With college hockey season set to begin, all 35 programs are gearing up for a season-long race for conference titles and a bid for the national championship.
While every team knows many of its opponents every year through conference games, the nonconference schedule changes every year. And with a new Division I program beginning play, that change will be especially noticeable in 2015-16.
Let us take a look at the nonconference matchups most worth looking forward to.
Sept. 25/26: Minnesota State vs. Union
There’s no getting around that these were the two worst teams in the country last season with Union going 4-22-8 and being outshot on average 37-20 each game and Minnesota State going 3-30-1 and being outshot 41-18 on average. What those numbers actually mean can get lost amid a top heavy WCHA and an ECAC that brings seven or eight solid teams every year.
The landscape of NCAA Division I Women’s hockey has been fairly constant over the years with the WCHA, and more specifically Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, and Wisconsin dominating, but Clarkson ushered in the first signs of change with their 2014 National Championship victory over Minnesota. Teams like Union and Minnesota State gaining ground might be the second step. They both graduated major talent last season with Union goaltender Shenae Lundberg going to the NWHL, but they had a glut of young players too with seven freshmen suiting up for Union and a whopping twelve for Minnesota State. Teams shouldn’t gloss over these two on the schedule.
Oct. 16/17: (5) Boston University vs. (7) Clarkson
Boston University handled Clarkson pretty easily in this matchup last season, winning 3-1 and 5-2 results. This season they come in having lost leading scorer Marie-Philip Poulin while Clarkson enters having lost the second least amount of production in the NCAA to graduating seniors.
The early stretches were rough for the Knights last season as they figured out how to handle having lost four of their top five scorers. This season the transition looks to be much shorter and they’ll no doubt come into their matchup with the Terriers on better footing.
Last season the Knights had one of the deepest defensive corps in the nation, notching more shots from their second and third pairings than anyone else in the ECAC. As such they built their game around lots of possession and a safe, steady attack. It’ll be interesting to see if they alter that to pack more offensive punch now that the roster has more experience.
Oct. 23/24: (9) Cornell vs. (3) Boston College
The Ivy League schools don’t go out of conference as much as the rest of the ECAC, making those games that much more important in determining their overall strength versus the rest of the NCAA as well as the ECAC’s.
Cornell often makes up for the lack of quantity with quality, littering their out of conference schedule with strong opponents. As most of those games come early, this can either put them on very solid footing nationally or (as it did last season) force them to play catch-up in pollsters’ minds and the Pairwise Rankings trying to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Cornell graduated their entire top forward line of Brianne Jenner, Jillian Saulnier and Emily Fulton which scored just over half their goals. This game will be an early indication of just how impactful those losses will be.
Nov. 14: Syracuse vs. (9) Cornell
A tenured Central New York power in Cornell travels to play an up and coming one in Syracuse. The Orange were actually slightly better than CHA front-runner Mercyhurst in putting up shots on goal in conference play (660 to 629) and could be in a solid position to knock the Lakers off their pedestal atop the CHA.
A big part of this game will be whether the Orange netminder can match Cornell’s six foot brick wall in net Paula Voorheis save for save. Goaltending was a large reason the Orange were merely a decent team instead of a very good one as they sported the third worst save percentage in the nation last year.
This game will also give us an idea of the relative strength of the CHA and if anyone other than Mercyhurst can compete against the other conferences’ top teams.
Nov. 27/28: Syracuse vs. North Dakota
When the third best team in the WCHA meets the second best team in the CHA for a two game weekend, most fans would reasonably expect blowouts. That was not the case last year as the Orange split their weekend with North Dakota, losing the first game 4-1 with an empty netter and winning the second 2-1.
The Orange were outshot 35-15 and 45-23 in those two games so it will certainly be an uphill climb to match North Dakota’s level of play but with the CHA slowly but steadily gaining ground on the other conferences, a close pair of games between these two could be indicative of the not-so-distant future.
Nov. 28: (5) Boston University vs. (9) Cornell
This game may prove to be less interesting when we reach that point in the regular season. Both the Terriers and the Big Red incurred significant losses in the offseason and their ability to absorb them is very much unproven at this point.
But even if that’s the case, we’ll get a hard fought game between two teams trying to claw their way up the rankings. Both teams lost star players that anchored their attacks and will have to bring a more balanced scoring approach this season. The team that figures out how to best utilize their depth will likely be the team that wins this matchup.
Nov. 29: Ohio State vs. (5) Boston University (Windjammer Classic)
The first inaugural Windjammer Classic will invite Boston University, Cornell, and Ohio State to play at the Gutterson Fieldhouse in Vermont.
Ohio State is always a tough out that can never quite seem to break into the top of the pack in the WCHA having finished between 4th and 6th every season except 2008-09. They bring a new head coach in Jenny Potter who no doubt hopes to make that leap. While a nonconference game, defeating the 5th ranked team in the country would be a major step upward.
Jan. 2/3: Ohio State vs. Penn State
In any other sport this one might be a lot bigger with two traditional Big Ten powers squaring off against one another. In NCAA Women’s hockey the stakes aren’t quite so high with a middling team from the CHA playing a middling team from the WCHA. Still, there is a fair amount of history between the schools and an opportunity to see how the middles of the two conferences stack up against one another.
Jan. 20: (6) Quinnipiac vs. (5) Boston University
The Bobcats started strong last season but faltered late, culminating in a disappointing blowout loss to Harvard in their first NCAA Tournament appearance. The stage is set to do the same this season, and this matchup against the Terriers begins a home stretch where they play three ranked opponents in four games, and four in seven.
Quinnipiac came into last season the most physically fit team in the country and a central part of their game was out-hustling their opponents on both the forecheck and the backcheck. It led to stifling games where they dominated middle to low shot totals and helped them race out to a 14-0-3 start. But teams caught up and the better ones were able to break through Quinnipiac’s pressure to find success. With a new head coach in Cassandra Turner, it’ll be interesting to see if and how the Bobcats alter that style of play.
The Beanpot Tournament
Feb. 2: (3) Boston College vs. (2) Harvard (Beanpot Semifinals)
Feb 2: (5) Boston University vs. Northeastern (Beanpot Semifinals)
Feb. 9: Beanpot finals
The three meaningful games of the Beanpot all get their own entry. Northeastern is the most historically successful with 16 Beanpot titles to their name, but they may enter this year’s tournament the only team unranked.
That was the case last season, but the Huskies still took #1 Boston College deep into the third tied 1-1 and were an empty net goal removed from a one goal loss to Boston University in the consolation game.
The rankings never have much weight come Beanpot time and every year everyone has a chance to win it. Everyone comes in with something to prove. Northeastern might have more incentive than most, no doubt looking to add to their trophy case in superstar Kendall Coyne’s senior season. Harvard is looking to defend their title. Boston College will no doubt want to avenge last year’s championship, where Harvard handed them their first loss of the season. Boston University hasn’t forgotten their embarrassing 9-2 loss to Harvard in last year’s first round.