Heading into the women’s college hockey season, the general consensus was that there were the top four teams—Clarkson, Wisconsin, Boston College, and Minnesota—and then a big gap, and then everybody else. It didn’t take long for that logic to get blown to pieces with Minnesota Duluth opening the season with a huge sweep of Boston College in Duluth last weekend. The Bulldogs took game one on Friday by a 4-2 score, then completed the sweep with a 2-1 win on Saturday night.
So what happened? And just how much does last weekend change expectations for both teams heading into the season.
The first thing that stands out is that I think most people expected UMD’s freshman class to be good. Some expected them to be very good. But I don’t think anyone expected them to be this good this quickly. UMD’s freshmen class had a big weekend and went a long ways towards closing the perceived gap in talent between the two teams. Of the six goals UMD scored last weekend, two of them came from freshmen, along with 8 of their 11 assists. In total, 58% of the team’s points came from their freshman class. Obviously, two games is a tiny sample size but if their freshman class is scoring over 50% of their team’s points, compared to last year’s senior class, which scored about 35% of UMD’s points, that’s a huge improvement in scoring potential from last year’s team.
It’s also worth noting that junior forward Ryleigh Houston scored three goals last weekend, already matching her goal total from the 2017-2018 season. Two years ago, Houston was an all-WCHA rookie team member playing for North Dakota, scoring 8-18-26. If she returns to the form she showed as a freshman, but with two more years of experience under her belt, that’s like adding another top line forward into the UMD line-up that they didn’t have last year.
From the Boston College perspective, this past weekend was a disaster. Not from the standpoint of the results on the ice; BC will be fine there. It’s two losses, on the road, to a team that looks like they could be a top-five outfit. They’ll clobber enough Hockey East teams that these losses shouldn’t do any lingering damage.
The bigger concern is the loss of junior forward Caitrin Lonergan, who left Friday’s game with a non-contact injury to her right leg, and did not play in Saturday’s game. Lonergan was one of college hockey’s best players last year. Her 75 points last year trailed only teammate Daryl Watts in national scoring, and she was devastating in an early season sweep of Minnesota Duluth last season.
Her loss was deeply felt last weekend. When she went out of the game about midway through the second period, BC held a 2-1 lead. After Lonergan went out, BC was outscored 5-1 the rest of the weekend and lost both games.
That may be mostly correlation rather than causation, but I do think the loss of Lonergan played a huge factor. While Watts was the more prolific scorer and garnered more attention last year, I always thought Lonergan was the bigger force in driving Boston College’s offense because of her game-changing speed, which broke down defenses and opened up ice for teammates. It wasn’t a huge surprise to see BC’s offense sputter without her against a good team.
There’s been no word on Lonergan’s injury since this weekend. Hopefully it isn’t something that keeps her out for long. Again, even without her, Boston College probably has enough talent to cruise through Hockey East again, but it’s tough to see them matching up against the likes of Clarkson, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and now I guess Minnesota Duluth, without her.