Even if you barely know anything else about women's college hockey, you're probably aware that Minnesota's been at the top of the pack for the last few years. This season is no different -- the Gophers are No. 1 in the USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine preseason polls as they set out for another national championship, after being upset by Clarkson University in last year's tournament. They will face off against Penn State and BU this weekend.
Here's a recap of what made them so formidable in 2013-14:
Minnesota is returning eight of its top 10 scorers from last year (including Hannah Brandt and Rachael Bona who combined for 126 points in 2013-14), but will have to deal with the loss of Amanda Kessel for this season due to lingering symptoms from a concussion. Kessel was a key part of the Gophers' championships in 2012 and 2013, becoming only the fourth player in NCAA history to score 100 points or more in a season in 2013 (101 pts). She has withdrawn from school during her treatment. With all of the firepower the Gophers still have (and with four freshmen, including three forwards, coming into the fold), Kessel's absence will hurt, but there should still be quite a bit of offense for them to fall back on besides Bona and Brandt -- including Dani Cameranesi, Megan Lorence, and defenseman Milica McMillen.
Lee Stecklein is back in the fold as well after playing with Team USA in Sochi, and her presence should certainly bolster the Gophers' blueline, which has more of an offensive slant (with McMillen and Rachel Ramsey in particular putting points on the board). Baylee Gillanders has departed, leaving a gap for someone (hopefully) to fill as the season progresses. In net, Amanda Leveille is taking over once more for her junior season. She had a solid regular season (.945 save percentage over 41 games) but struggled in the Frozen Four. Check out At Even Strength's breakdown of the Gophers here.
Against Penn State:
This will be the first-ever matchup between the Gophers and Nittany Lions. Penn State is entering its third season of varsity-level hockey and struggled through a 4-29-3 season in 2013-14. The good thing, though, is that glancing at their roster leaves the impression that they have a fairly young team, which will leave room for a good foundation moving forward. Sophomore Laura Bowman (a Minnetonka, Minn. native) scored a team-high 10 goals last year and will look to top that this season.
Against Boston University:
The Terriers will be looking for some mild revenge Saturday after last NCAA quarterfinals, where they lost to the Gophers -- but they'll do it with a dangerous offensive weapon in their lineup. Marie-Philip Poulin, who killed the Americans' hopes of gold in Sochi in February, makes her return this season. BU is also returning junior and 32-goal scorer Sarah Lefort, and it is the favorite to win a fourth consecutive Hockey East title.
Both games will be at Ridder Arena. Puck drop is set for 7:07 p.m. Central time both days.
Women's Hockey Roundup:
- Hilary Knight will be practicing with the Anaheim Ducks today before guest coaching the Lady Ducks program and participating in a meet and greet. Looking forward to the photos and inane questions during her media scrum! (In the meantime, check out the #GirlsPlayHockey hashtag on Twitter for some great photos of female players of all ages. Right on, Ducks.)
- Meghan Duggan is taking on a new role, joining Clarkson's coaching staff alongside Britni Smith, who scored the game-winner against Minnesota to clinch the Knights' first-ever championship. Should be great to follow Duggan's transition into the coaching staff.
- The CWHL has come to terms with Sportsnet to broadcast Clarkson Cup games and special events for the next four seasons, as stated in a press release on the league's website. This is a great step forward for the CWHL, whose struggles have been documented in past pieces of mine -- simply put, it needs exposure and support to survive, and this is a good start to making sure that happens. Stay tuned for more development on this story (as well as my preview on the upcoming season in the next couple of weeks), and in the meantime, read this analysis of what the move could mean for the league on Allow Her to Play.
- Bookmark this, favorite it on Twitter, whatever you have to, but Nicole Haase at Bucky's 5th Quarter has compiled an incredible list of live stream links for women's college hockey games throughout the upcoming season. I'm SO EXCITED.
- Not women's hockey specifically but has to do with women IN hockey: yeah, you all know about this already. Apparently the Flyers "listened to what the fans had to say" -- or rather, the Flyers listened to half of their fans, and all the other half got was a reminder that all women are good for is looking pretty and shoveling up the snowy messes men make. Cool. This wouldn't bother me as much if the CWHL weren't JUST NOW getting even a smidgen of the platform it deserves, or if more women worked in non-entry level position in the NHL, but... they do. So here we are, not making an inch of damn progress.