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BUY OR SELL: Handicapping The NCAA Women’s Hockey Futures Market

Which teams are poised to move up or down in the rankings before tournament time?

NCAA Women's Frozen Four: Wisconsin Badgers v Mercyhurst Lakers Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

We’re into the winter break for the college hockey season. Sad! But with the break comes a good time to look back at the first half of the season, see where teams sit relative to expectations, and try and project where things are headed for the stretch run.

At the beginning of the year we posted our preseason BUY OR SELL list, trying to project where each team would end up relative to its preseason poll ranking. Humble brag: we almost completely nailed it.

So, emboldened by our success, we thought we’d reset the women’s hockey stock exchange, double down, and project the second half based on the current KRACH ratings.

Wisconsin Badgers
KRACH Rank: #1
Preseason SBNWH Poll: #1, 15 of 17 first place votes
We said: BUY — Correct!

Wisconsin has been pretty close to what everyone has expected. In our preseason BUY/SELL, we said “I think we’ll see them with all of the first place votes when all is said and done.” That’s exactly the case, as the SBNWH and USCHO polls both have them as unanimous #1 selections.

The Badgers haven’t completely avoided the first half chaos, as they do have a bad tie to Ohio State and a not-great loss to Minnesota-Duluth on their record. But, after playing a good chunk of the first half without all-world goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens, I’m sure they won’t complain.

It’s hard not to project them out as national champions at this point. They have the fewest flaws, and they’re the most complete team of the bunch. But with so much parity this year, it feels like there’s a decent chance someone will be able to knock them out. I will SELL here for the second half, but only because there isn’t anywhere to go above “#1 with all first place votes.”

St. Lawrence Saints
KRACH Rank: #2
Preseason SBNWH Poll: Not Ranked (!)
We: Didn’t Even Mention St. Lawrence

St. Lawrence is no doubt the biggest surprise of the first half. The Saints didn’t even receive a vote in the preseason SBNWH poll — or any poll — and have seen a meteoric rise through the rankings this year on the strength of the nation’s best winning percentage over a pretty impressive set of opponents.

SLU has its defense and goaltending to thank for its position in the rankings. They sit at 2nd in team defense and sophomore Grace Harrison is tied with Desbiens for the national lead in shutouts with 7. That’s impressive.

Still, #2? After running out to a long undefeated start, the Saints were cooled off by rival Clarkson with an 0-1-1 home and home weekend. Their second half starts out pretty easy, with a few tough conference games toward the end. Interestingly, they’re already done playing Clarkson, their top challenger in the conference, who has handed them their only loss and both ties on the season.

Their perfect 14-0-0 record against teams not called Clarkson is unsustaintable, right? It has to be. Teams don’t just go from unranked to top 2 for no reason. Despite the fact that we’re out of the realm of small sample sizes, I still don’t think the Saints pass the smell test. I would SELL.

Clarkson Golden Knights
KRACH Rank: #3
Preseason SBNWH Poll: #5
We said: BUY — Correct!

Clarkson is probably the most “steady” team in the sport. They’re a tiny little former technical college up in, basically, southern Canada, and they never do anything to really “wow” you (okay, they did that one time). Then you look up and there they are, sitting in the top half of the polls. It happens every year.

We liked that Clarkson didn’t have many holes to fill and returned their star goaltender, saying “that adds up to Clarkson, to me, getting the edge on Quinnipiac this year — and perhaps enough to jump ahead of the Eagles as well, into 3rd.”

Damn, we’re good.

This is a tough one for the second half. Only Minnesota seems really likely to jump the Knights as the rankings currently sit, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Clarkson eek their way ahead of St. Lawrence. Third still feels right, but if I’m forced to pick, I would SELL. I think it’s more likely that the Knights end up 4th than 2nd.

Minnesota Golden Gophers
KRACH Rank: #4
Preseason SBNWH Rank: #2, 2 of 17 first place votes
We said: SELL — Correct!

What a shockingly brutal first half for Minnesota... at last by their standards. The Gophers already have three losses and two ties, only one of them coming to Wisconsin. The rest have all come to teams outside the KRACH top ten, topped off with a shocking 6-5 loss in overtime to Boston University to end their half on the sourest of notes.

I noted that “the Gophers will need to break in a new backstop. That will probably be the difference between them and the Badgers.” Little did we know how much of an understatement that would be. Junior Sidney Peters, taking over from the now-graduated Amanda Leveille, is 33rd (!!) nationally in save percentage. That’s not going to cut it.

But, the cream rises to the top. 15-3-2 is as “bad” as things get in the Twin Cities. 4th place feels like a pretty hard floor for Minnesota to fall this season. You have to love the value of a BUY with them here.

Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs
KRACH Rank: #5
Preseason SBNWH Poll: Also Receiving Votes
We said: BUY — Correct!

The Bulldogs are second to St. Lawrence in this year’s “biggest surprises” department. They started off the season with an 1-0-1 weekend against Boston College (with the win an emphatic 5-2 victory to send the Eagles limping home). Since then, they’ve also tallied a signature win against Wisconsin.

Duluth had been riding a very impressive streak where all of its losses had only come to the Gophers or Badgers. That came to a screeching halt on the final weekend of the year, however, with an embarrassing loss to Minnesota State, one of the worst teams in the nation, to close out the first half.

It’s a pretty touch schedule for Duluth in the 2nd half. Their already done with the league’s last place team, and still have a pair left with everyone in the conference — including Minnesota and Wisconsin. The 3rd place team in the WCHA rarely ends up this high in the rankings, and the conference beating up on each other is going to make the Bulldogs a pretty confident SELL.

Boston College Eagles
KRACH Rank: #6
Preseason SBNWH Poll: #3
We said: SELL — Correct!

“I do expect the Gophers and Badgers to duke it out at the top, but I also think the Eagles will probably drop below one or two of the strongest teams from the ECAC.” Man, we’re good at this.

Decimated by graduation, the Eagles reloaded with a freshman class that has been a pleasant surprise. BC’s three top scorers are all freshmen and sophomores. That has resulted in the offense picking up almost where it left off — the Eagles are #1 in the nation in scoring — but the defense has been just okay. Katie Burt is 18th nationally in save percentage, a significant drop off from last year, but there’s been a marked improvement the last month of the first half, with Burt 5th in that time frame.

There’s the feeling that this year’s team is sort of a “lite” version of last year’s. They can score, and they’ll keep you pinned in your own end for the most part (as evidenced by their 4th best shot margin), but they aren’t going to blow you out of the building. As such, the potential is there for them to make a postseason run, but it’s also much more likely that they fade out in the first round.

Still, the pieces are there for a nice second half run. I like BC’s chances to make the Frozen Four, particularly if they can host — and with parity everywhere, they, like several other teams, are a friendly bracket and some luck away from getting a title. BUY the Eagles at #6.

Colgate Raiders
KRACH Rank: #7
Preseason SBNWH Poll: #8
We said: BUY — Correct!

Colgate has benefited from a very soft schedule in the first half of the year -- 32nd worst, according to KRACH, and 35th (dead last!) in RPI. Yikes. So their 15-2-2 record isn’t quite as good as it seems.

The Raiders have really been completely unremarkable this year, at 7th in scoring and 10th in defense, with those numbers trending downward despite the favorable schedule. In fairness, their losses haven’t been of the embarrassing kind — Princeton was supposed to be better than they are and Quinnipiac is a top 10 team — but I had high hopes for Colgate.

Unfortunately for them, I think this might be their peak. The second half schedule is a murderer’s row of top ECAC teams (in a conference that’s very deep) and a few losses combined with such a poor first half strength of schedule have the potential to really sink them. It’s hard to see the Raiders as anything but a SELL.

Quinnipiac Bobcats
KRACH Rank: #8
Preseason SBNWH Poll: #4
We said: SELL — Correct!

In the first half, Quinnipiac was... something. How do you explain a team being 3rd nationally in goals allowed and 4th in shot margin, but having a goaltender ranked 21st in save percentage?

“The Bobcats will go as far as their top line and goaltender will take them,” we said before the season, and that’s been pretty accurate. With scoring virtually nonexistent in the bottom two lines (there are 5 defensemen with more points than QU’s 7th highest forward) and senior goaltender Sydney Rossman not performing to her usual high standard, we see the Bobcats on the outside looking in for the NCAA tournament.

The second half schedule is pretty favorable for Quinnipiac, though. With only one game left against each of Colgate, St. Lawrence, and Clarkson, the Bobcats could really help themselves by taking a few points from those games. I don’t know that Quinnipiac has the weapons to make any noise in the national tournament, but I like them better than where they sit right now. BUY the Bobcats at 8th.

Robert Morris Colonials
KRACH Rank: #9
Preseason SBNWH Poll: Not Ranked
We: Didn’t Even Mention Robert Morris

Robert Morris? Well, this has been a surprise.

Despite playing in the very weak CHA, you can’t help but tip your cap to Bobby Mo’s 12-1-5 record. But it feels pretty inflated. Just 2 of Robert Morris dozen wins were by a multi-goal margin when removing empty net goals, and those 5 ties are an awful lot of ties.

Those impressed with Robert Morris tend to think that the Colonials could run the table with their Charmin Ultra-Soft 2nd half schedule, but that second half schedule isn’t much softer than their first half, in which they just eked out a win just about every weekend. They’re a good story, but I would be pretty surprised if Robert Morris didn’t regress to the mean and drop some of these close games to bad teams in the second half. SELL.

Northeastern Huskies
KRACH Rank: #10
Preseason SBNWH Poll: #9
We said: BUY — Wrong

Our one incorrect trade among the current top 10 teams is still sitting pretty much where you’d expect them to. They’re a solid team that returned the bulk of its core, and are hovering right around the bottom of the top 10. That seems accurate.

But the Huskies really limped into the break. After a really strong start that saw them climb onto the NCAA tournament bubble, Northeastern wrapped up the half with a 1-3-0 record in their last 4 games (1-3-2 in their last 6) with two losses to Vermont, putting a serious dent in both their Hockey East and NCAA tournament chances.

But, of the teams toward the bottom of this ranking — including the teams just outside the top 10 in KRACH — they seem to have the most upside. They’ll face all bottom feeders until the final three games of the regular season, when they’ll get a trio against BC and BU with some rest in between each game. I may have been wrong on Northeastern in the first half, but I still like them as a good BUY for the second half.

How we did with the rest of the preseason poll:

North Dakota Fighting Hawks
KRACH Rank: #12
Preseason SBNWH Poll: #6
We said: SELL, SELL, SELL, SELL, SELL! — Correct!

Yeah. Told ya so.

Princeton Tigers
KRACH Rank: #15
Preseason SBNWH Poll: #7
We said: BUY — Oops.

Okay, that sort of cancels out the North Dakota projection.

Boston University Terriers
KRACH Rank: #11
Preseason SBNWH Poll: #10
We said: SELL — Correct!

“I find myself leaning toward a SELL here, with the caveat that there aren’t many around them with a case for making the top 10.” Pretty much dead on with this one.

Bemidji State Beavers
KRACH Rank: #17
Preseason SBNWH Poll: Also Receiving Votes
We said: SELL — Correct!

This one was almost as obvious as North Dakota’s.

Harvard Crimson
KRACH Rank: #29 (?!)
Preseason SBNWH Poll: Also Receiving Votes
We said: BUY — Oh so very incorrect.

What the hell happened? Other than Mary Parker, who transferred to BU, the Crimson didn’t lose that much. Yikes...

Syracuse Orange
KRACH Rank: #21
Preseason SBNWH Poll: Also Receiving Votes
We said: SELL — Correct!

Syracuse has a couple decent wins but they also have a lot more losses. And yet there are still people on the Syracuse train. Can’t explain that one.