Teams will hit the ground running coming out of the break. Play resumes on January 1st and it’ll be a sprint to the conference tournaments and then to the NCAA Tournament.  Here are questions of all sizes for the second half of the season.

Who wins the CHA?

Syracuse was tabbed as the coaches’ favorite in the preseason but they’ve struggled in net. Their team save percentage of .882 is 32nd in the country. Mercyhurst is the perennial favorite and current leader, but they have the same problem. Their .889 figure is 27th.  We’ll learn a lot when they square off for the first time this season on January 15th and 16th.

Is this Quinnipiac’s year?

The Bobcats started last season on fire and then tailed off. This season has them repeating the recipe, though they’ve exorcised one demon in beating Harvard 2-1 in OT in their final game before the break. The Crimson were 4-0-0 against the Bobcats last season and knocked them out of both the ECAC tournament and the NCAA tournament.

Are the Golden Knights good?

It seems odd to be asking this of a 15-3-2 team but they’re lacking in quality wins. Their sweep of Boston University earlier in the season looks looked unimpressive as the Terriers’ record drifted towards .500. It looks a little better now with them picking up again. They’re 1-1-2 against other ranked opponents and just looked flat when Quinnipiac shut them out in late November.

Will there be fresh faces in the ECAC playoffs?

The ECAC only sends the top 8 teams to its conference tournament. The current #6 and #8, Colgate and RPI, weren’t there last year. Only two points separate fifth place and 10th so no one can breathe easy yet. But the Raiders look like the real deal and the Engineers have shown enough to suggest they might be difficult to unseat.

If things stay as they are it’ll be Colgate’s and RPI’s first postseasons since 2012-13. It’ll be the first time Cornell didn’t make the championship since 2008-09. The Big Red haven’t missed the tournament at all since 2006-07.

Can Northeastern make program history?

The Huskies have never made the NCAA tournament. They’re the odd team out right now sitting eighth in the PairWise Rankings. (The CHA tournament winner will get an autobid meaning those in the top 7 that don’t win their conferences will secure the at-large bids.)

Right now their schedule is lacking in teams under consideration which is a major factor in determining their spot in the PairWise. They’ll probably need to sweep their final series against Boston University, win their first round Beanpot game and run to the conference championship to be safe. Even then they’ll probably have to hope the other conferences go as planned. If someone like North Dakota wins the WCHA, Wisconsin and Minnesota are definitely getting at-large bids before Northeastern.

Can anyone stop Boston College?

Boston College is 20-0-0 and has played precisely two games where they won by two goals or less. Those teams, Northeastern and Boston University, lost their other games against the Eagles by a combined score of 14-2.

They have Harvard, Northeastern, and BU once apiece and Harvard and one of the other two in the Beanpot (assuming they make the championship). Outside of that they’ve got 5th, 6th, 8th, and 9th place in Hockey East. An undefeated season looks fairly likely at this point.

Why are some NWHL draftees struggling?

Clarkson’s Shannon MacAulay (Boston Pride) had 33 points in 38 games last season. She’s on pace for 19 this year. Mercyhurst’s Emily Janiga and Jenna Dingeldein (Buffalo Beauts) had 45 and 35 respectively in 35 games last season. They’re currently on pace for 21 and 25. Mercyhurst and Clarkson didn’t graduate an inordinate amount of talent last season so their struggles are puzzling. Both added talented freshmen, but conventional wisdom says that would strengthen the teams’ top players, not reduce them.

Boston University’s Sarah Lefort (Buffalo Beauts) would have made this list early in the season, but thanks to a 9 game point streak featuring nine goals and 10 assists she’s on pace to hit 47 to last year’s 50. Plus BU lost mega-talent Marie-Philip Poulin to the CWHL so Lefort’s slow start was not unexpected.

How do the conferences shake out?

The ECAC, Hockey East, and WCHA all have teams multiple games out in front. Two of those teams, Wisconsin and Quinnipiac, did not win their conference last season. As long as the Badgers don’t falter against Minnesota and possibly North Dakota, they’re probably in the clear, as is Boston College. Quinnipiac meanwhile will face stiff challenges from Clarkson, Harvard, and perhaps Princeton.

Beyond that though it’s a complete mystery. Second through seventh in the ECAC are separated by three points. Fifth through tenth are separated by two. Hockey East is similarly close.  BC, BU, and Northeastern are the top three seeds with 26, 21, and 18 points respectively. After that it’s: New Hampshire – 10, Providence – 8, Connecticut – 7, Maine – 6, and Vermont – 6. Even Merrimack, in last with two points, could find their way into the pack.

Who makes the NCAA tournament?

If selection was today and the current conference leaders were conference tournament champions, your matchups would look something like:

#1 Boston College vs. #8 Mercyhurst

#4 Quinnipiac vs. #5 Clarkson

#3 Minnesota vs. #6 Bemidji State

#2 Wisconsin vs. #7 Princeton

Obviously that’s a silly exercise, but it leaves some very good teams like Northeastern and North Dakota playing catch-up. Of course that’s assuming the tournaments go as planned, which is sometimes very wishful thinking.  My prediction would be:

#1 Boston College vs. #8 Syracuse

#4 Quinnipiac vs. #5 Clarkson

#3 Minnesota vs. #6 North Dakota

#2 Wisconsin vs. #7 Northeastern

That’s just who I think the seven best teams plus the CHA champion are right now. Whether they can get to that point in the PairWise Rankings remains to be seen.

Who wins it all?

Wisconsin looked unstoppable right up until North Dakota stopped them. Boston College has the gaudy record, but their competition is lacking. With a single elimination tournament almost anything can happen, but it’ll almost certainly be either Wisconsin or Boston College unless Minnesota finds some of their past NCAA tournament magic.