I see Wisconsin, Clarkson, and Boston College all within the top tier, with Minnesota just a notch below. Those four teams are who I see truly competing for the national championship. I’d also put Cornell, Ohio State, and Colgate all grouped together right now; Cornell probably has the most stability, with Ohio State and Colgate coming off of great seasons but facing some significant losses. I see Mercyhurst, Northeastern, and Princeton on the same tier as well to round out my top-10 teams. All three have a lot to prove, though, to show that they can consistently produce and stay competitive throughout the entirety of the season.
One more note, on the #10 ranking: the last team is always the hardest to pinpoint, and it wasn’t easy leaving Minnesota Duluth off of this list. I could very much see the Bulldogs getting in the picture, too, but I’m not sure if having Maddie Rooney back is enough to completely make up for their weaknesses. I’m halfway to believing in their potential but need to see more from them to rank them.
1. Wisconsin Badgers
2017-18 Finish: The Badgers won the WCHA regular season championship but lost to Minnesota in the WCHA Final Faceoff championship game. In the NCAA Tournament, they lost to Colgate in the Frozen Four semifinals.
Outlook: Top to bottom, the Badgers are as deep and talented as anyone. Kristen Campbell is an All-American goaltender. On defense, Maddie Rolfes, Mekenzie Steffen, Mikaela Gardner, and Natalie Buchbinder all saw time with USA Hockey this summer. They gave up the fewest shots on goal per game in the country last season (19.84), and the only person they’re losing on the back end is Lauren Williams. Offensively, they weren’t at the same level as Boston College or Clarkson, but they still put up 3.32 goals per game. While Claudia Kepler and Baylee Wellhausen will be missed, the Badgers get Annie Pankowski and Emily Clark back from Olympic centralization. They’re also adding Sophie Shirley, the CWHL Rookie of the Year in 2017-18, and Britta Curl, who was on this summer’s U.S. Under-22 Team. Add those four players to a forward group that includes Abby Roque, Sophia Shaver, Presley Norby, Sam Cogan, Alexis Mauermann, and Brette Pettet, and Wisconsin will have four lines that can score.
2. Clarkson Golden Knights
2017-18 Finish: Clarkson was crowned the ECAC regular season champion, ECAC postseason champion, and the national champion. It wasn’t an easy road to the national title, with three straight overtime games in the NCAA Tournament, but the Golden Knights were able to repeat as champions.
Outlook: I really like where the Golden Knights are at and think they are right there with Wisconsin. They have some turnover in goal, with Shea Tiley’s graduation; but they are replacing her with Kassidy Sauvé, who backstopped Ohio State to the Frozen Four last year. They will need some players to step up on defense with Savannah Harmon’s graduation, which is probably the biggest reason why I have them one spot below Wisconsin. Ella Shelton is a very good two-way defender, and Josiane Pozzebon is also a big difference maker on the blue line. Clarkson’s offense should once again be the team’s strong suit. As a freshman, Elizabeth Giguère scored 71 points, behind Loren Gabel’s team-leading 75. Michaela Pejzlová is another big threat, with a 55-point sophomore season in 2017-18. Rhyen McGill is a proven goal-scorer, with 18 last year, and the addition of T.T. Cianfarano could add another dimension to their forward group.
3. Boston College Eagles
2017-18 Finish: The Eagles won the Hockey East regular season title with ease, finishing 12 points ahead of second-place Providence. They were, however, upset by seven-seed UConn in the Hockey East Tournament semifinals. They came up empty-handed in the NCAA Tournament, getting shut out at home by Ohio State in the quarterfinals.
Outlook: There are some very good things the Eagles have going for them into the season. For one, they have Daryl Watts, last year’s Patty Kazmaier Award winner and leading scorer nationally (42 goals, 40 assists, 82 points) – and she’s only a sophomore. Junior Caitrin Lonergan (30 goals, 45 assists, 70 points) and senior Makenna Newkirk (24 goals, 37 assists, 61 points) are back as well. Rookie Kelly Cooke should have an impact, and Minnesota transfer Lindsay Agnew is an interesting addition up front. It’s hard to imagine a team losing a defender like Toni Ann Miano and not even blinking, but that’s a very realistic possibility for Boston College. In Miano’s place, they bring on Megan Keller, Kali Flanagan, and Cayla Barnes, who won gold medals with the U.S. Olympic Team in February. With Serena Sommerfield, they make up the best blue line in the country in my eyes. The Eagles’ issue, and it’s a sizable one, is the loss of Katie Burt in net, who owns several BC goaltending records as well as the NCAA’s all-time wins record. Of note to replace her is Maddy McArthur, a freshman who won bronze with Canada’s U18 team at the U18 World Championships, but I’m expecting some growing pains in goal for BC. The only returning goalie on the roster, Molly Barrow, didn’t play in any games last year. Getting reliable goaltending is the key to them winning a championship this spring.
4. Minnesota Golden Gophers
2017-18 Finish: The Gophers finished third in the WCHA regular season standings, behind Wisconsin and Ohio State. Then, they clinched an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament by winning the WCHA Final Faceoff, but lost in the NCAA quarterfinals to Wisconsin.
Outlook: I think Minnesota has more to prove this year than in recent seasons but I also firmly expect them to put those questions to rest. They are losing number one defenseman Sydney Baldwin and key offensive pieces in Caitlin Reilly and Cara Piazza, but I think they’ll adjust fine to those losses. Senior D Sophie Skarzynski returns after a 27-point year. Sophomore D Olivia Knowles should take a step forward this year, and Patti Marshall plays a strong game on the blue line. Up front, Minnesota will be happy to have Sarah Potomak back from Team Canada and Kelly Pannek back from Team USA. Grace Zumwinkle is coming off of an excellent freshman season in which she led the team in scoring. Amy Potomak is a top rookie to watch this year, as is classmate Taylor Heise. The Gophers should be a deeper team this year with five U.S. U18 Team members joining the ranks: forwards Heise, Catie Skaja, and Emily Oden, and defenders Gracie Ostertag and Crystalyn Hengler. There is a shake-up happening in goal, however, and like BC, it leaves some questions for Minnesota. Sidney Peters is graduating after posting a .922 save percentage and 1.93 GAA as a senior. Sophomore Alex Gulstene had a .893 save percentage and 2.37 GAA in 13 games last year. The team is also bringing in junior Sydney Scobee, a transfer from Vermont who has a career .923 save percentage and 2.59 GAA.
5. Cornell Big Red
2017-18 Finish: Cornell finished third in the ECAC last season, and fell to second-seed Colgate in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament. The Big Red just missed out on the NCAA Tournament, losing out on an at-large bid after Minnesota, Mercyhurst, and Northeastern all earned auto bids.
Outlook: I like what the Big Red bring to the table this season, but I don’t think they’re quite as strong as the four teams I have ahead of them. Kristin O’Neill is a big threat up front, and Madlynne Mills is coming off of a great rookie season. Those two will lead a solid offense, though the loss of Brianna Veerman will hurt a bit. They are pretty strong in goal with Marlene Boissonnault, but I think they’ll need her to really separate herself as a top-tier goaltender in order to be a top-five team this season. Cornell’s defense is anchored by Micah Zandee-Hart, who was a final cut from Canada’s Olympic Team last season, and Jamie Bourbonnais, who had a very good 24-point sophomore campaign. Sophomore defender Willow Slobodzian should take a step forward this year, too, and she’ll have to be reliable in all three zones to make up for the graduation of Sarah Knee and Erin O’Connor. Overall, I think Cornell’s experience is a benefit to them, and if O’Neill can truly break out for something in the range of 30 goals and 60 points, they will be really competitive nationally.
6. Ohio State Buckeyes
2017-18 Finish: The Buckeyes had their best season in program history. They finished second in the WCHA standings but lost in the semifinals of the WCHA Final Faceoff to Minnesota. In the NCAA Tournament, they defeated Boston College in the quarterfinals on the road, but fell to Clarkson in the Frozen Four semifinals.
Outlook: Ohio State’s biggest loss from last season’s Frozen Four-bound team is Kassidy Sauvé, who has one season of eligibility left but elected to transfer to Clarkson. She was outstanding all season for the Buckeyes and without her, they are left with a few unproven players in net. I think freshman Andrea Braendli, a member of the Swiss Olympic Team, will give them quality minutes in goal, though. They are also losing two key seniors in defender Dani Sadek (far and away the team’s leader in blocked shots with 82) and forward Julianna Iafallo (fourth in scoring with 27 points). Ohio State still has several impact players at both positions, though. Emma Maltais led the team in scoring with 40 points as a freshman and looks poised for a big year. Classmate Tatum Skaggs was only 3 points behind her; Madison Field, Charly Dahlquist, and Liz Schepers should also be involved regularly in the offense, while Finnish National Team forward Sara Saekkinen is a nice addition. Junior Jincy Dunne was an All-American defender last season and should be a huge difference maker once again. Senior Lauren Boyle will also be a leader on the blue line, and Eve Savander and Madison Bizal are two nice additions back there. The difference between last season and this season is the goaltending; Sauvé’s play was a huge benefit to them, and I worry they won’t be able to repeat their success if they don’t get the same performance in net.
7. Colgate Raiders
2017-18 Finish: The Raiders, despite a historic season for their program, had both of their postseason championship hopes dashed by Clarkson. They finished second in the ECAC standings but lost to the Golden Knights in the ECAC Tournament title game. Colgate finished as the national runner-up after Clarkson again bested them in the NCAA championship game.
Outlook: I don’t love ranking the Raiders this low after the year they had last year, and I really enjoy the style of hockey they play, but I’m not sold they’ll be able to replace everything that they’re losing. Breanne Wilson-Bennett was great up front, and she’ll be sorely missed, along with Megan Sullivan and Shelby Perry. Lauren Wildfang was a mainstay on the Colgate blue line all four years, and Kaila Pinkney was a good defensive D. I think their returners keep them in the national picture, though. First off, the Raiders return starting goaltender Julia Vandyk, and stability in net will be huge for them this year. D Olivia Zafuto has the ability to take over a game and drive play from the back end, and Shelby Wood had a promising freshman season. With Livia Altmann, Colgate should have a competitive top-four. Up front, leading scorer Jessie Eldridge returns, and so do Shae Labbe, Bailey Larson, and Malia Schneider. I pointed this out in the ECAC preview, but faceoffs were a notable strength for the Raiders last season. If they want to control possession again, it’ll start with winning a good chunk of their draws.
8. Mercyhurst Lakers
2017-18 Finish: Mercyhurst finished behind Robert Morris in the CHA standings, but beat the Colonials for the CHA Tournament championship to earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. The Lakers took No. 1 seed Clarkson to overtime in the NCAA quarterfinals, but could not complete the upset.
Outlook: I think the Lakers are in good shape heading into the season, though they’re a bit shorter on depth than the teams ahead of them. Kennedy Blair was a very bright spot in goal as a redshirt freshman last season, with a .934 save percentage and 1.57 GAA. Senior Sarah McDonnell split time with her and is a good option to have, but Blair was their starter down the stretch. Up front, I expect Emma Nuutinen to have a big impact after a quiet start to last season; she ended on a good note, though, with a great showing for Finland at the Olympics and an MVP performance in the CHA Tournament. Vilma Tanskanen and Maggie Knott will be go-to scorers as well for the team. Molly Blasen is a good two-way defender, and Samantha Fieseler and Rachel Marmen can be counted on to play quality minutes. I think they’re the favorite to win the CHA again this year, and if they play to their potential, the Lakers could get into the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid.
9. Northeastern Huskies
2017-18 Finish: Northeastern was the No. 4 seed in the Hockey East Tournament, but upset No. 1 Boston College in overtime of the semifinals to advance to the championship game. The Huskies defeated fellow underdog UConn to win the championship and an automatic NCAA bid. Their postseason run was ended by Colgate in the NCAA quarterfinals.
Outlook: Northeastern was a surprise entry to the NCAA Tournament field after a great run through the Hockey East Tournament. This season, I think their spot as the No. 2 team in Hockey East is pretty secure, but they’ll have a few losses to adjust to first. McKenna Brand and Denisa Křížová were the engines of the Huskies’ offense last season; with 64 points between them, they will not be easy to replace. On defense, they’re losing Lauren Kelly, but should be able to put together a decent top-four with Codie Cross, Brooke Hobson, and Skylar Fontaine in the mix. The Huskies have two X-factors going for them: Aerin Frankel and Alina Mueller. Mueller needs little introduction; by the time she graduates from Northeastern, the Swiss forward might be the best player in the world. She is a giant add for this program and I expect her to make a swift impact. Frankel was outstanding in net as a freshman, with a .934 save percentage and 1.92 GAA, and if she plays to that level again, the Huskies will be a much stronger team when she’s in goal. Northeastern is also adding French national team forward Chloé Aurard, who I think will open some eyes with her skill.
10. Princeton Tigers
2017-18 Finish: Last season, the Tigers posted a .500 record and finished sixth in the ECAC. They lost to Cornell in three games in the quarterfinals of the ECAC Tournament.
Outlook: The Tigers are a bit of a wild card, but I can buy into them as a dark horse pick. For one, they have a star player at each position: Stephanie Neatby in goal, Stephanie Sucharda on defense, and Carly Bullock up front (not to mention the addition of Sarah Fillier, who plays a very mature game for a freshman). Their offense should trend upwards with Fillier and Maggie Connors coming on, and sophomores Annie MacDonald and Sharon Frankel building off of good freshman seasons. They are short on defensive depth and experience, compared to the other teams in the top 10; two of the six D on their roster are freshmen. But Sucharda is capable of shouldering a heavy load, and Neatby isn’t a bad choice to have for your last line of defense. Princeton will need their top players firing consistently, but if they do, they could make some noise this year.