Grant Salzano: Welcome to a special edition of The Banter where we look back on the first half of the women's hockey season. The Eagles kicked off the year with a rough schedule and similarly rough results, but got back on track to end the half on a high note, unbeaten in their last 12.
Joseph Gravellese: They're in an interesting position right now, in that they're clearly rolling and have established themselves as one of the teams to beat in the east. And yet, this has coincided with a dip in strength of schedule. So it's hard to really get a gauge on where BC is in terms of contending for trophies this year.
GS: Very difficult. You're right, the strength of schedule has definitely plummeted but at least we've gotten the results we had hoped for. To be fair, hidden in that 12 game unbeaten streak is a 4-0-1 record against some reasonably good competition -- Minnesota-Duluth (on a bit of a down year but certainly a tough western opponent), #6 Boston University, and #9 Northeastern.
Fortunately, we've got a pretty good measuring stick coming up tonight against #2 Clarkson.
JG: This game will set the tone for the second half of the season. I don't look at the roster of Clarkson (or Cornell, another team we face soon) and think that on paper, they're that much better than BC. If at all.
GS: The sport has a weird feel this year. After several consecutive years of increasing parity in women's hockey it seems like all the parity 'progress' that was made has completely disappeared.
At the top we have Minnesota -- the best team the sport has ever seen, at any level -- riding high at 20-0-0 and not showing any signs whatsoever of slowing down. Then we have a handful of "good" teams, and then a whole bunch of awful, awful programs that have really been beaten up on.
UConn, for example, is usually a middle-of-the-road Hockey East team, but this year has mustered just three wins (though one of them was a decent W against a less-terrible Princeton team just yesterday).
JG: An interesting storyline is that a lot of the pack that's chasing Minnesota is coming from out East -- Clarkson, Cornell, Harvard, BC, BU, Mercyhurst -- you have to go all the way to 8th in the USCHO poll to find another western team.
The western powers OTHER than Minnesota seem down.
GS: They are definitely down. Wisconsin, the traditional 'buzzsaw,' is treading water and currently on the outside looking in for the national tournament. Minnesota-Duluth, the third of the 'big three' teams to have a monopoly (triopoly?) on the national titles, is sitting exactly halfway down the RPI ratings.
Unfortunately, it's like Minnesota took every ounce of talent from those two schools and stole it for its own evil usage.
JG: Try to put Minnesota's dominance in perspective for those not following the women's game this year.
GS: I am struggling to come up with an analogy.
In their 20 games, they have a goal differential of +102. They've given up just 12 goals -- TWELVE! -- all season.
I can't even fit that into my *head.*
JG: I think that overall we're actually getting ahead of ourselves as well. Grant, care to provide a little overview of the women's hockey team thus far? Aside from their recent winning streak, what other factors have contributed to their record so far?
GS: It's been a very different BC Women's Hockey team than we've seen in the past. The past successful teams were basically Stack, Schaus & Associates, LLC -- two of the greatest players in the history of the program with a modest supporting cast.
This year there is scoring all over the place. 72 of our 192 points have come from our top three scorers -- that's 37.5%, 3/8ths -- which points to an extraordinarily well-rounded team.
As an aside -- holy crap, even I didn't know it was that low a number.
JG: And the freshmen have made an immediate impact.
GS: That's what it all comes down to, really. Our top scorer, with 13 goals, is freshman Haley Skarupa, who is even starting to outshine our resident Alex CarP-attyKaz-enter (#GaudreaubeyBaker attempt FAIL. I'm good for one of those in a lifetime, sorry.)
Behind Skarupa, Dana Trivigno is third in scoring and most of the other freshmen are right in the thick of the scoring leaders.
JG: Also, completely not related to Corey Trivino. Which is a huge plus.
GS: Our scoring is so well rounded you could do a countdown for New Years with it. Point scorers 4 through 18 have 17, 14, 12, 11, 10, 9, 9, 8, 7, 6, 4, 4, 3, 3, and 2 points. That's... unheard of.
JG: It means that you simply can't shut down a few players and stifle this team's offense, which is huge (and a change from years past).
Now, another change from years past is that there hasn't been one goalie who has solidified herself as #1. This is the biggest impediment to any sort of crazy hope of beating Minnesota.
How do you see that shaking out? Corinne Boyles and Megan Miller have both had good games and not-so-good games this year.
GS: Redshirt junior Corinne Boyles seems to have taken over the reigns of late, and I think she should keep them. Her GAA is almost half Miller's -- 1.64 to 3.01. Granted she faced some of the easier competition the last couple weeks, but it was a result of some solid play against some of the better teams.
JG: Excuse me, Maine is one of the best teams in the nation!!!!!
((((Just pausing to see if this successfully trolls some Minnesota fans, since that's not too difficult.))))
...Damn. No takers.
It's weird having a goaltender controvery. I don't like it.
JG: I agree. It is a concern. But at the same time, I kind of like it because I have a lot of faith in Boyles -- she has been a really strong performer for BC over the past few years, and I think if she can reach her A game, combined with BC's offense, we are in good shape.
Miller may well be The Future in net but I'm hoping to see Boyles really seize The Present.
GS: I agree. I've been on the Boyles Bandwagon since day 1, really. I'm sticking to it.
So let's look ahead a bit -- Arguably the most important tilt of the year comes tonight against #2 Clarkson. A #2 Clarkson team that, by the way, is without their top scorer and one of their better defenders, because of a tournament that they are participating in with Team Canada.
JG: It's not an overreaction to say these next two weeks will completely set the tone for the rest of the season. @ Clarkson (#2) on Thursday night. At perennial power St. Lawrence on Friday, who's down this year (10-7-1 record) but has come on strong lately. Then a game @ Northeastern, then back home to play another power in Cornell.
These are all just gigantic games. Finishing in the Top 4 is a realistic goal, in terms of the pairwise, which means BC would host a tournament game again. That has to be the aim.
GS: That's #3 Cornell -- one of the best teams in the country for years now.
JG: And the closest an eastern team has ever gotten to a national title -- they took Duluth to 3 or 4 OT in a national title game loss a couple years back.
GS: Then after Cornell we have two against #7 Mercyhurst the very next week. Didn't we think the first month was going to be hard?! Holy hell...
JG: Ah, right. Such a gauntlet I forgot about those, even.
GS: Although Mercyhurst as a school is the ECAC of women's hockey -- extremely weak schedule but wins most of the games they should.
So let's narrow it down to only the big games coming up -- what's your call on BC's record against #2 Clarkson, St. Lawrence, #9 Northeastern, #3 Cornell, and #7 Mercyhurst x2?
JG: I know this is a cop-out, but I have NO prediction for the Clarkson game. Is there any reasonable frame of reference to compare Hockey East and ECAC this year? Any big non-conference results?
GS: Clarkson handled Vermont twice but Vermont is terrible.
They split with Mercyhurst and North Dakota, took a close game against Cornell, and lost to COLGATE of all teams, who is just horrible.
Not Hockey East opponents, but still.
JG: Honestly, I have no idea. Statistically, you can make the case for either team being better. BC has a better goal differential: 75-35 to 59-27.
But a Clarkson fan on USCHO did rebut that stat with a reasonable point: "Goal differential inaccurately favors an offensive team over a defensive one. Goal ratio is a better predictor, at least at the professional level. (I don't know if anyone has looked at college hockey, let alone the women's game, specifically.) Clarkson actually has a very slight edge here, 2.19 to 2.14."
GS: I'm forever the optimist but after watching Minnesota dismantle our Gaudreauless men's team last week (groan...) I have to go with BC over a shorthanded Clarkson.
JG: The Rutter computer rankings, which are an excellent computer ranking system factoring in strength of schedule and emphasizing recent games while still factoring in older games, has Clarkson #5 and BC #6.
I'm staying out of making a prediction, but I will say that I think a reasonable hope is 1-0-1 between these two games in the North Country.
GS: I don't think we'll have an issue with this unranked St. Lawrence team.
JG: Then I will confidently predict that we beat Northeastern at Matthews....then go 2-1 in the next 3 (Cornell, 'Hurst, 'Hurst). At the end of this stretch, we'll be sitting right on that 4th place bubble.
GS: Cornell is, I think, the tougher opponent between them and Clarkson. I wouldn't be surprised to see us drop that game. But I do think we handle Northeastern (again) and Mercyhurst, who isn't *quite* at their normal high level.
It feels like Northeastern hasn't even given is an iota of trouble this year. Seems like those have been Maine-level easy (okay, not quite). Funny because looking back those two games we're exactly blowouts.
So you called 3-1-1, and I called 4-1-0 I believe. Honestly with those records we would be sitting comfortably in 4th at the worst. Possibly 3rd.
JG: Well then, let's hope it happens. I've had a lot of fun following this team this season. I've been to more games this year than the past two combined, I think. I credit your enthusiastic preseason prediction that they would win the national championship with my increased excitement for this season.
In ten words or less, still think it's possible?
GS: Yes, but Minnesota needs to show some vulnerability. ANY vulnerability.
Hooray, exactly 10 words.
JG: Nicely done.
GS: Teams 2-8 can beat each other on any given night. One of us, hopefully BC, needs to catch Minnesota at the right time at the end of the season.
JG: We'll see you all back here later this afternoon as we post this week's Men's Hockey Banter. And we encourage you to follow along and support the Eagles in their games tonight @ Clarkson and tomorrow @ St. Lawrence. If you don't want to pay for the streams of the away games, just follow me @joegrav or Grant @salzano14 as I'm sure we'll have plenty to say. Or, I guess, the official team twitter, @bc_whockey. But we'll be more fun and have more .gifs.
GS: I'll be taking over @BCInterruption again and probably getting other fanbases mad at us again. Oh well.