Five NCAA women’s hockey storylines to follow — Top WoHo headlines — Must-click links

The IX: Hockey Friday with The Ice Garden, Sept. 29, 2023

It’s Hockey Friday, and Angelica Rodriguez with The Ice Garden is here to share five NCAA storylines to watch in 2023-24.

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We are heading into NCAA season, which means my life is about to get incredibly hectic with the sheer volume of hockey we’re about to receive. I’ve started my previews of each Division 1 conference and will have a D3 overview as well, so definitely keep an eye out on The Ice Garden for a closer look at each of the next few topics we’re going to gloss over — so far, we’ve got ECAC Hockey and College Hockey America down, and Hockey East to come soon. For the reader in a hurry, though, here are five storylines to keep track of as we head through the year. 

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The return of RMU

Robert Morris University’s men’s and women’s hockey programs were unceremoniously cut from the athletic department back in 2021, to the shock and anger of many players, alumnae and fans. Now, after two seasons away, both programs are back thanks to an unbelievable push by the Pittsburgh area hockey community to raise the money to revive both teams. Seriously — the cut was announced in May, and it was reversed that December. If that doesn’t scream “dedication,” I don’t know what does. Now, the Colonials are a young squad led by coach and alum Logan Bittle, and I can’t wait to see what they do in a competitive small conference like CHA.

How will Harvard move on from Katey Stone?

By now, we all know longtime Harvard women’s hockey coach Katey Stone has bowed out under some of the worst circumstances we’ve seen on this side of the sport — and by “worst circumstances” I mean her own actions coming back to bite her completely in the ass. Now, the team is in the hands of Laura Bellamy who comes over from UMD, and the assistants she’s brought on all look to be really player-focused, which is a welcome change from previous years. ECAC Hockey does carry some heavy hitters like Yale, Quinnipiac and Colgate, so I’m not sure where the Crimson will actually land, but our next topic will focus a little more on that conference’s changes especially in the postseason.

Tournament changes to ECAC, Beanpot

For the first time, ECAC Hockey men’s and women’s sides will follow the same postseason format. All 12 teams will have the chance to get into the conference tournament, with the top four seeds receiving a bye while seeds 5-8 hosts seeds 9-12 in a play-in game. From there, the quarterfinal will be a best-of-three series, and then one game will determine the winners of the semifinal and then the conference final respectively. This could lead to some serious upsets, but more likely those teams on the bubble (like Clarkson and St. Lawrence) are apt to knock the skates out from under the top dogs.

In addition, the women’s Beanpot championship and consolation games will be undergoing a change in venue similar to the men’s tournament, being held at TD Garden for the first time since its inception in 1979. Dunkin’ Donuts has extended its sponsorship to include the women’s tournament after sponsoring the men’s in 2023, meaning it will likely be a much bigger event than ever before. Exciting stuff.

Ohio State out for revenge in the WCHA — how will they top Wisconsin?

It really felt like Ohio State was finally going to have their dynasty moment in 2023. Fresh off winning it all in 2022, emerging strong from the shadow of fellow WCHA heavyweights Minnesota and Wisconsin, the Buckeyes played some of the best hockey we’ve seen in the NCAA tournament… and then Cami Kronish and the Badgers happened. 

Although a number of their top scorers have since moved on (including Emma Maltais and Sophie Jaques), this Buckeyes roster is still stacked. Jennifer Gardiner elects for a fifth year after a 57-point effort in 2022-23, and the transfer portal has landed Ohio State some huge fish in Hannah Bilka, Kiara Zanon and Cayla Barnes. It’s safe to say they’re out for blood this year, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see them make it yet again to the Frozen Four.

Gustavus Adolphus vs. Amherst: who will reign supreme?

Division III isn’t nearly as paid attention to as it should, and these two teams are especially radar-worthy. Gustavus Adolphus almost made it all the way in 2022, then finally powered past Amherst in a three-overtime thriller to win the DIII championship in 2023. These two teams were trading rankings all last season, and with Gustavus narrowly beating out Amherst last season for the trophy and edging them out in the rankings, expect this to be a season-long battle. Also expect Gustavus to push extra hard not just out of pride, but in memory of 19-year-old goalie Jori Jones, who tragically lost her life in a car accident in August involving herself and three of her teammates (who all were injured, but survived). 

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Women’s Hockey Headlines

As we all know, the PWHL is set to drop the puck sometime in January according to their own timeline. The Victory Press has a set of draft recaps for each team, in case you need a refresher. 

Three names who fell completely off the board last week are Jonna Albers, Allie Thunstrom and Mikyla Grant-Mentis. Ian Kennedy of THN reports that Albers and Thunstrom are unlikely to return, with Melissa Burgess following up with a confirmation of Albers’s retirement from the sport via Twitter. 

I can’t tell you how tough it is to see someone in the prime of her career like Albers hanging up the skates. Her speed, skill and consistency have long been overlooked by USA Hockey, but those lucky enough to see her play for the Whitecaps have long known of her talent. Meanwhile, Thunstrom hasn’t made any official statements, but if she also retires it’ll be the end of an unreal career for the 35-year-old, who not only set the standard on the ice with her play but off of it with her down-to-earth professionalism and kindness. Congratulations and best of luck to the pair of them. 

Grant-Mentis, meanwhile, looks to be headed to Ottawa’s training camp, and if she gets a roster spot it’ll cement my official status as an Ottawa fan. I’ve been so impressed with the team Mike Hirshfeld is putting together and the org as a whole, and the names reported to be headed to that camp (including Natalie Snodgrass and Becca Gilmore, another pair criminally overlooked in the draft) are pretty major. Also on the invite list for various teams are fan favorite and friend of TIG, Carly Jackson (Toronto), former Beauts Dom Kremer and Emma Keenan (Minnesota and Toronto respectively), and former pride of the Pride Kaleigh Fratkin (Boston). 

Players who have since moved on from North American pro hockey to try their luck overseas now include Ronja Mogren, who played with the Whitecaps last season and heads back home to Sweden to join MoDo of the SDHL. Former Beaut Iveta Klimasova has also been reported to have signed with HPK in the Naisten Liiga, though no official announcements seem to have gone out on that yet. 

Here’s a name that’ll jog your memory if you’ve been watching women’s hockey for a while: Milica McMillen. The former Golden Gopher and New York Riveter has taken on an assistant coaching role with St. Cloud State University, focusing on defense. Her hiring follows the departure of Mira Jalosuo, who ironically will be making the move over to the PWHL to help with coaching the Minnesota franchise, according to the Huskies’ press release.

And finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my TIG teammate Dan Rice and his excellent work alongside Allie Morse at Around the Rink. This week’s episode features a chat with former Whale forward and PWHL Ottawa draftee Caitrin Lonergan. Catch up with her and previous episodes here.

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