It was a tumultuous offseason in women's college hockey.
As the season was winding down, the news broke that the University of North Dakota would be cutting their women's team. At the same time, the US Women's National Team started a boycott of the Women's World Championships and many NCAA players were contacted to participate in their place.
The former North Dakota players have scattered to other schools, transferring into different programs. Associate head coach Peter Elander ended up at Ohio State.
Some other major coaching changes took place as well. Jeff Kampersal left Princeton after 21 seasons as the head coach to take the same position with Penn State. Cara Morey was promoted to head coach at Princeton after serving six years as an assistant to Kampersal.
Jess Koizumi, who was at Ohio State for just a season as an associate head coach, left to take the same position at Vermont. Former Gopher Milica McMillen was added as an assistant coach at OSU.
As 2018 is an Olympic year, several college players have taken a redshirt season in order to compete for their country. Those players do not lose a year of college eligibility and will return to their respective schools next season.
NCAA Players at the Olympics
These players will miss an entire NCAA season due to Team USA and Team Canada centralization.
- Kali Flanagan - USA
- Megan Keller - USA
- Micah Zandee-Hart - Canda
- Sarah Potomak - Canada
- Amy Potomak - Canada
- Maddie Rooney - USA
- Emily Clark - Canada
- Annie Pankowski - USA
Additional players from other countries are expected to miss part of the season, but none of them bring their players in for a long centralization prior to the Olympics. The best competition those players can face is in the NCAA, so they play there until just before the Olympics begin.
With all that in mind, the teams are about to enter the fifth weekend of the season and it's already been a bit surprising.
Between graduation and players at the Olympics, Minnesota is missing their top six scorers from last season and those six accounted for 65% of the team's goals, 70% of their assists, and 68% of their total points.
The Gophers have just one win through their first four games after dropping their opening match against Merrimack. Last weekend, they lost the first game to Ohio State before salvaging a tie and losing the extra point in the shootout in the second tilt.
The win was Ohio State's first against Minnesota in a decade. Merrimack is in just its third year as a Division I school. The team's previous biggest win in history was arguably over Northeastern last season.
It turns out that while we all focused on the amount of scoring the Gophers were losing, we probably should have been looking at the defense. They're averaging 3.5 goals scored per game while giving up 3.25 goals per game.
They're playing just five defenders and are sorely missing Lee Stecklein and Megan Wolfe. Their highest returning scorer was D Sydney Baldwin and it's possible she's been more focused on helping on the offensive end and not enough to protecting the blue line.
With the talent Minnesota has both on the ice and on their coaching staff, it's difficult to imagine that there won't be some major changes and work put into righting the ship, but in the meantime, the defensive lapses are something that no one saw coming. The WCHA coaches picked Minnesota to win the conference in their preseason poll.
As for Ohio State, it seems like all the potential they've shown in fits and starts over recent years may have finally gelled. A strong senior class that has weathered a lot over the years finally has a strong core around them and a coach that's been there two years in a row, former Gopher Nadine K. Muzerall. (Previous program coaches left due to off-ice incidents -- Nate Handrahan because of sexual harassment and retaliation and Jenny Potter due to recruitment violations.) They've had strong defense in the past, as well as a stellar goalie in Kassidy Sauve, but didn't have the offense to match. Thus far they're averaging four goals a game and looking like a team to be reckoned with -- and a bit afraid of.
Merrimack started off the season so promising, with wins over Boston University and Minnesota, but struggled this past weekend against New Hampshire and coming away with a loss and tie. The young program has shown a lot of promise early on and it's great for the growth of the game to see a new program do well out of the gate.
Check back later for a preview of what to watch this weekend in the NCAA.