Game Day Skate: Clarkson vs. St. Lawrence; Ohio State at Minnesota

The 2018 Clarkson Golden Knights pose for a photo around the national championship trophy at Ridder Arena. (Clarkson Athletics)

The Clarkson Golden Knights will raise their 2018 national championship banner this weekend when they host St. Lawrence. (Clarkson Athletics)

Games of the Week: Clarkson vs. St. Lawrence

The defending national champions take on their North Country rivals in a home-and-home series to open ECAC play. Adding some fuel to the fire: Clarkson will raise their national championship banner with the Saints standing on the blue line before Saturday night’s game.

The Golden Knights have had a little bit of a strange start to the season. They are 4-0, so no complaints there, but they were outshot by Bemidji State on opening weekend, and had a few close match-ups against Robert Morris, winning 4-2 and 4-3 two weeks ago. Clarkson doesn’t really shy away from playing tight games and, though players like Élizabeth Giguère, Loren Gabel, and Michaela Pejzlová can dominate, their team as a whole has no problem managing things conservatively.

That’s good news for the Golden Knights going into this weekend because, except for their season opener, the Saints have played nothing but close games this year. They’ve had five straight games go to overtime – and they won just one of those games, against New Hampshire. It’s safe to say St. Lawrence is due for a win, particularly after their last outing against Boston College, in which the Eagles tied the game with about 27 seconds left and then won in overtime.

Both teams have so far gotten big performances out of players they really needed to step up this year. Senior forward Justine Reyes, unsurprisingly, is pacing St. Lawrence so far with four points in four games. I think she can do an even better job at generating offense for herself, though, and I’d expect her to improve on the 10 shots on goal she’s put up so far. Clarkson needed defender Ella Shelton to expand her offensive game this year and become a two-way force with Savannah Harmon’s graduation, and so far she’s done just that, leading the entire ECAC in scoring with eight points in four games (some teams have played six games).

On paper, the Golden Knights are the favorite, with plenty of talent at all three positions and a perfect record so far. But there could be an opportunity for the Saints to get ahead of Clarkson on the penalty kill this weekend. St. Lawrence has yet to give up a power-play goal this year, and Clarkson gave up three to Robert Morris last series. The Saints will need to get their own power play going, but if they can win the special teams battle, I think they’ll have a big advantage.

Series to Watch

Ohio State at Minnesota: This weekend features another heavily anticipated WCHA match-up between two top-4 teams. The undefeated Gophers welcome the Buckeyes, who opened WCHA play with a sweep over Minnesota State last weekend. Emma Maltais is leading the charge for Ohio State, picking up after a great rookie season with 10 points in six games so far (tied for first in the country). In my opinion, the Gophers have looked like the nation’s No. 1 team in the early going this season; they’re getting contributions from everyone and they’ve looked dominant on both sides of the puck. The Buckeyes have put together several impressive offensive outings so far, though, and should give Minnesota a competitive series. A win this weekend would really solidify OSU as a contender.

Robert Morris at Mercyhurst: The Lakers earned a big sweep over Syracuse to open up CHA play last weekend. This will be the first conference series for Robert Morris. The Colonials played a fairly strong series against Clarkson two weeks ago, but fell into a three-game losing streak after getting swept by the Golden Knights and then falling victim to a 58-save shutout effort by RPI’s Lovisa Selander. Still, I think this will be an entertaining weekend of games between the CHA’s two best teams. Mercyhurst’s Maggie Knott looked really good last weekend and I’d expect her to be a difference-maker here. For Robert Morris, Jaycee Gebhard is having an outstanding year in the faceoff circle, taking 147 draws and winning 90 of them (the rest of her team combined has taken 176 draws and won 103). She also leads the Colonials with seven points (no other player has more than three).

Maine at Northeastern/Boston University: The Black Bears head to Boston for two games against their Hockey East foes. Maine is off to a good start, sweeping Quinnipiac on the road in their first series and then sweeping Sacred Heart with two 8-0 wins. This weekend presents some tougher competition, though I would personally give Maine the edge over BU. The Black Bears have a good chance to gain momentum in Hockey East play with these two games. Northeastern’s offense has been strong so far, but Maine should be able to skate with them, and Tereza Vanišová looks poised to be a difference-maker on the Black Bears’ side.

Princeton at Wisconsin: The Badgers have so far taken care of business this season, with sweeps over Lindenwood, Mercyhurst, and Minnesota Duluth, so there’s not a lot to wonder about from their perspective. This is Princeton’s first action of the year, however, and I do think they have a decent chance at an upset bid. They’ll need strong goaltending without a doubt if a win is going to happen. I think the Tigers have another layer of offense coming with their additions and some key freshmen from last year growing into bigger roles; their top-six needs to meet those expectations to generate offense in a tough road series.

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