Come back each week for a preview of interesting NCAA games coming up and some thoughts on what happened in the previous week's action.
(3) Wisconsin at (2) Minnesota
Friday at 6:00 PM and Saturday at 2:00 PM Central
Watch: Paid stream on BTN+.
Both teams were pushed around a little by teams below them in the polls and conference standings in the last week.
Crucial to this game for Minnesota will be whether or not Abbey Murphy is able to play after taking a brutal-looking hit to the head near the end of the Gophers' game against St. Cloud State on Tuesday. We all hope she has a speedy recovery and is back on the ice quickly. Pragmatically, it's a massive issue for Minnesota. She's responsible for 11 more goals than the next closest goal scorer and has taken 44 more shots on goal than the next closest player. She leads the team with five game-winning goals and seven power play goals. She is, quite frankly, the entire engine that makes the Gopher offense run. Earlier in the season I said this was unsustainable and Minnesota and Murphy have proven me wrong – despite knowing that the offense runs through her, no defense has had an answer for her.
The rest of the Gophers offense is relatively young and thanks to Murphy has been able to ease into the season, but it might be a small silver lining here for the long run of the program that the youngsters now have to step up and be more aggressive. Unfortunately for them, they have to step up big time right away against their biggest rival with very little prep time. On the plus side, Ohio State created a bit of a blueprint a few weeks ago on how to really shut down the Badgers. Wisconsin is a better team with KK Harvey and Kirsten Simms on the ice – both were injured for the series in Columbus – but if Minnesota can pressure the Badgers the same way, it certainly could be interesting. But to bring this full circle, even if they do, they're still probably going to need to score a couple of goals to come away with points and that will be the big question mark.
On Wisconsin's side, they looked really disconnected against UMD last week and coach Mark Johnson talked about how the team needs to get better at fighting for the puck in front of the net, playing for rebounds and not be so reliant on the pretty plays they have the skill to pull off. He wants his team to be grittier. They'll have to be if they're going to leave Minneapolis with points.
(6) Minnesota Duluth at (8) St. Cloud State
Friday at 6:00 PM and Saturday at 3:00 PM Central
Watch: Paid stream on BTN+.
This should be a fascinating series with both teams riding confidence highs. St. Cloud State took points off the top two teams in the country in a span of four days. UMD split a weekend series in Madison. Both teams have gotten exceptional goaltending and are virtually tied in both team defense and team offense. St. Cloud has been twice as good on the power play, which might give them an advantage.
These teams both work hard on defense to stymie their opponent, block shots, force plays to the outside and generally frustrate the heck of out of opposing defenses. St. Cloud has an advantage in speed, particularly when it comes to turning a play the other direction. Their forwards are a little more experienced and can probably be prettier with the puck. Watch for tape to tape passes and deft weaving and switching positions on the ice. They don't stand still very much and they read each other well.
The Bulldogs are patient on offense. They aren't trying to force chances or put themselves in a position to give up the puck. In their win over Wisconsin, all the scoring came in the third period. They waited for their opportunities and when the puck was a lot more active on rebounds in the final frame, they were ready to pounce. They picked their places to put the puck on net, always had at least one trailing skater, and showed a lot of restraint. It should be a good battle of wills in this game as St. Cloud looks to control puck possession, take off on fast breaks, and clean up their own crease. I think at times UMD can try to be too patient and pass up spots to shoot that could have been good enough for a scoring chance. They have to be decisive and not too passive against the Huskies. I think SCSU will have the advantage in shots, but they need to be high percentage shots and they need to not get frustrated.
(7) Quinnipiac at (12) Princeton
Saturday at 3:00 PM Eastern
Watch: Paid stream on ESPN+.
It probably goes without saying, but Princeton's fortunes are really tied to how effective Sarah Fillier can be. Much like Minnesota above, the rest of the Tigers lineup isn't always able to play alongside and support her and the team can be vulnerable when an opposing defense is able to corral her a bit. But she she gets the opportunity, she's making teams pay and scoring in bunches. There's a lot of potential on this team and they still have the opportunity to surprise some opponents and create a little more havoc in the ECAC.
Quinnipiac has fallen a little bit in the polls, but they do have just three losses and all three were to other ranked teams in their conference – Clarkson, St. Lawrence and Colgate. The Bobcats are always strong on defense, but have a depth of scoring this season that really changes their dynamic and makes them a more formidable team. It's been fun to watch players like Maya Labad and Emerson Jarvis improve and find their place with the Bobcats. Grad transfer Julia Nearis already has seven goals after scoring 12 all of last season. Nina Steingauf might have taken a smaller role behind other players in previous seasons, but she's really embraced being a bigger part of the offense and is really helping to drive the team's scoring. She's just two points shy of her total from all of last season and has already more goals than she did last year. She's playing with more confidence and being more decisive with the puck, and it's really powering what the Bobcats can do.
Also worth a look:
- (13) Yale at (15) Penn State – Friday at 6:00 PM and Saturday at 2:00 PM Eastern
- Providence at Boston University – Saturday at 3:00 PM Eastern
Stick Taps and Snark
↑ Expansion – The University of Delaware announced this week that they are added NCAA DI women's hockey. The Blue Hens will join the CHA and when they officially begin will be the 45th DI team.
↓ Winter break – We'll be without women's college hockey for a few weeks for the winter break as players get time off for exams and holidays. The DI schedule will resume on December 29.
↑ St. Cloud State – The Huskies took down #1 Ohio State last Friday and followed that with a tie (with shootout loss) to Minnesota on Tuesday. They're up to #8 in the polls this week and that point from the tie has them one point clear of Minnesota Duluth in the WCHA standings.
↑ The countdown is on – Thanks to the lovely readers of this website, I'm less than a month from leaving for Switzerland to cover the IIHF U18 Women's World Championships in Zug. That's still pretty mind boggling to be completely honest. Thank you so, so much. I cannot wait.
(Photo: Minnesota Women's Hockey/Twitter)