The New Year is here and with that comes the second-half of the season. Before we close the book on 2016 though, we need to take a look back at the final chapter of 2016 in college hockey. What it lacked in quantity it made up for in quality. We've seen a sudden uptick in wins from teams like slow-starters Princeton and Vermont, while others like Quinnipiac continued to roll. But which team had the best December?
Vote for the team you think deserves to be named the NC Women’s Ice Hockey Team of the Month in the poll at the bottom of the page. You can vote up to once per day until the poll closes Monday at noon Pacific, so be sure to get your vote in on time and share it with friends so they can vote as well.
Let’s take a look at the nominees.
December Results: 4-0-1
December 2 Win at Rensselaer, 4-0
December 10 Win vs. Mercyhurst, 4-2
December 11 Win vs. Mercyhurst, 5-2
Why Princeton Deserves To Win
After finding themselves skidding in the month of November, when they went 2-6-0, the Tigers came back in a major way to post an undefeated record in final chapter of 2016. It all started with a convincing 4-0 win over Rensselaer, which served as the Tigers’ first shutout since their 4-0 victory over Brown in late October. Princeton followed that performance up with another strong one, this time beating Union to the tune of 7-0. Both wins came against ECAC conference opponents.
The Tigers swept Mercyhurst in mid-December, outscoring the Lakers 9-4 through two games. In their final game of the year, Princeton earned just their second tie of the season in a 5-5 overtime standstill with the Nittany Lions.
December’s strong showing puts the Tigers’ record at 10-6-2 on the year, and the team will attempt to carry this momentum into the new year. They’ve already earned their first win of 2017 against then-eighth-ranked Quinnipiac, defeating the Bobcats 3-2.
At the fore of this impressive run is Princeton’s leading scorer, Karlie Lund, whose 28 points on the season is the best among the Tigers by a margin of nine. Strong goaltending from freshman goaltender Steph Neatby has also been instrumental to the mid-season success this team has found.
Looking ahead to the next half of the season, there are no gimme-wins in hockey, but Princeton won’t face another ranked team on their schedule, so if the Tigers continue to play hard, they’ll earn the results they want.
December Results: 4-0-1
December 3 Win at Northeastern, 2-1
December 10 Win vs. Dartmouth, 4-2
December 31 Win vs. Yale, 2-1
Why Vermont Deserves To Win
Like Princeton, the Catamounts did not get off to the start anyone on the team would have hoped for at the start of the season. Before their dominant December, Vermont had won just four games. By contrast, they’d lost six, and tallied four ties. Desperately needing a boost, the resurgence began with a pair of upset road wins over tenth-ranked Hockey East rival Northeastern. The sweep seemed to breathe some life back into the Catamounts, who followed it up with a win over Dartmouth and then a tie and a victory over Yale.
December was by-far the best month of Vermont’s season, but none of their wins were necessarily dominant, like fans might see from the likes of Wisconsin or Minnesota. Both wins over Northeastern came in overtime, and Vermont only won by more than a one-goal margin once, and that was in their 4-2 victory over Dartmouth.
Goaltending has made the difference, with Vermont’s senior netminder Madison Litchfield sitting at fifth in the NCAA’s goaltending leaders. In ten games, Litchfield has posted a .940 save-percentage, as well as a 1.53 goals-against average.
January won’t be a month with much margin for error. The Catamounts will only face Hockey East opponents from this point forward, including a series against sixth-ranked Boston College.
December Results: 3-1-0
December 2 Win at St. Cloud, 3-0
December 3 Win at St. Cloud, 3-2
December 9 Win at Minnesota State, 3-0
Why Minnesota Duluth Deserves To Win
Conference wins always seem to matter more, especially when a team does so as handily as the Bulldogs seemed to do in their year-end matchups against WCHA rivals St. Cloud State and Minnesota State.
The Bulldogs have been strong so far, but they’ve seemingly struggled a bit against fellow WCHA teams, with all of their four losses coming to intra-conference opponents. Of course, three of those were at the hands of second-ranked Minnesota and first-ranked Wisconsin, so it’s hard to blame Minnesota Duluth too much.
With the NCAA’s thirteenth-ranked offense and the sixth-ranked defense, the five-time national champions are balanced, which bodes well for continued success throughout the rest of the season.
Next up on the schedule is Minnesota, and Minnesota Duluth will have the chance to prove their mettle and begin 2017 on the high note on which they left 2016.
December Results: 3-2-1
December 10 Win vs. St. Cloud, 3-2
December 11 Win at St. Cloud, 4-0
December 16 Win at Lindenwood, 5-0
Why North Dakota Deserves To Win
November was a rough month for the Fighting Hawks, who picked up just a single win in a tough 1-2-3 stretch. Compare that with their 3-2-1 December record, and it seems clear that this is a team clawing its way back.
Among the most important leaders on this team is leading scorer Amy Menke, whose 17 points in 22 games tops the Hawks. But for this team to continue to find success, they will need to find a way to get more out of their offense. Menke, who is most closely followed on her team's leader scoreboard by Ryleigh Houston with 14 points, is nowhere near the top of the NCAA scoring, which is led by Minnesota's Kelly Pannek with 40 points.
The brightest spot when it comes to North Dakota is their goaltender, Lexie Shaw. The senior tops the NCAA in minutes played, ranks third in shutouts, and ninth in save-percentage with .933. While North Dakota's offense struggles, its defense ranks in the top-ten in NCAA in most statistical categories, including fifth on the penalty-kill. Shaw's abilities have been keeping this team afloat, but they'll need to find some more scoring spark to continue to keep up with the rest of the top teams in the league.
December Results: 3-0
December 2 Win at Union, 4-0
December 3 Win at Rensselaer, 6-1
December 30 Win vs. Penn State, 2-1
Why Quinnipiac Deserves To Win
Though the Bobcats didn't play very many games in December, the strength with which they won deserves recognition. First came their win against Union, which isn't a team that has won a lot of games, but every ECAC victory, especially on the road, counts. They followed up that 4-0 performance with a 6-1 rout of Rensselaer, once again on the road. Forward Emma Woods had a performance for the ages in that matchup, scoring four of her team's six goals.
Their win against the Nittany Lions didn't come quite so easily, but after several weeks off, it's understandable that the Bobcats may need some time to get back into the groove.
Coming up for Quinnipiac in the New Year are a slew of ECAC games, including against the likes of Princeton, St. Lawrence, and Clarkson, with the former coming off of a hot streak. These next few weeks will determine whether Quinnipiac is a team ready to contend or not.[divider]