2014-15 ECAC Women’s Hockey Preview, Part Two: Teams 1-6

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 top half of the conference shaping up in 2014-15.

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

1. Harvard Crimson

Head Coach: Katey Stone (20th Year)
2013-14 Record: 23-7-4 (16-3-3/Second Place ECAC, defeated by Cornell in semifinals)
NCAA Tournament: Fifth Seed; Defeated by Wisconsin in quarterfinals

Key Departures: F Elizabeth Parker, F Gina McDonald
Key Returnees: F Miye D’Oench, F Hillary Crowe, D Melissa Gedman, D Sarah Edney, G Emerance Maschmeyer
Key Additions: D Michelle Picard, F Lyndsey Fry, F Karly Heffernan, F Dani Krzysczyk, F Lexie Laing

Harvard got off to a hot start last season despite losing some key players to the U.S. Women’s National Team, and stood atop the ECAC standings for much of the first half of the year. However, a short bench and a lack of experience caught up to them; their offense was inconsistent and their goaltending looked worn down by the end of the season. Despite holding the second-best record in the ECAC, they found themselves in a very close battle with Yale in the conference quarterfinals, and were pushed to three games by the Bulldogs before falling to Cornell in the ECAC semifinals. The Crimson went on to face Wisconsin in the NCAA quarterfinals, but were stymied by the Badgers’ defense and staunch goaltending of Alex Rigsby.

At the very least, Harvard should be able to find much more dependable scoring this year. Olympian Lyndsey Fry makes her return to the club for her senior season, while Miye D’Oench should also make some noise after a 39-point sophomore campaign and a solid showing for the U.S. in the U22 Series against Canada. Hillary Crowe, Samantha Reber, and Mary Parker all scored upwards of 25 points last season and make for decent top-six options. Kalley Armstrong, the 2013 ECAC Defensive Forward of the Year, makes her return to the roster after missing the 2013-14 season. Sydney Daniels is a high-upside player, and Dylanne Crugnale showed promise as well. The Crimson are also bringing in talent up front with the additions of rookies Karly Heffernan, Dani Krzyszczyk, and Lexie Laing, all of whom have competed at the U18 World Championships (the former two for Canada, and Laing for the United States).

On defense, the Crimson get back Olympian Michelle Picard, who competed with Fry for Team USA in Sochi. They also aren’t losing any players on the back-end, which is always a plus for any team, though they did lack depth. But Sarah Edney made significant strides last season, and Marissa Gedman is a dependable veteran. With the return of Picard, Harvard’s top-four should be in good shape, but there are still some question marks in regards to their depth D. Natasha Rachlin, Briana Mastel, and Robyn White stepped in as rookies last year, but they still have quite a bit to prove before they can be counted on consistently in high-pressure situations.

Emerance Maschmeyer should once again assume control of the starting goaltender position. Her first-half performance was a big reason why the Crimson had such a good start to the year; however, she wasn’t in top form at the end of the year, which was perhaps because of how heavily she was relied on. But Maschmeyer has proven that she can take over a game on almost any night, and she should have a more competitive team in front of her this year, lessening the strain on her. Back-up netminder Brianna Laing had some good showings last season, and she could be a go-to option if necessary as well.

Harvard’s forward depth should be much more sufficient with the return of Fry and Armstrong and the addition of Heffernan, Krzyszczyk, and Laing. Daniels should also improve production-wise this year, and the Crimson could boast the best forward group in the conference if all goes well. They’re still a bit short on blue line depth, but they’ll be able to get quality minutes out of their top-three defensemen. Maschmeyer is far and away the ECAC’s best goalie heading into the season, and she should be able to make up for Harvard’s defensive weaknesses on most nights.

Pivotal Series: November 14 at Clarkson. Though the Crimson also have an intriguing out-of-conference slate, with games against Boston University, Boston College, and Northeastern all in a row in November, they’ll take on the defending champs in their third game of the year. This will be an important early-season test for Harvard, who will find out where they stand against last year’s conference winners as they set their eyes on the top spot in the standings this season.

2. Clarkson Golden Knights

Head Coach: Matt Desrosiers (Seventh Year)
2013-14 Record: 31-5-5 (16-2-4/First Place ECAC, defeated by Cornell in final)
NCAA Tournament: Third Seed; Defeated Minnesota for the national championship

Key Departures: F Jamie Lee Rattray, G Erica Howe, D Vanessa Plante, F Carly Mercer, F Brittany Styner, F Vanessa Gagnon
Key Returners: D Erin Ambrose, D Renata Fast, F Genevieve Bannon,  F Shannon MacAulay
Key Additions: F Brielle Bellerive, F Katelyn Fournier, D Savannah Harmon, G Shea Tiley

Clarkson is coming off a successful 2013-14 campaign that ended in a spectacular run to the national championship. The Golden Knights had their doubters early on in the year after their scoring hit a bit of a dry spell. But Jamie Lee Rattray established herself as one of the country’s most dominant players, and with Erin Ambrose leading the defensive corps and Erica Howe providing quality minutes between the pipes, Clarkson had solidified itself as one of the country’s best teams by season’s end. Despite losing Ambrose and a host of others to injury, the Golden Knights rebounded from an ECAC Tournament championship loss by handling Boston College and Mercyhurst in the NCAA Tournament. They would go on to knock off powerhouse Minnesota in the title game, to the surprise of nearly everyone.

The credit for much of that national championship goes to Clarkson’s class of 2014, the members of whom are responsible for helping lift the program up to national prominence in just a few years. The Golden Knights earned a trip to the NCAA quarterfinals in 2013 after a very solid season, which also came as a surprise to many. They then captured their first NCAA title just a year later, thanks in large part to the contributions of Rattray, Howe, Carly Mercer, Vanessa Plante, and their classmates.

Replacing that core group of players is going to be a challenge for Clarkson. The team loses a Patty Kazmaier winner in Rattray and another go-to scorer in Mercer, but they’re also graduating scoring depth in Brittany Styner and Vanessa Gagnon. In all, the Golden Knights are graduating their four highest-scoring forwards. Replacing that kind of production will be a difficult task, especially at the start. Many of their forwards will have to settle into new, likely more demanding roles. But Genevieve Bannon is coming off a successful rookie campaign; she’s the team’s returning leading scorer at forward after a 27-point 2013-14 season. Shannon MacAulay, Cayley Mercer, and Olivia Howe all showed promise as well. As far as additions, the team is bringing in Canadian U18 player Brielle Bellerive and a potential top-six player in Katelyn Fournier.

Though Vanessa Plante will be sorely missed on the back-end, their defense is the Golden Knights’ highest-upside position heading into the season. Erin Ambrose has been a leader on the blue line since her very first game for Clarkson, and with two years and 86 points under her belt, she’ll look to make even more of an impact this year. Renata Fast has developed into a responsible D, and she should continue tracking upwards this year. Corie Jacobson has room to grow, and incoming freshman Savannah Harmon should have an immediate impact on the Golden Knights’ transition game.

Clarkson will have to make do between the pipes without Howe, who is largely irreplaceable. On a positive note, the team is bringing in Shea Tiley, who just won a gold medal with Canada at the 2014  U18 World Women’s Championships. She’ll be a bit raw to start, and the whole team will likely have to deal with some headaches as they cope without Howe. But Tiley, at the very least, offers potential, and the Golden Knights will hope she taps into it sooner rather than later.

Overall scoring is going to be down in Potsdam, at least at first, as the club looks to find a go-to, game-changing player with Rattray gone. But there are enough options up front for Clarkson’s forwards to remain competitive, even if their top lines are lacking some skill. On defense, they’ve got players who are ready to step into more prominent roles, and they should boast a dependable blue line again. Tiley is a promising goaltending recruit, but life without Erica Howe is going to be an adjustment for the entire club. That is a notable weakness heading into the new season for the defending national champions.

Pivotal Series: January 24-25 at Wisconsin. The Golden Knights head out to Madison in one of the biggest non-conference match-ups of the year. The Badgers are always at the top of the standings and the polls, so they’ll be a good measuring stick for Clarkson, who undoubtedly is aiming for a repeat. The series takes place pretty late in the year, so the games will have notable implications on a national scale as the regular season winds down, making it a must-watch.

3. Cornell Big Red

Head Coach: Doug Derraugh (10th Year)
2013-14 Record: 24-6-4 (15-4-3/Third Place ECAC, won league championship)
NCAA Tournament: Second Seed; Defeated by Mercyhurst in quarterfinals

Key Departures: F Jessica Campbell, D Alyssa Gagliardi, D Hayleigh Cudmore, G Lauren Slebodnick
Key Returners: F Jillian Saulnier, F Emily Fulton, F Hanna Bunton, D Cassandra Poudrier, G Paula Voorheis
Key Additions: F Brianne Jenner, F Morgan McKim, D Sarah Knee, D Sydnee Saracco, G Amelia Boughn

Cornell’s third-place regular season finish last year may have been a bit surprising to some, because the team usually aims to occupy the top-most spot in the standings. They then were pushed to three games in their quarterfinal series against Princeton, but they defeated the Tigers and went on to beat eventual national champion Clarkson for the ECAC postseason title. The Big Red would not find the same kind of success in the NCAA Tournament, however; they were knocked out by seventh-seeded Mercyhurst in the opening round. This year, they have their sights set again on capturing a national title, but they have some questions to answer before they can be considered contenders.

The Big Red’s only notable loss up front is Jessica Campbell, who scored 14 goals and 36 points as a senior in 2013-14. They get back a more than suitable replacement in senior Brianne Jenner, who missed last season while training with the Canadian National Team and eventually went on to win an Olympic gold medal with the team in Sochi. She has 178 points in 98 career games and looks poised for a big year, as does senior Jillian Saulnier, who has developed into one of the most dominant players in the country. Emily Fulton and 2014 ECAC Rookie of the Year Hanna Bunton should also provide plenty of scoring, and players like Taylor Woods, Catherine DeBruin, and freshman Morgan McKim make for some good depth options.

Cornell is suffering much more significant losses on defense with the graduation of Alyssa Gagliardi and Hayleigh Cudmore, the team’s best and most productive blue-liners last season. Junior Cassandra Poudrier will have to step up and improve on an eight-goal, 28-point sophomore campaign; the team will also look for Morgan Richardson and Sydney Smith to contribute more. The Big Red are adding some back-end talent in Sarah Knee and Sydnee Saracco as well. Though Poudrier is a productive player and an effective puck-mover, the team is missing a dominant defenseman who excels on the defensive side of the puck, at least as it stands right now.

Cornell is also losing starting goaltender Lauren Slebodnick to graduation, but they’re adding a promising freshman netminder in Amelia Boughn. Boughn posted a .954 save percentage and 1.32 goals-against average while competing for the PWHL’s Mississauga Junior Chiefs in 2013-14, and she’s been invited to multiple Canadian U18 National Team camps. She’ll battle returner Paula Voorheis for the starting position; Voorheis started a number of games down the stretch for the Big Red last year, posting a .928 save percentage and 1.79 goals-against average in 14 games played.

With the return of Jenner to the line-up, Cornell boasts a very strong offense with some of the country’s most skilled forwards. The Big Red’s lower lines have some weaknesses, however, and they’ve got some big adjustments to make on defense. Though they might not settle on one go-to starter right away, they should be able to find a capable netminder between Voorheis and Boughn. If Jenner and Saulnier can carry the offense, and the goaltending can cover up for some of the shortcomings on defense, Cornell should be back in business as an elite ECAC team and a national contender.

Pivotal Series: November 21-22 at Minnesota-Duluth. The Big Red open the season on the road against Boston College, and they’ve got plenty of big conference match-ups throughout the year, but this non-conference series stands out. The Bulldogs also have a lot to prove this season, and they’ll be one of the WCHA’s top teams again, so there’s a lot riding on these two games when it comes to Cornell’s stance in the national rankings.

4. Quinnipiac Bobcats

Head Coach: Rick Seeley (Seventh Year)
2013-14 Record: 22-6-9 (11-4-7/Fourth Place ECAC, defeated by Clarkson in semifinals)

Key Departures: F Kelly Babstock, F Amanda Colin, D Shelby Wignall
Key Returners: F Shiann Darkangelo, F Emma Woods, F Nicole Connery, D Cydney Roesler, G Chelsea Laden
Key Additions: F Taylar Cianfarano, F Nicole Kosta, F Erica Uden Johansson, D Alicia Barry

Though they have remained one of the conference’s better teams overall, the Bobcats have been plagued by inconsistency in recent years, looking dominant during certain stretches and then looking utterly ineffective during others. With the graduation of Kelly Babstock, hands down the best player in program history, Quinnipiac will be looking to take on a new identity this season. The Bobcats are hoping that it will be one of a successful postseason team that finally earns a bid into the NCAA Tournament in March.

Babstock owns virtually all of the program’s scoring records, and she’s been at the helm of the offense since she first suited up for Quinnipiac. Her high-end skill and flashy dominance will be sorely missed, but the Bobcats do have some pieces in place to make up a good top-six. They’ll welcome back point-per-game player Nicole Kosta, who sat out the 2013-14 season, as well as Swedish Olympian Erica Uden Johansson. Shiann Darkangelo enjoyed a stint with the U.S. U22 Team this summer and she’ll be looking to build off a 23-goal, 40-point season, while Emma Woods should also improve after a successful rookie campaign. Nicole Connery, Morgan Fritz-Ward, and Meghan Turner all make for solid secondary scoring options, while Taylar Cianfarano, Best Forward and leading point-scorer at the U18 Women’s World Championships, should also figure in immediately.

Junior Cydney Roesler will again be the cornerstone of the defensive corps after emerging as the leader on the back-end as a sophomore in 2013-14. She scored a respectable three goals and 17 points to lead the team in D scoring and was effective for the Bobcats in all three zones. Taryn Baumgardt stepped in nicely as a rookie last year and will be counted on even more so this season with the loss of the top-four veteran Wignall. Kristen Tamberg, Lindsey West, and Emma Greco will help round out Quinnipiac’s D corps, and incoming freshmen Alicia Barry and Shannon Cherpak could also see some minutes.

The Bobcats should be set in goal with senior Chelsea Laden, who took over the starting job as a junior last year and fared well, with a 1.48 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage. She faltered a bit late in the year, and if for some reason she can’t handle the starting duties this year, Quinnipiac has a couple of solid options to look towards in sophomore Sydney Rossman and incoming rookie Rachel Myette.

They’ll be without a truly dominant force up front with the loss of Babstock, which will take some adjusting to, but the Bobcats have other skilled forwards to turn to. They also lack some depth on defense, but Roesler’s and Bamgaurdt’s development continues to track upwards, their top-four should be in good shape. Quinnipiac’s always been geared towards a tight defense, however, and the key for the team this year will be finding a group of players who can anchor a consistently capable offense.

Pivotal Series: December 6 at Harvard. The Bobcats end the 2014 calendar year with a trip to Cambridge to take on Harvard, who aims to be the class of the ECAC this season. This’ll be a very important match-up heading into the winter break if Quinnipiac is serious about contending.

5. St. Lawrence Saints

Head Coach: Chris Wells (Seventh Year)
2013-14 Record: 13-19-3 (12-7-3/Fifth Place ECAC, defeated by Quinnipiac in quarterfinals)

Key Departures: F Rylee Smith, D Mel Desrochers, D Dayle Wilkinson
Key Returners: F Brooke Webster, F Kayla Raniwsky, F Alex Moore, D Amanda Boulier, D Kirsten Padalis
Key Additions: F Kennedy Marchment, F Amanda McClure

The Saints are three years removed from a season in which they captured the ECAC Tournament title and earned themselves an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Far from being a poor team last season, they were instead more of an average team who was exposed early on in the postseason by a team with more firepower up front. Despite a sub-.500 overall record, the Saints did fairly well in ECAC competition, and they’ll hope to build on that this year as some of their younger talent matures.

The loss of Rylee Smith to graduation hurts, but the Saints have some other options up front. Sophomore Brooke Webster will look to build off of a 23-point rookie campaign, while classmate Alex Moore brings a solid mix of size and skill. Senior Kayla Raniwsky will also likely step into a more prominent offensive role this year after 19-point season that saw her place fourth in scoring for St. Lawrence. Junior Abbey McRae suffered a setback after scoring 20 points as a rookie in 2012-13, but she also has the skill level to become a bigger factor production-wise this season. The addition of freshman Kennedy Marchment is certainly intriguing; she earned an invite to Canada’s U18 Team’s strength and conditioning camp back in 2013, and was second in PWHL scoring this past season with 29 goals and 66 points in 37 games with the Durham West Lightning.

The departures of Mel Desrochers and Dayle Wilkinson also leave a sizable hole on the blue line, but the Saints will get back junior Amanda Boulier after she took a medical redshirt last season. In a breakout 2012-13 season, Boulier tallied eight goals and 32 points in 38 games. Sophomore Kirsten Padalis was impressive as a rookie last year, scoring 10 points from the back-end and seeing significant time in St. Lawrence’s top-four. The loss of Desrochers and Wilkinson will be a lot for this D corps to recover from, but if Padalis continues to develop and Boulier can step back into it this year, they stand a chance of staying afloat.

Goaltending is without a doubt the position of strength for St. Lawrence. Senior Carmen MacDonald backstopped the club to multiple postseason upsets when she was a rookie, and she’s only gotten better since then. She sees tons of rubber every night and is capable of stopping almost all of it. MacDonald recorded a .932 save percentage and 2.01 goals-against average in 2013-14 despite seeing almost 30 shots on average per 60 minutes of play.

Being able to skate with teams every game wasn’t the Saints’ problem last season; instead, their issue was finding ways to win games that they were in. They played 18 games that were decided by two goals or less, and their record in those games was 5-10-3. They’ve got some adjustments to make on defense, but MacDonald should be able to help cover up some inefficiencies there. What St. Lawrence really needs this year is to find some dependable scorers in tight situations who can help change a game–and they are hoping that some of their younger forwards will emerge as such.

Pivotal Series: October 3-4 vs. Clarkson. While match-ups throughout the season against Quinnipiac and Cornell are also interesting, the Saints face the defending national champions in a home-and-home series in their very first games of the season. Whether or not they can compete with the Golden Knights will set the tone for their season, and an upset here could give St. Lawrence a confidence boost early on.

6. Yale Bulldogs

Head Coach: Joakim Flygh (Fifth Year)
2013-14 Record: 9-16-7 (6-9-7/Seventh Place ECAC, defeated by Harvard in quarterfinals)

Key Departures: D Tara Tomimoto
Key Returners: F Phoebe Staenz, F Janelle Ferrara, D Kate Martini, D Aurora Kennedy, G Jaimie Leonoff
Key Additions: F Eden Murray, F Emily Monaghan, D Mallory Souliotis, D Grace Wickens

Three years removed from an abysmal season that saw the club earn just one win, the Bulldogs have improved bit by bit, taking a lot of people by surprise. Thanks in large part to the addition of some international talent, Yale was surprisingly competitive last season, beating Harvard twice and tying the Crimson, Quinnipiac, and Clarkson on different occasions. They then gave Harvard a ton of trouble in the ECAC Tournament quarterfinals, taking the Crimson to two double-overtime games and forcing the series to a decisive third game before bowing out. The Bulldogs will hope to have even more success this year and establish themselves as a legitimate threat to the conference’s top teams.

Yale is losing just three forwards, and they scored a combined three points in 2013-14. Phoebe Staenz, Swiss national team player and 2014 Olympic bronze medalist, will look to build on a year in which she led the team in scoring with 26 points in just 20 games played and make an even bigger impact this season. Janelle Ferrara, Hanna Åström, Jamie Haddad, and Krista Yip-Chuck all make for a decent surrounding cast who have some more potential to tap into as well. Incoming freshman Eden Murray, who just recently earned an invite to Canada’s National Development Team (U22) camp in August, should also slot into the top-six right away. Classmates Emily Monaghan, Courtney Pensavalle, and Kaitlyn Gately all have offensive upside as well, and if things come together nicely for the Bulldogs, they could have a well-rounded top-nine.

The graduation of Tara Tomimoto leaves a hole in Yale’s top pairing, but the team will hope to make up for it with nine defensemen on the current roster. Kate Martini had a very solid sophomore season, scoring six goals and 14 points, and veteran defenseman Aurora Kennedy also figured into the offense nicely with 12 points and will likely be looked towards to set the tone both ways for this D corps. Sophomore Taylor Marchin impressed as a rookie with 11 points, and freshmen Mallory Souliotis and Grace Wickens should settle into the top-six right away.

Jaimie Leonoff had a really good 2013-14 campaign, posting a .924 save percentage and 2.69 goals-against average despite facing over 1,100 shots. She’s a very reliable option a goal, and her ability to make save after save gives the defense some breathing room. After playing nearly 2,000 minutes for the team last year, Leonoff will undoubtedly be the team’s go-to again this season.

Yale has a star up front in Staenz, and though they’re lacking another player with that kind of skill level, they do have some promising players around here who, if they continue to develop, could really bolster the offense this year. The Bulldogs didn’t have the most efficient defense last season, but Leonoff helped make up for some of it. The real question is whether or not their defensive corps can start to gel more and lift some of that burden off of her; if they limit changes against and spend less time in their own zone, they could exceed a lot of expectations once again.

Pivotal Series: November 28-29, vs. Quinnipiac and Clarkson/Connecticut (Nutmeg Classic). Both of these ECAC contenders will be looking to head into the winter break on a high note, but this midseason tournament is the perfect opportunity for Yale to make a statement.

 Preseason All-Conference Honors

First Team

F: Phoebe Staenz, Yale
F: Brianne Jenner, Cornell
F: Jillian Saulnier, Cornell
D: Erin Ambrose, Clarkson
D: Michelle Picard, Harvard
G: Emerance Maschmeyer, Harvard

Second Team

F: Miye D’Oench, Harvard
F: Shiann Darkangelo, Quinnipiac
F: Genevieve Bannon, Clarkson
D: Cydney Roesler, Quinnipiac
D: Cassandra Poudrier, Cornell
G: Chelsea Laden, Quinnipiac

Player of the Year: Phoebe Staenz, Yale
Rookie of the Year: Taylar Cianfarano, Quinnipiac

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