NCAA Women’s Hockey: Week 4 Preview

Current Rankings (Week 4):

  1. Minnesota
  2. Cornell
  3. North Dakota
  4. Boston College
  5. Minnesota-Duluth
  6. Wisconsin
  7. Boston University
  8. Harvard
  9. Ohio State
  10. Northeastern

Match-up of the Week: #9 Ohio State @ #1 Minnesota, Fri. 10/19 @ 8:05 PM E.T. & Sat. 10/20 @ 2:05 PM E.T.

The Gophers will face their first real test of the season when they welcome the upstart Buckeyes this weekend. Ohio State got off to the best start in program history, sweeping Lindenwood and favored Minnesota-Duluth, and then splitting their series with North Dakota last week. Minnesota is also off to a hot start, however, and they are the top team in the country right now. There are few weaknesses on the Gophers’ roster, and if the Buckeyes hope to pull off another upset, two things have to happen for them: they’ll need more great goaltending from Chelsea Knapp, and they need to disrupt Minnesota’s offense as much as possible. If they can capitalize on their opportunities, they’ll have a shot, but I don’t know if the Gophers will make enough mistakes for that to be possible.

The key players for the Buckeyes, besides Knapp: Paige Semenza, Sara Schmitt, and Kari Schmitt. Semenza’s having a great year offensively so far, with seven goals and four assists in six games, and it will be extremely helpful for Ohio State if she can continue that kind of production this weekend. The Schmitt sisters, as the Buckeyes’ likely top pairing, will need to dictate play from the blue line, especially in their own zone. For the Gophers’, expect forwards Amanda Kessel and Hannah Brandt to continue leading the charge offensively. They can’t get frustrated or let Knapp steal the show; same goes for Minnesota’s other forwards.

Top-10 Teams in Action

#2 Cornell @ #7 Boston University, Sat. 10/20 @ 7:00 PM E.T. & Sun. 10/21 @ 2:00 PM E.T.: This match-up is right up there with the Minnesota-Ohio State series. Cornell’s first two regular season games will be a tough road test against the Terriers, who are at the very least on a hot streak at the moment. It will be interesting to see how BU’s offense, featuring Marie-Philip Poulin and Sarah Lefort, stacks up against Big Red’s defense, featuring Laura Fortino and Lauriane Rougeau. The goaltending battle will also be something to keep an eye on; Kerrin Sperry has looked good so far for the Terriers, but how will she fare against competition as tough as this? Lauren Slebodnick has plenty of potential but in her first season as Cornell’s true starter, she still has a lot to prove. There will be added emotion to this series, as it is a rematch of last year’s epic NCAA quarterfinal game between the two, which Cornell won in triple overtime (highlights below).

St. Lawrence @ #2 Cornell, Tues. 10/23 @ 7:00 PM E.T.

St. Cloud State @ #3 North Dakota, Fri. 10/19 @ 8:05 PM E.T. & Sat. 10/20 @ 8:05 PM E.T.: After suffering two straight series-splits with underdog teams, North Dakota will really need to assert themselves this weekend against the Huskies. A sweep here is almost imperative for UND to re-establish themselves as a true contender. The biggest thing to watch from North Dakota’s perspective isn’t if their offense can start clicking or if their defense can tighten up; it’s if they can get some high-level goaltending in both games.

#4 Boston College @ New Hampshire, Sat. 10/20 @ 2:00 PM E.T.; New Hampshire @ #4 Boston College, Sun. 10/21 @ 2:00 PM E.T.: Like North Dakota, this home-and-home series against the Wildcats will be a good opportunity for Boston College to gather themselves and re-group, after not having the start to the season that they really wanted. It is a Hockey East match-up, so there will be big implications for both teams, as both New Hampshire and the Eagles want to have success in conference play. Freshman forward Haley Skarupa’s play so far has been a plus for Boston College, but they’re still looking for a higher level of goaltending.

#5 Minnesota-Duluth @ Minnesota State-Mankato, Fri. 10/19 @ 8:05 PM E.T. & Sat. 10/20 @ 4:05 PM E.T.: The Bulldogs’ confidence should be pretty high right now after sweeping and shutting out Wisconsin last weekend, but they don’t want to get too ahead of themselves and overlook the Mavericks; after all, it was only two weeks ago that they themselves were swept by Ohio State. Minnesota State has played tough in every game so far this year, and nothing less than that should be expected this weekend, either. If the Bulldogs just focus on their own game and playing consistently in all three zones without getting too ahead of themselves, they’ll have a very good chance of coming away with two more wins this weekend.

Bemidji State @ #6 Wisconsin, Fri. 10/19 @ 8:05 PM E.T. & Sun. 10/21 @ 3:05 PM E.T.: It will be a very exciting weekend for the Badgers, as they will be playing their first games in the brand new LaBahn Arena. Friday’s game will feature a sell-out crowd of 2,273. As far as the on-ice play goes, Wisconsin will hope to rebound after being shut out in both games by Minnesota-Duluth last weekend. Brianna Decker and Madison Packer will be crucial in sparking the Badgers’ production. It’s such an emotional weekend for Wisconsin and they’re facing a lot of pressure to perform better; we’ll see if the Beavers can squander their hopes of righting the ship and properly inaugurating their new rink.