It hasn't been every day that you've seen low-scoring efforts by some of the top teams in the nation, but that was the case this weekend as Ohio State, Wisconsin (for one game) and Minnesota were all held to a lead of three goals or fewer in their wins against lower- or non-ranked opponents.
#1 Ohio State vs. #7 Minnesota-Duluth
Of the three matchups, this was probably the most anticipated to be close, as these are two top-10 teams and the previous weekend matchup, October 13-14, 2023 (a 5-2 loss for the Bulldogs on Friday, a 2-0 loss Sunday), proved to have much of the same results. While UMD was still unable to generate much offense against the Buckeyes this weekend, being blanked both times by Raygan Kirk and Amanda Thiele, the goals against were actually fewer.
Seven different OSU players hit the scoresheet during their 3-0 win this past Friday, with Kirk making 14 saves to preserve the win; however, on Saturday, Bulldogs goalie Ève Gascon made 32 saves on 33 shots, only allowing one late in the third to Hannah Bilka (who else!) in a 1-0 Badgers win and a tremendous defensive performance by the Bulldogs (21 blocked shots).
#2 Wisconsin vs. Minnesota State
The last time these two teams met, the Mavericks allowed 15 goals combined over the weekend of Oct. 12-13. This time, while Saturday's game proved to be too much (7-2 in favor of the Badgers), Friday's 3-2 result was the best effort all season for Mankato. The Badgers actually came back from a 2-0 deficit, eventually winning off the stick of Kirsten Simms early in the third period. Suzette Faucher made 34 saves for Minnesota State, while Jamie Nelson and Taylor Otremba bookended goals late in the first and within the first minute of the second period to give them the lead in the first place.
Wisconsin being Wisconsin, however, they found a way to win, and then came back in brutal fashion in Saturday's rout. Vivian Jungels got things started just 34 seconds into the game, and the Badgers doubled that lead just 1:19 later. While MSU was able to get that one back quickly and keep it fairly close until midway through the second, the Badgers took over from there, scoring four unanswered to secure the win.
#5 Minnesota vs. Bemidji State
It's been a rough road for the Beavers, but one supposes they can take the moral victories when the opportunity arises. This past weekend was one such opportunity, as Bemidji held fourth/fifth-ranked Minnesota to a pair of two-goal wins. Friday's effort saw just a brief defensive breakdown midway through the first period, during which the Gophers scored two goals within two minutes, but for the rest of the game freshman Eva Filippova stood on her head, turning aside 36 shots in total to keep the game close.
Saturday saw something similar to MSU's efforts, as the Beavers got out to a 1-0 lead off the stick of Khloe Lund, but the Gophers ended up scoring three unanswered to win it by a 3-1 final. Lund's performance over the weekend landed her WCHA Defender of the Week honors, the second time this season she's earned the nod.
I'll have more in the coming weeks about how the WCHA has been able to make things interesting in terms of parity – while you have your obvious contenders like the Buckeyes, Badgers, and Gophers, teams like St. Cloud and Minnesota-Duluth have been able to close the gap somewhat, while teams like St. Thomas and Minnesota State are definitely on their way. It's exciting to see from an NCAA league that has set the bar for women's hockey for the past 25 years.
Bonus News: Badgers senior forward Casey O'Brien hit 150 points for her career over the weekend, with an incredible four-point effort during Saturday's win (1 G, 3 A). She's third-highest on the team in points so far with 38, just one point behind Britta Curl and six behind Simms.
#4 Raiders With Two Big Wins to Stay in Top 5
Colgate is rolling right into their final month of action with a full head of steam, and what better way to assert dominance in your own conference than with 11 goals forced and two shutouts?
First came a big game against fifth-ranked Quinnipiac, which the Raiders handled with ease. It hasn't been easy to beat the Bobcats at home, as prior to this game they held a perfect record in their own barn, but the Raiders were far from daunted by the task ahead; they had nearly the whole team (14 different players!) record at least a point, and took advantage of a five-minute major on Quinnipiac's Maya Labad to put the game far out of reach.
Then came Princeton, and it was just more of the same. Not only did the veterans on the team step up, but freshman Emma Pais had a two-goal game of her own, with primary helpers from Danielle Serdachny on both tallies. Meanwhile, fifth-year defender Sydney Bard hit a special milestone with her 100th career point, an assist on the first Raiders goal, and then added two more and a goal of her own to cap off the day. The depth and skill on this team is just a lot of fun to take in, and Colgate has proven they are one of just two teams to beat in their own conference (Clarkson being the other big dog thus far).
Bonus News: Another ECAC Hockey school celebrated its own points milestone, with St. Lawrence junior forward Abby Hustler hitting 100 points in a three-assist night Friday against Brown (St. Lawrence won 4-0).
Syracuse Takes a W Over Penn State in Conference Play, Split Weekend
Poor Syracuse. Just a couple of seasons removed from their CHA championship year that saw them lose just four conference games, this season they have just five overall wins and it seems like they can't get their footing under them. This weekend, however, was a bit different, as they opened the series against the Nittany Lions with a surprising 3-1 win Friday night. Grad-year goalie Allie Kelley was the star of the evening, with an unbelievable 41 saves in her fourth straight 40-plus-save performance, and the penalty kill was red-hot with two shorthanded goals (Darci Johal and Tatum White).
Unfortunately, the Orange couldn't replicate the success of Friday night, and Penn State came back in big fashion with a 5-0 shutout. Four Lions players had multi-point games, and Katie DeSa was given light work with just 12 saves on the afternoon as Kelley (48 saves) was peppered with shots yet again and the Orange allowed two power play goals by the Lions on six opportunities.
#11 UConn Takes Over Top Spot in Hockey East... For Now
There has been so much movement in Hockey East all season, and those we thought would be at the top... well, they aren't. Northeastern is hovering in third with Providence hot on their heels, while Vermont started well but has been sliding fast after a few losses in a row (including two this weekend to Boston U). Maine's been on a little bit of a heater, but hasn't been able to pull itself out of seventh place just yet.
Meanwhile, it's the UConn Huskies who have managed to bump Boston College out of the top spot in the league most recently, winning their last five consecutive games and seven of their last 10 for a respectable 16-6-2 record overall heading into the final stretch. This weekend, they were on the road, beating Maine 3-1 before shutting out New Hampshire 4-0.
The Huskies got a strong performance all weekend from Kathryn Stockdale, who tallied a goal and two assists, and both goaltenders earned wins with Tia Chan stopping 19 shots on Friday and Megan Warrener stopping 20 on Saturday, in her 10th win and fifth shutout of the season.
Check out the most recent USCHO.com poll here.
Full Scores: Jan. 18-21, 2024
Thursday, Jan. 18:
Sacred Heart 1, Franklin Pierce 0
Friday, Jan. 19:
Clarkson 4, Yale 1
St. Cloud State 3, St. Thomas 1
Cornell 5, Princeton 3
St. Lawrence 4, Brown 0
BC 6, Merrimack 4
Northeastern 2, UNH 1
Mercyhurst 6, RMU 1
St. Anselm 4, Post 1
Lindenwood 4, RIT 2
BU 6, Vermont 1
Providence 3, Holy Cross 1
Harvard 2, Rensselaer 1
Dartmouth 4, Union 2
LIU 2, Assumption 1
Stonehill 4, Saint Michael's 1
Saturday, Jan. 20:
Clarkson 4, Brown 2
Cornell 4, Quinnipiac 3
St. Thomas 5, St. Cloud State 1
St. Lawrence 4, Yale 2
RMU 2, Mercyhurst 1
Providence 5, Holy Cross 2
St. Anselm 4, Post 2
BU 4, Vermont 2
Rensselaer 5, Dartmouth 1
Stonehill 5, Saint Michael's 1
Lindenwood 3, RIT 2 (OT)
Maine 3, Merrimack 3 (SOW for Merrimack)
LIU 2, Assumption 1