Already this season we’ve had: Maine score four unanswered goals against Quinnipiac, Minnesota-Duluth shellack Boston College, Ohio State tie Wisconsin, Bemidji State shut out Minnesota, St. Cloud State beat North Dakota, Union beat Penn State, Vermont beat Boston University, Mercyhurst beat Quinnipiac, Minnesota State take North Dakota to overtime and Maine beat Boston College. Maine beat Boston College. 10-23-2 a year ago Maine beat 40-1-0 a year ago Boston College.
Even exhibitions got a little weird as the stacked Minnesota Whitecaps played to a 1-1 draw against Lindenwood.
What is going on?
It’s easy to say fluky things happen, but that’s a whole lot of flukes, to the point where it seems like the NCAA D-1 landscape is noticeably different this year. Some thoughts:
1. Teams are catching up to Minnesota and Wisconsin
I don’t think the Gophers and Badgers are any less deep than they usually are, but I think more teams have deeper rosters. In the past the top WCHA teams have been able to trot out stacked lineups against teams with only a handful of players on that level at best. Now more teams have second and third lines that can hold their own against the top producers, even if they’re not as good.
The Gophers and Badgers both have had games this season where they weren’t able to blow their opponent away on shots, let alone games where the score hasn’t gone their way.
2. The underdogs hit on more freshmen
Minnesota and Wisconsin’s top freshmen scorers are 9th and 5th on their teams respectively. Here’s the top freshmen from the rest of the WCHA that better at least one of those two:
- Bemidji State – 8th
- Minnesota-Duluth – 5th, 7th, 8th
- North Dakota – 2nd
- Ohio State – 1st, 6th, 7th
- St. Cloud State – 6th
- Minnesota State – 7th
That will change a little bit over the course of the season but in the past Minnesota and Wisconsin have had the best rosters top to bottom and the top freshmen. If they only manage one of those two, the gap shrinks.
3. Team makeups are different
I didn’t talk about Boston College above and here’s why: their second and third leading scorers are freshmen Caitrin Lonergan and Delaney Belinskas. But they’re getting points from different places. Four of their top six scorers are defenders. Last season it was only two of the top ten.
When your top six struggle to match up against opponents you chance losing to a school that had 30 fewer wins than you the year before. Goaltender Katie Burt has two points on the year. There are just eight skaters above her on the Eagles scoring leaderboard and ten below her. (Three are tied.)
4. The goaltending from the top teams could be better
Quick, where do Wisconsin’s, Minnesota’s and Boston College’s starters rank in save percentage? Did you guess 9th (Desbiens – .939), 27th (Peters – .905) and not good enough to make USCHO’s top-30 list (Burt – .897)?
Desbiens’ figure is still good, but it’s not where it was a year ago. She has, so far, been outplayed by three goaltenders in her own conference, St. Cloud State’s Janine Alder (.962), Ohio State’s Kassidy Sauve (.956), and North Dakota’s Lexie Shaw (.955). Twenty of the top 23 goaltenders in save percentage are from teams that didn’t make the NCAA tournament last season.
5. It’s a little bit fluky
Boston College has two of their better players injured in Andie Anastos and Tori Sullivan. Ohio State played Wisconsin to a draw despite being outshot 38-7. Maine got outshot by Boston College…wait…30-21? Okay I still don’t understand that one.
Boston College only managed one even strength goal. Maine had three. Boston College led for 8:47. Maine led for 11:15. Even with Maine holding a lead most of the third period Boston College only outshot them 10-8 that period. What is wrong with Boston College?