Among the lengthy list of disappointments in the University of North Dakota’s decision to cut their women’s hockey program was that many felt at the time, that the Fighting Hawks were set up in a position to be a pretty good team in the near future.
Of course it was impossible to say for certain then. There were no guarantees of current players developing as hoped, and promising recruits can be hit-or-miss when they reach the collegiate level. Even today, it’s tough to say with any great amount of confidence what a North Dakota team would look like. There are a million little factors that ultimately go into the success or disappointment of a season. It’s never as simple as plugging in a few stats from one place and expecting the same results at another.
But a season-and-a-half later, with the full diaspora of North Dakota ex-players and commits spread around the college hockey world, we can at least take some educated guesses at what North Dakota’s team would have looked like this year.
I put together a projected roster based on players that either played, or were committed to play for North Dakota at the time the program was cut, and it turns out, based on what those players are doing elsewhere this season, they probably would have been pretty good.
Here’s my guess at what their line-up would have looked like:
Malia Schneider-Charly Dahlquist-Hanna Olsson
As top lines go, I’d say this is a pretty good one. Schneider was a solid contributor as a freshman last year at Colgate, when the Raiders made it to the national title game. She scored 16-9-25 as a rookie last year, and is well on her way to eclipsing that this year. She leads the Raiders, who are ranked 10th in the nation, in scoring with 7-11-18 so far this year.
Top line center was a tough choice, but it’s hard to argue with a player that centered the first line of a Frozen Four team last year. Dahlquist, a senior at Ohio State, isn’t a flashy offensive player, though she had 23 points last year and already has 13 this year. But she plays a tough, physical game that opens up a lot of space for her line mates to excel.
Olsson never came over to the US after North Dakota cut their program, which is a shame. She’s been a member of Sweden’s women’s national team since she was 16. She doesn’t turn 20 until January, but has played multiple years in Sweden’s top pro league, where she consistently scores over a point-per-game and ranks among the league’s top scorers, which include some of the best players in the world, most of whom are years older than Olsson. It’s fairly safe to assume she would have found some measure of success, and likely quite a bit of it, at the college level.
Ryleigh Houston-Gabbie Hughes-Emma Nuutinen
We’ll start with Hughes, who has immediately ascended to the top of Minnesota Duluth’s scoring chart—she has the most goals on the team, and is tied for the most assists—midway through her freshman season. Theoretically, she could go on the top line to give them a little extra scoring punch, but this would give their line-up more depth with some nice secondary scoring.
On the right wing is another player currently leading her team in scoring in Mercyhurst junior Emma Nuutinen. Nuutinen played for Finland in the Olympics last winter in addition to scoring 15 points in 23 games for Mercyhurst. This year, she’s just over a point-per-game with 12 in 11 games for the Lakers.
Ryleigh Houston was the second-leading scorer for North Dakota as a freshman. After a slow adjustment to Minnesota Duluth last season, she’s been a solid secondary contributor so far this year with eight points in 14 games, and would be a dangerous playmaker when matched with a pair of shooters like Hughes and Nuutinen.
Hallie Theodosopoulos-Ashton Bell-Rebekah Kolstad
Theodosopoulos is third on St. Cloud State’s team in scoring as a junior with eight goals, matching the eight she scored last year as a sophomore. The numbers might not stay the same if she was moved to a third line role with less ice time, but she could probably be counted on for a couple goals in a third line role.
Kolstad is also third on her team scoring list as a senior this year for Minnesota State. A tough, physical player, she’s played a key role in helping Minnesota State to what has already been their most successful season in five years.
Bell hasn’t been a huge scorer in her two seasons at Minnesota Duluth, but is a gritty all-around player, and would probably be the most talented third line center in the country outside out Minnesota or Wisconsin.
Sara Sakkinen-Emilie Harley-Vilma Tanskanen
Sakkinen has found regular playing time as a freshman at Ohio State this season, and is scoring at a rate of about half-a-point per game, which is pretty promising.
Tanskanen was the second-leading scorer for Mercyhurst last season, scoring 27 points in 33 games. She’s not scoring at quite the same rate this year, with just six points in 15 games, but is a solid contributor.
Harley hasn’t done a ton as a rookie at Robert Morris this year. She has a 1-3-4 scoring line in 20 games, though it’s notable that she has generated 48 shots already, even though she’s converting at an abysmal rate.
Willow Slobodzian-Anna Kilponen
Slobodzian played for Cornell last year as a 17-year-old, and in her second season, is a really solid contributor for the sixth-ranked Big Red.
Kilponen isn’t a big scorer from the blue line, but the senior is a veteran presence that has a lot of experience with Finland’s national team.
Taylor Wemple-Abbey Stanley
Stanley picked up a lot of assists last year as a sophomore at Boston University, scoring 4-19-23 for the Terriers. She’s off to a slower start this year with just four assists, but is a solid playmaker.
Wemple made a big jump in play from her freshman season last year at St. Cloud State to this season. She’s become more of a scoring threat, tallying six points this year, while bringing a big, physical presence to the blue line.
Taylor Flaherty-Kara Werth/Abby Theissen
Flaherty is a solid senior defender for Vermont. Werth has worked her way into being a line-up regular for Bemidji State as a sophomore this year, while Theissen is a fixture in the line-up for St. Cloud State.
Kristen Campbell-Kennedy Blair
Campbell has played every available minute for Wisconsin since transferring two seasons ago. Her stats have been incredible, but it’s impossible not to count the fact that she’s playing with an incredible defensive group and dominating forward group in front of her. It’s tough to say what her numbers would look like on this North Dakota team, but it’s pretty clear that she’s not going to hold a good team back.
Kennedy Blair was outstanding as a freshman last season at Mercyhurst, finishing the year with a .934/1.57. She got bombed in her first three starts this year, rather understandably, playing two against Minnesota and one against Wisconsin, and hasn’t started a game since. But it would be appear she’d be more than capable in a back-up role.
Yeah, I’d take this group against just about anybody. The defensive group is a little weak; there are some solid players, but no real top pairing stars.
That forward group though. Top-to-bottom, I think that’s the best group in the nation outside of Minnesota and Wisconsin. They may not have a clear Patty Kaz-candidate scoring machine—though Olsson’s scoring rate in Sweden suggests she might not be far off—but I love the depth that group has, even before you consider they’d be gutting the depth of some pretty good teams. I don’t think there’s another team that could afford to slot Ashton Bell as their third center. They present a lot of match-up problems with their depth.
Add what I believe would be pretty good goal tending with Campbell in net to a forward group that could control possession and I think you could mask whatever deficiencies there might be on the blue line.
Like I said, I don’t think they could match up against Minnesota or Wisconsin—though who knows what Wisconsin would have done in goal without Campbell these past two year. Then again, nobody else seems that close to them this year either. After that, I’d definitely take my chances with this group over the field.