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Best rivalries in the NCAA

The top rivalry, plus players to watch, in each NCAA Division I conference

Al Saniuk

What’s college hockey without a couple of good old-fashioned rivalries? We’ve compiled a list of five of the best rivalries in the NCAA Division I, as well as a player from each team to look out for ahead of next season’s match-ups.

The CHA: Robert Morris vs. Mercyhurst

Between 2006 and 2013, Robert Morris won only a single game against their opponents to the north, but the tide has since turned to put the two teams on more even footing. During their four regular season match-ups in the 2019-20 season, Mercyhurst won twice and Robert Morris won once, with the final game resulting in a draw even after five minutes of overtime. Four minutes into yet another overtime period gave Mercyhurst the CHA Championship, their thirteenth title since the CHA’s conception in 2002. That’s not to say Robert Morris didn’t put up a good fight though — they put up 31 shots on Mercyhurst netminder Kennedy Blair, and opened the scoring with a nifty shot from forward Michaela Boyle just two minutes into the first period.

Her early goal in the conference final is just part of the reason redshirt sophomore Michaela Boyle is our player to watch at Robert Morris ahead of next season. Throughout the season series with Mercyhurst, Boyle not scored a goal in all but one of the regular season match-ups, but played a pivotal role on the Colonials’ power play. 11 of her 22 goals this season came with the player advantage, and three of her four goals versus Mercyhurst came while on the power play.

Robert Morris forward Michaela Boyle handles the puck behind the net in a game against Union on Sept. 27, 2019. Justin Berl/RMU Athletics

On the other side of the ice, Mercyhurst sophomore Emily Pinto is making a case for herself as a staple on the Lakers’ offense. With a goal or primary assist in all but one of Mercyhurst’s regular season meetings with Robert Morris, Pinto is slowly but surely making a name for herself as a forward with an incredibly accurate shot. Over the entire regular season, Pinto posted 23 points — and more than a quarter of those points came against Robert Morris.

The ECAC: Harvard vs. Princeton

The rivalry between Harvard and Princeton might not be the first one to pop into your head when you think of women’s college hockey rivalries, but the Crimson and the Tigers have a storied history stretching all the way back to the 1979-80 season, when both teams were playing in the American Women’s College Hockey Alliance. The all-time record is in Harvard’s favor, 48 games to 35, but recent match-ups have shown that the two teams are a lot more evenly matched than they were in the early 2000s. With ten regular season games in the past five years, each school takes home two ties, four regulation wins, and four regulation losses.

Forward Anne Bloomer is our player to keep an eye on for Harvard next season. She finished her second season with the Crimson this year fourth on the team in points with 23, and tallied two goals in Harvard’s only win of the series. Though she hasn’t historically been as offensively productive against Princeton as she was this year, she’s still made her case as a key piece on Harvard’s offense.

It’d be easy to credit any one of Princeton’s first liners as having the most pivotal role in this rivalry, but that honor ultimately goes to sophomore Maggie Connors, who finished third on her team in points (57) and notched three points (two goals and an assist) over the season series with Harvard.

Princeton Athletics

Hockey East: Boston College vs. Boston University

It’s a tale as old as time: the Battle of Comm Avenue. With two regular season wins against the Eagles, plus a non-conference victory during the Beanpot preliminary, it would be easy to say that BU has dominated the rivalry. But the two teams’ record tells a slightly different story: the Terriers have only 22 wins against BC to the Eagles’ 31. The fact remains that a combination of factors complicate the story of one of Boston’s most famous women’s hockey rivalries

BC’s Alexie Guay is shaping into a force to be reckoned with on the blue line. A freshman defender in 2019-20, Guay’s one goal and one assist is even more remarkable when combined with her singular penalty over the season series. Largely considered a key piece in the future of Team Canada’s defense, it’s Guay’s combination of offensive prowess and discipline that make her a formidable opponent not just for BU, but for all of the NCAA — and, let’s be real, Team USA too.

Shanna Martin-Book

Across town, junior forward and Team USA star Jesse Compher is undoubtedly one of the most pivotal players in the rivalry. This season alone, she registered a goal and two assists against BC during the regular season despite sitting out the first match-up. When you factor her two goals during the first night of the Beanpot into the equation, it’s even more obvious just how important Compher is to keeping the Terriers afloat in a rivalry they historically haven’t dominated.

The NEWHA: St. Anselm vs. Long Island

Despite 2019-2020 being the NEWHA’s first season as an official Division I conference, there was no shortage of intense match-ups between the six teams — particularly those between St. Anselm and Long Island. The teams met four times over the course of the regular season, with Long Island taking losses in three out of the four match-ups. When it came time for the conference championship, though, the Sharks showed up with a renewed energy — and took home the first ever NEWHA trophy in their inaugural season as a Division I program against St. Anselm.

St. Anselm junior Katy Meehan made her mark on the rivalry with the Sharks, with two goals and one assist over the season series. Her second most productive game came against Long Island, where she scored two goals in an early January rivalry game. She leads the Hawks in scoring and has a hefty lead in the goals race as well, with 15 to the nearest skater’s nine.

At the opposite end of the ice and with an assist on the title-clinching goal, freshman Sharks captain Alva Johnsson is the second of our players to look out for in this rivalry. Johnsson notched a point in all but one of Long Island’s four regular season meetings with St. Anselm, and despite being fifth on the team in scoring, registered almost a quarter of her points this season against the Hawks.

Long Island Sharks captain Alva Johnsson stays focused on the ice during a match-up against the University of Wisconsin
Photos by Alan J Schaefer

The WCHA: Minnesota vs. Wisconsin

The rivalry between Minnesota and Wisconsin is so fierce, it even has its own name built-in: the Border Battle. Historically, this is one of the most even feuds in women’s hockey history, with the Golden Gophers boasting 52 overall wins to the Badgers’ 41. The 2019-20 season was no different, with each team finishing with two wins apiece in the season series. As is typical for these two offensive powerhouses, two of the four match-ups required extra time to find a winner. While Amy Potomak potted the shootout winner in a jaw-dropping fashion for the extra conference point in the penultimate game of the season series, it was Wisconsin up-and-comer Sophie Shirley who scored in overtime to cement the Badgers’ first rivalry win.

2019 NCAA Division I Women’s Ice Hockey Championship Photo by Sean D. Elliot/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Though that overtime goal was sophomore Badger Sophie Shirley’s only one of the series vs. Minnesota, she made an impact on the rivalry last year as well — registering two goals and one assist over the four regular season match-ups during her freshman campaign. Shirley, who’s already been tabbed as a future star for Team Canada, had 61 points this season on a talent-heavy Badgers squad, good for second on the team.

With an impressive four goals and three assists over the season series with Wisconsin, few Golden Gophers were more productive than junior Grace Zumwinkle. She has weight in the rivalry too, posting four points last season and three points in 2017-2018. Additionally, Zumwinkle’s 25 goals on the season were good for the team lead and accounted for over one sixth of the team’s offensive production this season.