2014-15 ECAC Women’s Hockey Preview, Part One: Teams 7-12

Last season proved to be a historic one for the NCAA, and for no conference more so than the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference. After 12 years national dominance by the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, the ECAC’s Clarkson University became the first-ever non-WCHA team to win a national title when it defeated Minnesota on March .

This year, ECAC teams will hope to carry that momentum into the new season and build off it, turning it into a trend instead of an outlier. Here’s how we see the bottom half of the conference shaping up in 2014-15.

For Part Two of At Even Strength’s ECAC Women’s Hockey Preview, click here.

7. Princeton Tigers

Head Coach: Jeff Kampersal (19th Year)
2013-14 Record: 14-13-4 (10-9-3/Sixth Place ECAC, defeated by Cornell in quarterfinals)

Key Departures: F Denna Laing, F Sally Butler, D Rose Alleva, D Gabie Figueroa
Key Returners: G Kimberly Newell, F Brianna Leahy, D Ali Pankowski
Key Additions: F Alev Baysoy, F Kiersten Falck, D Hannah Sorkin, D Emily Achterkirch

Though the Tigers haven’t been able to truly contended for a top spot in the conference in recent years, they’ve always been a fairly competitive team in the ECAC. They’re not among the conference’s elite, but they’ve hovered around the .500 mark throughout their tenure as a DI team. They’ll be looking for their first 20-win season since 2005-06.

Princeton is losing their top two scorers from last season in Denna Laing and Sally Butler, so they’ll need to find some other reliable scoring. Senior Brianna Leahy is the team’s returning leading scorer with 21 points in 31 games in 2013-14, and junior Jaimie McDonell put up 15 points. The Tigers also have a solid sophomore class up front between Cassidy Tucker, Hilary Lloyd, and Fiona McKenna. The team is bringing in rookies Alev Baysoy, a three-time USA Hockey Development Camp invitee and a two-time Minnesota all-state selection, and Kiersten Falck, a two-time USA Hockey Development Camp invitee and a 2014 Minnesota Ms. Hockey Finalist.

Senior Ali Pankowski will have to step up on the blue line this year with the graduations of Rose Alleva and Gabie Figueroa. Pankowski was tied with Alleva for the team’s defenseman scoring lead last season with a respectable six goals and 16 points; she’s logged big minutes for Princeton over the course of her career and she’ll do the same again this year. The team has a couple of other veteran D in Brianne Mahoney and Karen MacDonald, and sophomore Kelsey Koelzer was decent as a rookie in 2013-14, netting six goals and 10 points. With only six defensemen on the roster, freshmen Hannah Sorkin and  Emily Achterkirch will likely see some significant time right away, and both have some promise; Sorkin was named to the 2012 USA Hockey Development Camp all-star team and Achterkirch has also garnered some national recognition.

Princeton’s strength lies clearly in goal, with junior Kimberly Newell. She has emerged as one of the ECAC’s top netminders, though her career .911 save percentage and 2.79 goals-against average are misleading. She backstopped the Canadian Women’s Under-18 Team to a gold medal at the 2013 World Championships, and she’s got the ability to keep the Tigers in the game on any given night.

The team is lacking star players up front, as well as a true two-way top-pairing defenseman. But they have a good veteran presence on the blue line, as well as a sophomore class that is expected to build off of last season and contribute in bigger ways this upcoming year. Even with some talented rookie additions, the Tigers won’t have enough skill to be truly competitive. But Newell will give them a chance to win every night, and they should be in good shape as one of the ECAC’s middle-tier teams.

Pivotal Series: January 2 at Rensselaer and January 3 at Union. If the Tigers hope to separate themselves from the teams at the bottom of the conference, they’ll need to take care of these teams handily. Whether or not they can do so at this juncture will give them a good idea of where they’re at heading into the latter part of the year.

8. Colgate Raiders

Head Coach: Greg Fargo (Third Year)
2013-14 Record: 10-22-2 (7-15-0/Ninth Place ECAC, did not qualify for postseason tournament)

Key Departures: F Taylor Volpe, F Jocelyn Simpson, D Megan Wickens
Key Returners: F Miriam Drubel, F Melissa Kueber, D Nicole Gass
Key Additions: D Lauren Wildfang, D Kaila Pinkney, F Breanne Wilson-Bennett

Colgate has not had a winning season since going 19-14-3 in 2008-09. Last season, they ranked in the bottom five of the conference in goals for per game, goals against per game, and shot differential per game. However, they’re one of the most intriguing teams in the country heading into the year despite some poor showings in recent years, because of the addition of a rather strong rookie class.

The Raiders will return leading scorer Miriam Drubel, who put up 10 goals and 23 points in 34 games for the team last season. Melissa Kueber and Taylor Craig are Colgate’s other top scorers up front, but besides those three, no other forward scored more than three points in 2013-14.The Raiders do have a decent crop of freshmen coming in, led by Canadian U18 National Team member Breanne Wilson-Bennett, who won a gold medal at the U18 World Championships in 2014. Fellow rookies Megan Sullivan and Annika Zalewski also have notable potential. Though Colgate could form a decent top-six out of their forward group, the team likely won’t see any huge improvements production-wise.

Though the Raiders are losing their number one defenseman to graduation in Megan Wickens, Nicole Gass had a solid sophomore year, posting one goal and 16 points from the back-end. With just one senior and one junior in the group, their blue line will be heavy on youth this season, and there are some pretty high expectations for their rookies. Lauren Wildfang captained the 2014 Canadian  U18 National Team to a gold medal at the World Championships, leading all defensemen in scoring with seven points, while Kaila Pinkney was a member of the same squad.

Colgate’s goaltending was a sore spot last season; there was no clear number one, with Ashlynne Rando and Brittney Brooks rotating most of the year and Susan Allen seeing some time as well. Rando played nearly 300 more minutes than Brooks, and started the team’s last nine games, so it would seem that she has the inside track on the starting job this year. They will, however, need better than a .900 save percentage and 2.70 goals-against average if they hope to improve.

With some talented rookies coming in, the expectations for the Raiders coming into the year are higher than those of your typical 10-22-2 team. But there’s still a big lack of depth up front and there are no clear answers in goal. Wildfang will be looked towards immediately on the back-end but it remains to be seen whether or not she has the ability to step in as a top-pairing player. Colgate is undeniably adding some talent, but there’s a lot to make up for and they won’t be able to make those strides right away.

Pivotal Series: November 14 and January 17 vs. Yale. The Bulldogs will be looking to build off of an upstart 2013-14 season, but they’re also one team that the Raiders are hoping to pass in the standings, so they’ll need to come through in both games against Yale this year.

9. Dartmouth Big Green

Head Coach: Mark Hudak (12th Year)
2013-14 Record: 9-20-1 (8-13-1/Eighth Place ECAC, defeated by Clarkson in quarterfinals)

Key Departures: F Ali Winkel, G Lindsay Holdcroft
Key Returners: F Lindsey Allen, F Laura Stacey, D Emma Korbs
Key Additions: F Brooke Ahbe, D Hailey Noronha

The Big Green had its worst season in program history in 2013-14, posting just a .317 winning percentage and falling to eventual national champion Clarkson in the first round of the ECAC Tournament. Dartmouth will look to bounce back from last season’s performance and regain its status as a winning program in the ECAC. They’ve got a lot of improvements to make in all areas if they hope to do so.

Juniors Lindsey Allen and Laura Stacey will lead the way offensively for the Big Green. Allen led the team in scoring last season with 14 goals and 23 points, while Stacey was second with four goals and 16 points. Stacey is a product of the Canadian National Team program, earning a stint with the Development Team this summer in a three-game series against the U.S. U22s, and she in particular could be poised for a bigger year. Stacey’s a pretty hard-nosed, gritty player, but Dartmouth lacks a truly skilled, game-breaking forward. They’ll be bringing in U.S. U18 Team member Brooke Ahbe, and Karlee Odland, Kennedy Ottenbreit, and Catherine Berghuis all could see some improvements in production this season.

Except for senior Lauren Kelly, the Big Green returns their entire D corps from last year. Emma Korbs, a former Canadian U18 National Team member, stepped right in as a rookie last season and led the blue line in scoring with eight points. She’ll be tasked with leading the defense as just a sophomore, and will be helped by senior Morgan Illikainen, sophomore Eleni Tebano, and junior Olivia Whitford. Dartmouth is also adding Hailey Noronha, who won a gold medal at the 2014 U18 World Championships with Team Canada. Just like with their forwards, though, the Big Green are lacking a high-end player on the back-end.

By far the biggest question mark this season for Dartmouth is in goal. Lindsay Holdcroft, last year’s starter, has graduated, and there are only two goalies on the current roster: last year’s back-up Robyn Chemago, and senior Gianna Guarino, who seems to have transferred in. Chemago’s stats actually weren’t much worse than Holdcroft’s, with a .905 save percentage compared to Holdcroft’s .906, but she did see significantly less time in net, only starting four games.

There isn’t much promise up front beyond the Big Green’s two best players, so they’ll be plagued by scoring issues again. They lack a true top-tier player at any position, and goaltending is taking a significant hit. If neither Chemago or Guarino can step up, Dartmouth’s shallow depth on defense will be greatly exposed. Though additions like Ahbe and Noronha could eventually develop into difference-makers, they won’t be able to make enough of an impact this year to help the team improve more than marginally.

Pivotal Series: November 8 vs. St. Lawrence. With two early-season tests against the Saints (the other coming on November 14), the Big Green will get a good idea of where they’re at early on against a fellow ECAC team that also doesn’t have much in the way of star power but is still a decent middle-of-the-pack team in the conference.

10. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Engineers

Head Coach: John Burke (12th Year)
2013-14 Record: 10-20-3 (6-14-2/10th Place ECAC, did not quality for postseason tournament)

Key Departures: F Jordan Smelker, D Madison Marzario
Key Returners: F Alexa Gruschow, F Lauren Wash, D Heidi Huhtamaki
Key Additions: D Amanda Kimmerle, F Whitney Renn, F Marisa Raspa

Though the Engineers haven’t been able to compete among the teams in the top half of the conference, they can usually compete as a middle-of-the-pack club. RPI has reached double digits in wins in eight of their nine seasons at the Division I level, which isn’t particularly remarkable, but it does go to show that they’ve had some level of consistency. The Engineers will be looking to break the 10-win plateau for the first time since 2009-10.

Rensselaer is losing arguably their best player in Jordan Smelker, who was mixed in with the U.S. National Team player pool throughout her college career. Luckily, though, Smelker is the team’s only notable loss up front. The Pioneers are returning leading scorer senior Alexa Gruschow, who put up seven goals and 20 points  in 2013-14, and their leading goal-scorer, junior Lauren Wash, who had 12. Although they were short on star power, they were better off depth-wise than other teams at the bottom of the standings. In all, last year’s squad had 10 players who scored at least double-digits in points, and eight of those players are returning.

Kathryn Schilter and Heidi Huhtamaki will lead the way defensively. Huhtamaki in particular had a good rookie year for the Engineers, posting three goals and 15 points in 29 games to lead the defense in scoring. She’ll be looked towards to make some even bigger strides this year and become a leader in all aspects on the blue line for RPI. After Schilter and Huhtamaki, the picture gets much cloudier, but incoming freshman Amanda Kimmerle should be able to help out in some way; out of Anoka, Minn., she attended USA Hockey National Camp in 2012.

Goaltending has been the real soft spot for the Engineers in recent years. Senior Kelly O’Brien, who played 30 games for the team last year, posted sub-par .904 save percentage and 2.30 goals-against average. Though she didn’t have the most outstanding defense in front of her, she saw the second-lowest shot total of 11 ECAC goalies who played more than 50% of their team’s minutes. Back-up Brianna Piper fared even worse, with a .888 save percentage and 3.43 goals-against average. RPI isn’t bringing on any other goaltenders this season. The Engineers’ skaters might make for a competent hockey team, but in the end, their goaltending will more than likely hamper them from competing this year.

Pivotal Series: November 14 vs. Quinnipiac and November 15 vs. Princeton. Quinnipiac should be one of the conference’s best teams and Princeton will be a middle-of-the-pack squad. Beating either of these teams wouldn’t be considered a huge upset, but Rensselaer needs to have a good showing this weekend if they want to be competitive in the ECAC.

11. Union Dutchwomen

Head Coach: Claudia Asano Barcomb (Eighth Year)
2013-14 Record: 9-24-1 (4-18-0/12th Place ECAC, did not quality for postseason tournament)

Key Departures: D Maddy Norton, F Stefanie Thomson, D Ashley Johnston
Key Returners: F Christine Valente, D Alex Tancrell-Fontaine, F Kathryn Tomaselli
Key Additions: F Hannah Erickson, F Nicole Russell

The Dutchwomen were the ECAC’s worst team last year, though they did hold a better overall record than 11th-place Brown. Union has never had a winning record in 11 seasons of Division I competition; last season’s winning percentage of .279 checks in as the highest in program history. They’re going to have to make significant strides in all areas if they hope to improve on that this year.

Up front, the Dutchwomen are losing Stefanie Thomson, their second-leading scorer, but they’ll retain the rest of their core forwards. Senior Christine Valente is the team’s leading returning scorer after a five-goal, 19-point season in 2013-14, while junior Kathryn Tomaselli was tied for the goal-scoring lead last year with 11. Beyond those two, Courtney Turner is the only returning forward who hit double-digits in points last season. Incoming freshmen Hannah Erickson, out of Achiever Academy in Minnesota, and Nicole Russell, a four-time U.S. U18 camp invitee, have some notable skill, but it looks like offense is going to be hard to come by again for Union.

The team is also losing defenseman Maddy Norton, who led the Dutchwomen in scoring in 2013-14 with 21 points. Coupled with the loss of Ashley Johnston, another senior who saw some important minutes, Union’s defense is taking a pretty big hit. But senior Alex Tancrell-Fontaine has come along nicely, scoring 17 points in 34 games to help out the offense from the back-end, and she should take on an even more significant role for the defensive corps this year. The Dutchwomen are bringing in two freshmen D, Brandy Steeler and Caitlyn McLaren, but the group is still lacking heavily on skill and will have a hard time competing against the ECAC’s more talented forward groups.

Shenae Lundberg was about as good as she could have been in goal last season; though she’s not the type of player who can stand on her head every night, she was tested a lot nearly every game, facing about 30 shots on average per 60 minutes of play. Freshman Alexx Ridding helped her Midget AA Team to the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association provincial title in 2012-13 and recorded a 1.94 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage in the Provincial Women’s Hockey League in 2013-14. She could push for the starting role right away if Lundberg looks shaky.

Union will be coping with the loss of a top forward and two top defenders from last year; though they have some talent at the very type of their line-up, they don’t have enough of it throughout to be competitive in the ECAC. They could see some possible upgrades in goal if Ridding pans out, but it most likely won’t be enough to make a difference for the team in the standings.

Pivotal Series: January 23-24 against Rensselaer. While a Halloween match-up against Dartmouth is also intriguing, the Dutchwomen’s home-and-home with the Engineers will likely have a lot to say on if and how far they can move up in the conference standings.

12. Brown Bears

Head Coach: Amy Bourbeau (Fourth Year)
2013-14 Record: 4-20-5 (3-16-3/11th Place ECAC, did not qualify for postseason tournament)

Key Departures: G Aubree Moore, F Jessica Hoyle, D Kelly Kittredge
Key Returners: F Sarah Robson,  F Janice Yang, F Erin Conway, D Hunter Davis
Key Additions: F Sam Donovan, F Dara Wais, D Cynthia Kyin, G Julianne Landry

Brown finished 2013-14 as the second-worst team in the conference, and it’s going to be a tough task for the team to improve more than marginally. The Bears haven’t hit the .500 mark since 2005-06, and they haven’t qualified for an NCAA Tournament since 2001-02.

This season’s prospects aren’t looking too good at this point, either. The Bears return five of their top six scorers from last year, but none of those players are particularly productive in comparison to other teams’ top scorers. Nobody on their roster scored more than Sarah Robson’s 14 points in 2013-14; Janice Yang was the team’s leading goal scorer with a total of seven. Brown will be very thin up front again this year, though sophomore forward Erin Conway is one player to look out for. Incoming freshmen Sam Donovan and Dara Wais also have some potential. Both players are three-time USA Hockey national camp participants; Donovan was a three-time All-State selection and a Ms. Hockey runner-up in Minnesota with Irondale, and Wais was a JWHL All-Star with Washington Pride.

The Bears’ depth isn’t looking much better on the back-end, either. They’re losing two veterans to graduation in Kelly Kittredge and Jennifer Nedow, and the group as a whole doesn’t feature any real playmakers; their entire defensive corps scored 24 points over the entirety of last season. Hunter Davis, Lauren Vella, and Catherine LeBouef are going to log a lot of minutes. Incoming freshman Cynthia Kyin, a three-time USA Hockey Development Camp participant, will also likely see immediate top-four minutes.

Brown’s goaltending situation is also up in the air heading into the year. Despite the club’s weaknesses, Aubree Moore was a legitimate option in net, giving the Bears a chance to win nearly every night. With Moore lost to graduation, the team will likely look to incoming freshman Julianne Landry to step in immediately and assume control of the starting position. She captured USA Hockey National Championships with Assabet Valley in 2009, 2012, and 2014, and is a four-time USA Hockey National Development Camp invitee. Sophomore Monica Elvin saw some playing time behind Moore last season, and will also be competing for the starting role.

In all, I don’t expect Brown to be able to build off that 4-20-5 record from last year. The team isn’t upgrading at any position and they’ll likely be even worse off in goal with Moore now graduated. Though additions like Sam Donovan, Dara Wais, and Cynthia Kyin could make an impact somewhere down the line, it’s doubtful that they’ll make enough of one this year to have a positive effect on the team’s success. The Bears lack a go-to player at any position and have serious issues depth-wise, and they’re not expected to make any noteworthy improvements.

Pivotal Series: December 5-6 at Rensselaer and Union. If the Bears hope to ascend up the ECAC rankings, the final weekend of the 2014 calendar year is a pivotal one, because both the Engineers and Dutchwomen will likely be within reach.

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