F: Finished with the top-five in scoring with 21 points last season.
  • Danielle Fox, Junior, F: Chipped in a solid 16 points last season; also a strong center option, winning 53.8% of draws.
  • Taylor Wabick, Senior, D: Strong offensive-minded defender; led the D in scoring with 21 points as a junior.
  • Samantha Carpentier-Yelle, Junior, G: Looked strong in her 10 starts in 2019-20, posting a .929 save percentage and 1.70 GAA.

Season Outlook:

UConn advanced to the Hockey East Tournament championship game for the second time in three years, and they’ll be hoping to build off that with a good regular-season showing. Catherine Crawley is the most significant loss up front, and they have a hole to fill in net with Fisher’s departure, but Carpentier-Yelle seems up to task. Snodgrass and the Wabick twins are clear leaders for this team; as seniors, they’ve got plenty of experience and loads of talent to boot. UConn is also adding defender Alexandra-Anne Boyer and forward Valérie Haché to the mix, two players who should make contributions right away.

The Huskies are tabbed to finish fourth in the Hockey East Preseason Coaches Poll, a rank that I think feels pretty good for this squad. They may not be as deep as Hockey East’s topmost squads but they can definitely compete with the talent they have.

New Hampshire

Key Losses:

  • Meghara McManus, F: Led the team with 17 goals and 27 points in 2019-20.
  • Tori Howran, D: Second on the team with 22 points, first with 20 assists, and the highest scoring defender; also chipped in 57 blocked shots.
  • Taylor Wenczkowski, F: Third for the Wildcats in scoring with 21 points last season.
  • Carlee Turner, F: UNH’s fourth highest scorer in 2019-20, with 20 points.

Key Returners:

  • Tamara Thiérus, Sophomore, F: She is the Wildcats’ leading returning scorer after a 20-point freshman campaign.
  • Lauren Martin, Junior, F: Right behind Thiérus, she scored 17 points last year.
  • Emily Rickwood, Junior, D: A leader on the blue who notched 14 points (7 goals, 7 assists) and 56 blocked shots.
  • Talli Warren, Junior, D: Led the team with 64 blocked shots and chipped in 9 points from the blue line last year.
  • Ava Boutilier, Redshirt Junior, G: Posted a .940 save percentage, 1.80 GAA, and 6 shutouts in 27 games played.

Season Outlook:

New Hampshire finished sixth in the Hockey East standings last season, but turned things up a notch in the playoffs, sweeping third-seeded Providence to advance to the tournament semifinals. Holding their rank will be a tough task in 2020-21 with their top four scorers all graduating. The Wildcats should also be looking to improve on their total offense from 2019-20; they finished eighth in Hockey East with 2.24 goals per game. On the plus side, sophomore Tamara Thiérus looks poised to take on a bigger role this season, and the Wildcats are bringing in three Team Canada U18 alums: forward Nicole Kelly and defenders Charli Kettyle and Brianna Legros.

With Boutilier in net and some depth on the back-end, they should hopefully be able to keep games within reach, and their incoming class should definitely add some raw skill to the line-up. If they can’t get a ton of offensive production to make up for their losses up front, I don’t see them breaking into the conference’s top tier, but there is definite potential for this team on paper.

Maine

Key Losses:

  • Tereza Vanišová, F: Was second on the squad last season with 31 points off of 14 goals and 17 assists.
  • Brittany Colton, F: Notched 15 points in 34 games in 2019-20.
  • Carly Jackson, G: Started 30 games for Maine and finished her senior year with a .934 save percentage and 1.90 GAA.

Key Returners:

  • Ida Kuoppala, Sophomore, F: Led the Black Bears with 19 goals and 33 points as a rookie last season.
  • Liga Miljone, Junior, F: Ranked third last season with 28 points in 37 games and led the squad with 11 power-play points.
  • Ali Beltz, Junior, F: Turned in a strong sophomore campaign as Maine’s second-line center, leading the team with 20 assists.
  • Ida Press, Junior, D: Led the D in scoring with 17 points.
  • Taylor Leech, Senior, D: Led the team with 52 blocked shots and finished with 14 points from the blue line.

Season Outlook:

Maine has some really talented pieces on the roster this year, but they have some holes to fill. In net especially, they’re going to need to replace Jackson, who had a fantastic year and was a huge part of Maine advancing to the Hockey East semifinals last season. The Black Bears also lose their leading scorer and a dynamic offensive threat in Vanišová. But Kuoppala is a pure goal scorer and showed she can be a game-breaking player last year, and there’s a good core around her, most notably led by Miljone and Press. They’re also bringing in a large freshman class. They’re picked to finish seventh in the Preseason Coaches Poll. Maine should be competitive again, albeit as a middle-of-the-pack team.

Vermont

Key Losses:

  • Ève-Audrey Picard, F: Finished with 21 points (5 goals, 16 assists) last season as a senior.

Key Returners:

  • Theresa Schafzahl, Junior, F: Led the team with 14 goals and 29 points last season.
  • Corinne McCool, Junior, F: Along with having one of the best names in Hockey East, she finished third on the team with 24 points in 2019-20.
  • Maude Poulin-Labelle, Junior, D: Tied for the team lead with 29 points from the blue line.
  • Sini Karjalainen, Junior, D: Led the Catamounts with 19 assists and was the second highest-scoring D with 24 points.
  • Sara Levesque, Sophomore, D: Made an impression as a rookie by leading the team with 40 blocked shots.
  • Blanka Škodová, Junior, G: Played the majority of games for the Catamounts and put up an .893 save percentage and 2.56 goals-against average last season.

Season Outlook:

The Catamounts finished eighth in last season’s standings and the Preseason Coaches Poll has them tabbed for the same spot this year. My gut feeling is this is a team with plenty of room for growth. Karjalainen is the real deal on the back-end and is starting to see pretty significant time with Team Finland; Poulin-Labelle is also a difference-maker there. Schafzahl is a legit offensive threat every time she has the puck. Their biggest issue is depth, but they aren’t losing many pieces and if they can get real improvements in net, I think they have a chance to move up higher in the pack. Vermont gave up the second-fewest shots on goal per game last season (23.61), but Škodová was last among all Hockey East ranked goalies in save percentage. Incoming freshman Jess McPherson, a Canadian U18 Team alum, may be able to help in that department. If Vermont can get even average goaltending this season they’ll be in a better spot.

Holy Cross

Key Losses:

  • Rachel Moore, F: Leading point scorer in 2019-20 with 12 points
  • Victoria Young, D: Second in blocked shots in 2019-20 with 41

Key Returners:

  • Carlie Magier, Junior, F: Tied for 1st in goals with 5 and finished second on the squad with 10 points in 2019-20.
  • Mary Edmonds, Sophomore, F: As a freshman, finished tied for first with 5 goals last season.
  • Antonia Matzka, Senior, D: Led the D in scoring last season with 8 points
  • Jada Brenon, Junior, G: Started 29 games last year for the Crusaders and finished the year with a .914 save percentage and 3.31 goals-against average.

Season Outlook:

Holy Cross was picked to finish 10th in Hockey East’s Preseason Coaches Poll. Compared to most of the league’s teams, the Crusaders are still a very young Division I squad, and they haven’t quite closed the gap in terms of talent just yet. There are some promising signs for the young program, though, with the pickup of Canadian U18 goaltender Madison Beck being perhaps the most prominent out of this incoming class. Rookie Millie Rose Sirum, a Norwegian national team product, also brings in some offensive skill. They likely aren’t going to rise very far this season, but with some of the losses that Merrimack is facing I think they could finish in ninth place again.

Merrimack

Key Losses:

  • Léa-Kristine Demers, G: Started 26 games for the Warriors in 2019-20 and finished with a .906 save percentage
  • Mikyla Grant-Mentis, F: program’s leading scorer; finished with a team-leading 20 goals, 13 assists, and 33 points last season
  • Kate Bukolská, F: Finished top-five for Merrimack with 12 points in 2019-20
  • Chloe Cook, D: Leading scorer from the blue line with 9 points last season

Key Returners:

  • Dominika Lásková, Senior, F: Leading returning scorer from last season with 17 points (4 goals, 13 assists)
  • Keisha DiCare, Junior, F: Notched 13 points in 25 games last year
  • Julia MacLean, Junior, D: Led the team with 63 blocked shots and finished with 7 points on the year
  • Emma Gorski, Sophomore, G: Saw action in 9 games as a rookie and the lone returning goaltender on the roster with game experience

Season Outlook:

Merrimack has some major holes to fill following the graduation of Grant-Mentis and Demers. Up front, Grant-Mentis was the only player last season to score double-digit goals; in total, she scored more than one-third of the team’s goals in 2019-20. Freshmen Hannah Corneliusen and Ally Qualley put up really good numbers playing Minnesota high school hockey last season and Carly Glover has USA Hockey Development Camp experience, but I’m not convinced Merrimack has the pieces coming in to truly make up for Grant-Mentis’ departure. There’s also a question mark in goal. The Warriors have shown they can compete in Hockey East but I don’t see them bringing in enough pieces to take a step forward this year.