NCAA Women’s Hockey Midseason Rankings and Patty Kazmaier Candidates

Elizabeth Giguère of the Clarkson Golden Knights celebrates a goal. (Clarkson Athletics)

Clarkson sophomore Elizabeth Giguère leads the nation in scoring and has emerged as a strong contender for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award. (Clarkson Athletics)

With just two teams in action (Mercyhurst at Ohio State, Friday and Saturday) and the winter break coming up, it’s a good time to stop and take a look back at what’s unfolded so far this season in NCAA women’s hockey.

First, At Even Strength’s midseason rankings:

  1. Wisconsin
  2. Minnesota
  3. Northeastern
  4. Clarkson
  5. Princeton
  6. Cornell
  7. Ohio State
  8. Boston College
  9. Providence
  10. Boston University

I have the Badgers slotted as No. 1, but in reality I think it’s more of a 1A-1B split with the Gophers, as opposed to a true 1-2 ranking. Both teams have been very good so far this year. In terms of results, they’ve emerged well ahead of the pack at this juncture. Wisconsin has just one loss and the Gophers have two; they’ve lost to each other and Minnesota also fell to a ranked Ohio State squad. Offensively, the Gophers have been a bit more productive, and they get that production from all throughout the line-up, with their third line impacting the game as much as most teams’ firsts. Wisconsin has forward Emily Clark back in the fold now, though, and their defense has been absolutely suffocating, allowing just 16 shots on goal per game.

Northeastern and Princeton have both impressed this season. The Huskies lost several key pieces from last year’s NCAA Tournament-bound team, but rookies Alina Müller and Chloé Aurard have made those departures seem almost moot. Their goaltending is a huge factor as well, with Aerin Frankel turning in a .964 save percentage in her half of games. The Tigers are unbeaten in their last 12 games, matching the best undefeated streak in program history. Sophomore Rachel McQuigge has settled into a starting role this year with apparent ease. Princeton has gotten just the right mix of contributions from younger players like Sarah Fillier, Maggie Connors, and Mariah Keopple, and upperclassmen like Carly Bullock, Karli Lund, Stephanie Sucharda, and Claire Thompson.

Clarkson suffered a winless weekend two weeks ago, dropping games to Colgate and Cornell, and before that, they were upset by Yale. They have been largely carried by Elizabeth Giguère, Loren Gabel, and Michaela Pejzlová, but last weekend, the trio was split between the top two lines; that’s so far led to more favorable results, with two wins against St. Lawrence coming in their last series. The Golden Knights are still a strong contender for the national championship, but they can’t rely on just one line against top teams, and they would be well-served by creating more dangerous chances in the offensive zone, instead of just off the rush. For now, they’re a few nudges ahead of Princeton but they’ve got something to prove in the second half.

The win over Clarkson was big for Cornell, and though I wouldn’t consider them favorites for a title, they’ve proven they’re worthy of an NCAA Tournament bid so far. Kristin O’Neill has been on a tear, with nine goals in just 10 games. Micah Zandee-Hart, Jamie Bourbonnais, and Willow Slobodzian give the Big Red excellent skill and depth on the blue line, and Marlene Boissonnault is in the midst of a career year in net with a .932 save percentage. Ohio State is one of the best shot-producing teams in the nation, and while their up-tempo style of play leads to a good amount of chances against, rookie Andrea Brändli has made a seamless transition in goal, with a .940 save percentage and 1.74 goals-against average. Forward Emma Maltais and defender Jincy Dunne are two special players who make a big impact for the Buckeyes.

What to make of Boston College this season? They’ve underperformed by their (very lofty) standards, and come apart at the seams a bit in the last few weeks with four losses in their last five games. But it’s not for lack of skill, or even effort—they’re averaging 38.05 shots on goal per game, and outshooting teams by an average of 16 per game. I do think they need better goaltending, though it’s hard to fault freshman Maddy McArthur for the way some of these losses have gone. I’m not prepared to drop the Eagles out of an NCAA Tournament spot because they’ve shown they can play at a high level, but the margin of error is now extremely thin in terms of results.

Providence is having a really good season so far, but I haven’t seen them drive play quite as much as the teams ahead of them in these rankings. The Friars are a bit top heavy, but that’s led to wins for them, so it’s hard to critique them too much in that regard. Maureen Murphy is having a great year, leading the team in scoring with 31 points, 13 ahead of their second-highest scorer. Madison Myers has also been very good in net; her .949 save percentage ranks fourth in the country, and she’s started all but two games for Providence.

I think Colgate is deserving of the No. 10 spot, and there’s a case to be made for Boston University as well, but it’s also hard for me to leave Robert Morris completely out of the conversation based on how they’ve played. They’re currently battling some adversity in goal; their team save percentage is just .896. But the Colonials have still been able to put together some meaningful results, including ties against Cornell and Colgate and a win over St. Lawrence. They consistently outshoot teams by a good margin, they have a dynamic leader up front in Jaycee Gebhard, and their defensive corps is a strong suit. Maggie LaGue, Emily Curlett, and Kirsten Welsh are all active-minded players who turn in big performances at both ends of the ice.

Patty Kazmaier Candidates

It’s way too early to dole out this award, and the criteria for selection extends far beyond on-ice play, including sportsmanship, performance in the clutch, personal character, competitiveness, academic achievement, and civic involvement. Still, there are quite a few players having impressive seasons. Here are a few who I think have earned consideration for the 2019 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award based on their play so far:

Carly Bullock, Junior, Forward, Princeton: Bullock is a big reason why the Tigers are off to such a strong start this season. She ranks within the top-10 in points per game with 1.50 behind 21 total. She’s also one of the nation’s top goal-scoring threats, with 12 in 14 games so far.

Jesse Compher, Sophomore, Forward, Boston University: Compher has undoubtedly been one of the most valuable players to her team this year. She ranks fourth overall in scoring with 31 points off of 11 goals and 20 assists. She’s exploded in recent weeks with several multi-point, dominant outings to help fuel the Terriers’ midseason turnaround.

Loren Gabel, Senior, Forward, Clarkson: Gabel is third in the country in scoring with 32 points, just three behind teammate Elizabeth Giguère for the national lead, but she’s the only player so far this year to be scoring at a two-points-per-game rate. She’s an offensive machine, averaging over seven shots on goal per game and leading the nation in overall shots with 115.

Jaycee Gebhard, Junior, Forward, Robert Morris: Like Compher for BU, Gebhard is having an MVP-caliber year for the Colonials. Her 33 points are second in the country, and she’s tied for the national lead in power-play goals with five. Nobody has more face-off wins than her 305 this year.

Elizabeth Giguère, Sophomore, Forward, Clarkson: She is, in my mind, the best player in the country right now. She is the total package offensively; she’s got plenty of size and just oozes skill, awareness, and play-making abilities. Giguère currently leads the nation in scoring with 35 points and assists with 22.

Megan Keller, Senior, Defender, Boston College: The Eagles have had their struggles as a team this year, but Keller has upped her game as they try and right the ship. She leads the country in scoring by a defender with 22 points off of nine goals and 13 assists. She’s an impact player at both ends and can be counted on more than perhaps any other blue-liner to generate quality chances for her team.

Abigail Levy, Freshman, Goaltender, Minnesota State: Levy has been outstanding for the Mavericks, helping the program to a winning record this deep into the season for the first time in a long while. She was featured by At Even Strength a couple of weeks ago and since then has helped Minnesota State pull off another upset by shutting out Ohio State. Her .953 save percentage is third in the country and she’s tied for the national lead with five shutouts, to go along with a 1.42 GAA.

Emma Maltais, Sophomore, Forward, Ohio State: She’s taken on a good bulk of the scoring responsibilities for Ohio State and hasn’t shied away from them at all as a sophomore. She’s tied for eighth in the country in scoring with 25 points.

Alina Müller, Freshman, Forward, Northeastern: The rookie hasn’t missed a beat since joining the Huskies in the college ranks. She has already cemented herself as a force to be reckoned with and a multi-dimensional threat every time she has the puck. She’s got 12 goals, 14 assists, and 26 points this year, which paces Northeastern.

Maureen Murphy, Sophomore, Forward, Providence: Murphy leads the nation with 17 goals and is tied for third in scoring with 31 points overall. She’s also one of just three players to hit the century mark in shots on goal already. She’s been a force up front for the Friars and helped put them on the map as a competitive team in the national picture this season.

Annie Pankowski, Senior, Forward, Wisconsin: Pankowski has come up huge for the Badgers in recent weeks, showing off her superb skill and relentlessness when she helped stymie Harvard’s upset bid two games in a row with a couple of overtime winners. She has 14 goals in 20 games, which ties her for third nationally, to go along with nine assists and 23 points.

Ella Shelton, Junior, Defender, Clarkson: Shelton is a very good all-situations defender for Clarkson and the cornerstone of her team’s blue line. She chips in plenty to the offensive game, so far putting up 15 points this year, and shines as a two-way player on the back-end.

Grace Zumwinkle, Sophomore, Forward, Minnesota: She has one of the best shots in the country and she’s been stellar in her second year with the Gophers, notching 13 goals, 11 assists, and 24 points in 20 games.

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