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BUY OR SELL: Trading On The 2018-2019 NCAA Women’s Hockey Exchange

Your definitive guide to the national women’s hockey picture

Rich Gagnon, BC Athletics

Yes! Hockey! It’s here! There was actual, real-life hockey played this weekend with the puck dropping on several women’s hockey exhibitions. The regular season starts in just a few days with a full slate of women’s hockey games on Friday — including a great Boston College vs. Minnesota Duluth series out west — and the men’s exhibitions get started as well.

The preseason USCHO Women’s Hockey Poll has already been released:

Rank/Team (First Place Votes)/Total
1 Clarkson (14) 147
2 Wisconsin 125
3 Minnesota 119
4 Boston College (1) 113
5 Colgate 91
6 Cornell 56
7 Ohio State 54
8 Northeastern 38
9 Minnesota Duluth 32
10 Mercyhurst 20

Let’s take a run through the rankings with BUY OR SELL – will a team’s stock rise from their current ranking between now and the end of the season, or fall?

Why are we using a poll for this? Because real stock values are all about where people value other commodities, and the money to be made is in figuring out who The Masses are under/overvaluing. Just like a poll!

#1 Clarkson (14) 147

The two-time defending NCAA women’s hockey champions (what the hell?) come into the 2018-2019 season as strong as ever for three main reasons.

  • Number one, they lose less of their scoring than any of the other teams in the Big Four — Clarkson, BC, Minnesota and Wisconsin — with 140 of last year’s 158 goals returning. The one caveat here is that Clarkson did lose by far its most impactful player, Patty Kaz finalist Savannah Harmon, who many of the Knights faithful felt was the straw that stirred the proverbial drink.
  • Number two, they picked up graduate transfer Kassidy Sauvé from Ohio State, one of the top goaltenders in the country and the only goaltender who managed to shut out the high-flying Boston College offense last year, in the NCAA quarterfinals. Sauvé will replace Shea Tiley, Clarkson’s now-graduated goalie from last season, turning one of the few potential Clarkson weaknesses for this season into a strength.
  • Number three, they picked up a second blue-chip transfer in Taylar Cianfarano from Quinnipiac who will make an immediate impact on offense. Cianfarano was a career point-per-game scorer over 3 years at Quinnipiac, which is impressive given that Quinnipiac at times seems to actively try to minimize their own scoring as much as possible. This will at least partially mitigate another Clarkson weakness — their lack of players returning from the PyeongChang Olympics.

Make no mistake, they are really good — but Wisconsin, Boston College, and Minnesota all figure to be in that same tier. With four legitimate juggernauts, there’s no Fake Money to be made on the exchange here. SELL Clarkson at #1, with the caveat that they are just as much of a national title threat as the other three teams around them.

#2 Wisconsin 125

Did Clarkson benefit from last year being an Olympic year? Possibly. Boston College, Minnesota, and Wisconsin each lost at least two players to centralization. Wisconsin will regain the services of Annie Pankowski and Emily Clark this season which will bolster an offense that lost more goals to graduation than any of the top four. The big blow comes from losing Claudia Kepler, who scored almost twice as many goals last season than any other Badger.

Wisconsin also gains two big-time incoming freshmen in Britta Curl and Sophie Shirley, the latter of whom was somewhat inexplicably allowed to play professional hockey last year in the CWHL and delayed her start at Wisconsin. The Badgers are more known for their defense — goaltender Kristen Campbell put up 12 shutouts last year — but they’ll have some scoring depth this year.

This is one of the toughest buy/sell calls for me here as I have the Badgers at #2 in my own SB Nation Women’s Hockey Poll ballot. I’ll be safe and SELL Wisconsin because of their relatively high number of goals graduated, but like Clarkson, they’ll be right in the mix for that #1 spot.

#3 Minnesota 119

Minnesota had quite a down year, by their lofty standards, in 2017-2018. They ended the year just 6th in KRACH, got pretty handily beaten in the NCAA quarterfinals by rival Wisconsin, and seemed to be kneecapped all season by a severe lack of scoring depth. They did manage to steal the WCHA title from the #1 ranked (at the time) Badgers, so there is that.

But help is on the way for the Gophers. Three all-world scorers return to Ridder Arena this season in Kelly Pannek, Sarah Potomak, and Amy Potomak — the latter two were late cuts from Team Canada before the Olympics — which will almost certainly elevate the Gophers into the upper echelon of team scoring. They also have one of the strongest incoming freshman classes and a goalie transfer in Sydney Scobee from Vermont to replace the departing Sidney Peters.

Of the Big Four, Minnesota has the biggest hill to climb from last year’s 6th place KRACH ranking. But with so much scoring coming back to bolster their biggest weakness from last season, and with all four of these teams seeming roughly about as good as the others, the smart money appears to be on making the Gophers a BUY from the number 3 slot in the polls.

#4 Boston College (1) 113

The only team other than Clarkson to get a first place vote — and with good reason — was Boston College. While Minnesota and Wisconsin were both hurt by Olympic centralization last season, one could argue that the Eagles were decimated the most. Three players were missing from the roster (the Gophers were the only other team to lose that many starters), but all three were from the blue line. That means half of Boston College’s defense was off the roster. I, Grant, personally played meaningful defensive minutes for the Eagles last year. Not really. But basically.

As a team that generates so much of its offense from blueliners dive-bombing the offensive zone, that just killed the Eagles entire style of play. In fact, perhaps the most incredible BC stat from the 2017-2018 season is that Boston College was, wildly, only 12th in the country in shot margin at +3.87 per game — and still led the country in scoring! So despite only having a marginal shot and possession advantage, BC still torched opposing goaltenders.

So offense was not a problem. And that offense lost very little, relatively speaking. The only forward that graduated was Kenzie Kent — a strong contributor, obviously — but the Eagles are hoping that Minnesota transfer Lindsay Agnew, a former club team linemate of Daryl Watts, can slot into Kent’s scoring role. BC also returns the NCAA’s top 2 scorers (and 3 of the top 6!) in the country from last season. Imagine how much that offense will take off with a blue line that will keep possession more than half the game.

The only real question mark for BC is in goal, as four year starter Katie Burt has graduated. But two very strong freshmen goaltenders — including the starting Canadian U18 goaltender — are ready to slot into Burt’s place.

All this points to BC having possibly its strongest team in program history. The rest of the Big Four are just as strong, but the Eagles at #4 are an obvious BUY. Put it this way — they can only go up from there.

#5 Colgate 91

The rising star of the last couple seasons has been Colgate, but it seems likely that the Raiders have peaked. Last year Colgate made it to the NCAA championship game, which, wow, and ended the season at #3 in KRACH. That’s pretty incredible for a program outside of the traditional powers.

But all signs point to a mighty big regression for the Raiders this season. They’ll still be good — probably NCAA tournament good, given how few strong teams there really are to challenge for a top 8 spot — but not “best of the rest” good. The Raiders lose more of their scoring than anyone in last year’s KRACH Top 10 other than #10 Northeastern with just 60% of goals back on the ice. And it wasn’t just one or two superstars that left, but a whole bunch of contributing players whose production and ice time will need to be replaced.

Combine that with the fact that Colgate definitely benefited from the Olympic year — they don’t have anyone who made it to PyeongChang — and this is a very clear SELL on the Raiders at being a top 5 team, particularly one that the voters put so far ahead of #6 in the vote tally.

#6 Cornell 56

Cornell had a nice return to the national picture last season, winding up 7th in both KRACH and the Pairwise and coming on pretty strong at the end of the year as well. Thanks to an insane conference tournament weekend that saw three out of four teams win autobid spots to gate crash the NCAA tournament, the Big Red were the first team out.

And Cornell seems likely to make another step forward this year. Of all the teams with winning records lasts year, the Big Red return the highest percentage of goals — 89% — of any team. And with Colgate looking like they’ll be taking a step back, Cornell looks like they’re ready to take over their spot as the 2nd best ECAC team.

No one is cracking that top four this year, but Cornell should not end up lower than 6th. I like them as a BUY in this spot in the polls.

#7 Ohio State 54

Ohio State is another program that had a strong season — their best in program history, in fact — and returns nearly all of their goal scoring. The Buckeyes slot in at 3rd among the top teams in percentage returning, 85%, and their top two scorers were freshmen to boot.

7th seems like a weird place for Ohio State to fall, given that they were already ranked higher than this at the end of last year (5th in KRACH and 6th in the Pairwise), they made the Frozen Four, and they lost so little to graduation. Usually Frozen Four teams in particular get a little more love than this in the upcoming season, but apparently not for the Buckeyes.

Now, Ohio State will have major questions in goal with the loss Kassidy Sauvé to Clarkson. They will also have to deal with facing two juggernaut-level conference foes in Minnesota and Wisconsin eight times over the course of the year, which will definitely hurt them in the Pairwise and, to a lesser extent, KRACH. But the pollsters, for better or worse, tend to cut the 3rd best WCHA team some slack if they can look competitive against that 8 game gauntlet versus the top 2. So at least in the polls, Ohio State feels like an easy BUY at 7th, though you’ll need to keep a wary eye on how that goaltending situation shakes out.

#8 Northeastern 38

Our friends from Huntington Avenue found themselves in the NCAA tournament after a pretty solid 2017-2018 season by winning the Hockey East tournament. They had themselves an easy run to their first WHEA conference title thanks to UConn knocking off the Eagles in the semifinals for them, but that doesn’t take any shine off the trophy.

The Huskies feel a little overrated at #8. Northeastern was just “pretty good” last year, and only managed to barely crack the KRACH top 10 and ended up 11th in the Pairwise. Unfortunately for them, they lose a ton to graduation — more than anyone else with a winning record from last season. They’re the only ranked team to lose their top scorer to graduation, and it’s even worse than that as they actually lose their top two scorers — along with a few other contributors. In all, the Huskies lose a whopping 46% of last year’s goals to graduation.

Northeastern is still trying to figure out who their goaltender is, with Aerin Frankel and Brittany Bugalski still battling for the starting role but neither taking control yet. So while there are definite questions in goal, those questions probably won’t be any worse than they were last year, at least.

The best thing going for the Huskies is that they have Swiss superstar Alina Müller coming in as a freshman. Müller was the top scorer of any women’s hockey player in the PyeongChang Olympics, so she should make an immediate impact for the Huskies.

Still, it’s going to be very hard to lose almost half your scoring and improve upon your previous year’s finish. Definitely SELL Northeastern #8.

#9 Minnesota Duluth 32

For the last few years it’s felt like Duluth has managed to pull off the “pretty decent but not really anything special” look really nicely. The problem for the Bulldogs last year was really Ohio State’s surge, which dropped UMD to being the clear #4 team in the WCHA. It’s pretty tough to keep yourself on the NCAA bubble as the #3 team in the conference — it’s really tough as the #4.

True to their “perfectly unremarkable” form, the Bulldogs are right around the middle of the pack with returning scoring percentage. They ended the year 11th in KRACH and 13th in the Pairwise, and with Ohio State possibly looking even better this season — and Wisconsin and Minnesota definitely better this season — I don’t know that Duluth is in a position to significantly improve on where they were last year.

The one big thing that the Bulldogs have going for them is the return of Team USA’s gold-medal winning goaltender, Maddie Rooney. That’s a massive boost for a team whose 2017-2018 goalie ranked 31st in the nation in save percentage — yikes.

Still, 9th feels like more of a ceiling for Duluth, given how tough it’ll be for them to make real headway in the WCHA this year. I’m calling Duluth a SELL.

#10 Mercyhurst 20

I’ll keep this somewhat brief: this is a bit of a stretch for me. Mercyhurst was 15th in KRACH and the Pairwise last year, and while they return most of their scoring, Robert Morris was the clearcut best team in the CHA last year and was the only team last season worthy of top 10 consideration.

The gap seems like it’s closed a little between Robert Morris and Mercyhurst this year, but if any CHA team deserves representation — and I don’t think any of them do — it should be the Colonials, not Mercyhurst. SELL on Mercyhurst at 10th.