- Boston College
- Boston University
- Minnesota Duluth
- Ohio State
- Bemidji State
1. Boston College
At the end of the 2014 calendar year, the Eagles stand as the only unbeaten team in the country with a 17-0-1 record. You could count on one hand the number of times they’ve looked vulnerable this season. They have won 15 games in a row, and have torn through their schedule so far; they’re outscoring opponents by an average of 4.94 goals per game, and, in 54 full-length periods of play, they’ve been outshot in five of them. Boston College has had zero issues in goal, with freshman Katie Burt ranking among the nation’s leaders with a 1.04 goals-against average and .946 save percentage. Alex Carpenter is beginning to run away as the Patty Kazmaier favorite, as her 45 points in 18 games are now seven points ahead of teammate Haley Skarupa.
Since tying with and losing to Bemidji State back on Halloween weekend, Minnesota has won its last nine games, returning to the form we’re used to seeing. They suffered a scare on the road at Princeton, but squeezed out the 2-1 win behind two third-period goals. Utter dominance in all facets of the game is what defines Boston College, but for Minnesota, it is still that ability to come through when needed that separates them. The Gophers’ nation-leading 36.5% power play is perhaps the best example of that; they’re not dominating everybody else like they have in recent years, but they know how to take advantage of their opportunities, which is what makes them so dangerous still.
We don’t usually see the first-place WCHA team ranked outside of the top two, but it’s been that way in both national polls for much of the season. Despite boasting a better record than the Gophers at 17-2-1, Wisconsin lost both of its games to them earlier in the year, though the Badgers will have a chance to make amends in their very first series of the new year. Still, a strong defense and concerted offensive effort have helped Wisconsin return to elite form this season. No team has a better shots-on-goal differential than the Badgers, at +23.65 per game, and they’ve given up one goal in their last seven games. Wisconsin lacks a dynamic duo up front like Boston College and Minnesota, but its offense as a whole is only marginally worse, if that. Only BC passes better than the Badgers, and not by a significant amount.
The Bobcats ended the first half of the season on a bit of a low note after going undefeated in their first 16 games. They gave up four goals to Dartmouth in a tie on Dec. 5, marking the first time all year that they yielded more than two against. Quinnipiac then fell to Harvard the following afternoon, 2-1, totaling just 15 shots on goal. Still, the team stands at 13-1-3 going into the break, and sits atop the ECAC standings. With eight shutouts on the season, the Bobcats’ defense has been excellent so far, but their offense has tailed off, particularly against the stronger teams they’ve faced. For now, that’s what separates Quinnipiac from the three teams ahead of it. Though the Bobcats have numerous players who can score, their offense as a whole needs to show that it can truly dictate a game against tough competition.
5. Boston University
The Terriers have been playing very well of late, and are now unbeaten in their last seven games thanks to wins against Vermont and Providence in their last weekend of action. Their offense is ranked fourth in the country, with an average of 3.47 goals per game. Sarah Lefort and Marie-Philip Poulin are both producing at a high clip, and even though Maddie Elia seems to have hit a sophomore slump, freshmen Victoria Bach and Rebecca Leslie have stepped right in to help bolster the line-up. Shannon Doyle has made a welcome return to the blue line, and though Boston University’s defense is far from dominant, they have players who can fill several different roles. The Terriers could have afforded some better goaltending throughout the whole season, but Victoria Hanson has settled in as the starter, and has given up more than two goals just once this year.
With half a season in the books, the Clarkson has found answers for several questions it faced at the beginning of the year. Despite losing 223 points from last year’s senior class, the Golden Knights are still scoring an average of 3.16 goals per game. Shannon MacAulay has become a go-to player up front, ranked sixth in the country in scoring with 26 points; both her and Cayley Mercer have already surpassed last season’s output, and Geneviève Bannon will do the same soon. Rookie goaltender Shea Tiley and her 1.51 GAA and .941 save percentage have filled in for Erica Howe with remarkable ease. These are all good things, but with losses to Quinnipiac, Boston University, and Cornell, Clarkson has yet to show itself to be a top-tier team.
Harvard started the year off slow, and the Crimson’s troubles reached a peak with a 10-2 loss to Boston College on Nov. 28. Since then, they have put together a four-game win streak, and handed Quinnipiac its first loss of the season after matching the Bobcats with a strong defensive effort of their own. In the win, senior forward Lyndsey Fry finally scored a goal in her 10th game of the year, and Harvard will certainly hope that her production increases. Miye D’Oench has been lights out, with eight goals already so far, and the Crimson do boast a fairly well-rounded offense. Their defense, which has been far from dominant overall, has looked better in the past three games, and they will need to build on that performance against Quinnipiac.
8. Minnesota Duluth
After a rough start to the year, it took UMD until the end of October to climb back to .500, but the Bulldogs haven’t looked back since then. They’ve won 11 of their last 13 games, with the exceptions being a loss to Bemidji on Nov. 29 and a tie with Ohio State the following week. With depth at both skater positions, goaltending was their biggest weakness coming into the year, but junior Kayla Black is having by far the best season of her career, with a .933 save percentage and 1.73 goals-against average. Sophomores Kateřina Mrâzovâ and Ashleigh Brykaliuk have broken out to give the Bulldogs a truly competitive arsenal. Minnesota Duluth has also been responsible defensively as one of just eight teams to be averaging less than two goals against per game, and the return of Brigette Lacquette and the emergence of Sidney Morin have made a big difference on the back-end.
9. Ohio State
Ohio State has never posted back-to-back losing seasons, and the team is trying to keep it that way after being two games under .500 in 2013-14. Right now, the Buckeyes stand at 10-8-2, a respectable record for a team with (as of now) the eighth-strongest strength of schedule, according to USCHO’s KRACH rankings. Ohio State’s defense is quietly among the top-10 best in the nation, giving up an average of 25.3 shots per game and 2.20 goals per game. Freshman Kassidy Sauve has seen the bulk of the minutes in net, but recently senior Stacy Danczak has taken over, and she’s posted a 1.38 GAA and .935 save percentage on the year. Ohio State lacks a point-per-game player, but Claudia Kepler is building off of a promising rookie year with 14 points in seven games, while upperclassmen Taylor Kuehl and Julia McKinnon have also helped lead the way up front, and Sara and Kari Schmitt have been productive as usual from the blue line.
10. Bemidji State
Things were looking very bright for the Beavers at one point, especially after they came out of a six-game stretch against Minnesota, North Dakota, and Minnesota Duluth with four wins and a tie. It didn’t take long for things to turn sour, however; Bemidji State split with St. Cloud State and then got swept by Ohio State to end 2014 on a three-game losing streak. Brittni Mowat has provided the Beavers with some excellent goaltending (1.57 GAA, .948 save percentage), and their defense has been solid for the most part all season, though it has shown some cracks over the past three weeks. Scoring is without a doubt the biggest problem, as Bemidji State was shut out twice in the last three games. Of the 16 teams averaging less shots per game than the Beavers, only three have a winning record, so it’s becoming clear that they need to find ways to generate more offense if they want to remain in the picture.
Cornell has risen almost as quickly as the Beavers have fallen off, with a four-game unbeaten streak and a good end to the 2014 half of the year with an 8-3 win over Clarkson and a 4-2 victory over St. Lawrence. The Saints are still right there as well; their offense has been pretty productive, though their special teams haven’t been much better than average. Mercyhurst has been on the cusp of showing up in these rankings all season, but the Lakers head into the holiday break right after being swept by Penn State, which does not serve them well.