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The Takeaway: Division I coaching carousel continues to spin

This NCAA offseason has seen plenty of movement among both players and coaches

Photo : The Associated Press/Stacy Bengs

It’s an offseason edition of The Takeaway to help catch you up on all the biggest NCAA Division I women’s hockey news this spring!

5 Things to Know

1. Coaching carousel continues to turn: It’s been a pretty active offseason as far as coaching appointments go. There’s plenty of movement in the player transfer portal (we’ll get to that in a bit), there have been some really notable names taking on new head coaching roles or assistant positions.

One of the biggest: St. Thomas announced the hiring of Joel Johnson as the program’s head coach ahead of their inaugural Division I season. Johnson spent 16 years as a member of the Gophers’ coaching staff over two stints. He was first an assistant coach from 1999-2000 through the 2003-04 season, and has assisted head coach Brad Frost since 2010-11.

He’s long been regarded as one of the brightest up-and-coming coaches in the women’s game and has no doubt had other opportunities before now. It’s no surprise to see him finally stepping into a head coaching role, and he is undoubtedly a big get for the Tommies as they transition to Division I. Johnson has been a part of six national championship teams at Minnesota and was an integral part of their recruiting efforts. Most recently, he was named interim head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team.

Other notable coaching moves: Boston University assistant Tara Watchorn will help another team break into Division I, as the head coach at Stonehill. BU associate head coach Liz Keady-Norton is taking over as head coach at Dartmouth. Both spent four seasons behind the Terriers’ bench. So far, BU has announced that Kerstin Matthews will serve as associate head coach; she spent 14 years at Saint Anselm, accumulating a 237-74-22 record. Former Robert Morris assistant Jen Kindret will take over for the Hawks.

After spending two years as an assistant at Princeton and helping them to an ECAC title in 2020, Mel Ruzzi was named head coach at Brown. She was an assistant at Harvard from 2007-11 and spent six years as an associate head coach at Providence, so she has a ton of experience in-conference. Brown also announced that Makenna Newkirk and Justin Simpson will join Ruzzi as assistants.

New Hampshire just announced the hiring of Sam Faber as an assistant, and Providence is adding Nicole Renault to their staff, meaning that LIU now has two openings of their own to fill. Minnesota Duluth’s Ashleigh Brykaliuk announced she will step down as an assistant to focus on her teaching career, so there’s an opening on the Bulldogs’ staff as well.

2. Robert Morris discontinues men’s and women’s hockey: By far the biggest and worst shock of the offseason so far, RMU announced last month that it will no longer be sponsoring Division I hockey. It can’t be stated enough: this is a gut-wrenching decision that will have a ripple effect on the rest of the sport as players transfer elsewhere—or, worse, can’t find another DI landing spot.

So far, we know of three star Colonials who have transferred to Ohio State—highlighted below—and Maggy Burbidge is heading back home to Nova Scotia to play for St. Francis Xavier. This has been said a thousand times now by plenty of people around the sport, but this is an absolutely brutal year to be trying to find a roster spot, with the transfer portal loaded and so many seniors returning for an extra year.

The decision could have bigger implications for the rest of Division I, too, particularly the postseason. Conferences are required to have at least six members in order to qualify for an automatic bid, so College Hockey America’s autobid for the national tournament is obviously in serious jeopardy.

If you’re looking to read up on how the Robert Morris decision is impacting the players and people involved, you should absolutely read Michaela Boyle’s first-person piece. Boyle is a forward with a great knack for scoring goals, who found a new home at RMU after transferring from Clarkson.

3. Minnesota Duluth picks up Élizabeth Giguère: The highest-profile transfer of the year, Giguère announced she will be playing for the Bulldogs in the fall in her last year of eligibility. She won the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award in 2020, helped Clarkson to a national title in 2018, and has generally dominated every statistical category for the past four years (ish) with the Golden Knights.

This is a huge get for the Bulldogs, who already boast a strong offensive lineup and are coming off a trip to the Frozen Four, where they took top-seeded Northeastern to double overtime. Clearly, Minnesota Duluth is a capable team, and they’ll now have three legitimate star forwards between Giguère, Anna Klein, and Gabbie Hughes.

You can watch the full press conference with head coach Maura Crowell and Giguère here:

4. Lots of movement on the transfer wire: It’s pretty well-known by now that there’s been a lot of activity in terms of players transferring, mostly due to every player being granted an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA due to the pandemic. Here are some of the biggest names who will have new homes this fall:

  • Corinne Schroeder, heading to Quinnipiac from Boston University: Schroeder has come up huge between the pipes for the Terriers over the past few seasons. She’s a great starting goaltender who has proven she can put up dominant numbers; she should be in the mix right away for the Bobcats.
  • Raygan Kirk, heading to Ohio State from Robert Morris: One part of the Colonials trio heading to the Buckeyes, Kirk is a really strong goaltender with a ton of upside.
  • Lexi Templeman, heading to Ohio State from Robert Morris: Templeman has been one of the Colonials’ best forwards throughout her career and will make an immediate impact on the Buckeyes’ offense.
  • Emily Curlett, heading to Ohio State from Robert Morris: Curlett is a really skilled two-way defender who excelled in all situations for one of the CHA’s top teams.
  • Kendra Nealey, heading to Wisconsin from Cornell: Nealey has been a really steady presence on the blue line for the Big Red and adds a strong veteran presence to Wisconsin’s defensive corps.
  • Clair DeGeorge, heading to Ohio State from Bemidji State: DeGeorge will join the Buckeyes as a grad transfer. She was an extremely effective player for the Beavers and should be a solid contributor at both ends for OSU.
Bemidji State forward Clair DeGeorge (#26) carries the puck during a game against St. Cloud State. BSU Photo Services

5. 2021-22 North American national team commitments: Four current collegiate players who will be centralized with Team Canada and miss the 2021-22 college hockey season: Julia Gosling, Sarah Fillier, Ashton Bell, and Emma Maltais. All four are big misses for teams who had at least reasonable (or bigger) hopes of contending within their conferences and on the national stage; St. Lawrence would probably be considered the biggest underdog of the group, but they were competitive this past season among a shorter ECAC field and Gosling is a huge impact player for them.

USA Hockey has not announced their centralization roster yet but it would be shocking if a few collegiate players aren’t with the team next season. Players with college eligibility on their camp roster include (camp took place from June 1-6):

  • Northeastern’s Aerin Frankel
  • BC’s Cayla Barnes, Hannah Bilka, and Kelly Browne
  • Wisconsin’s Natalie Buchbinder, Caroline Harvey, Nicole LaMantia, Britta Curl, Lacey Eden, Casey O’Brien, and Makenna Webster (how did they ever manage to win a national championship a few months ago?)
  • Minnesota’s Gracie Ostertag, Taylor Heise, Abbey Murphy, and Grace Zumwinkle
  • Minnesota State’s Anna Wilgren
  • BU’s Jesse Compher
  • Harvard’s Dominique Petrie
  • Ohio State’s Liz Schepers

Of this group, Barnes is the lone returning Olympian and should be in a very good spot to make the residency roster. Frankel, Buchbinder, Harvey, Compher, Curl, and Zumwinkle all made the initial 2021 World Championship roster before the tournament was postponed, so they all likely have strong cases to make the squad.