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Brett Amadon | Excelle Sports | September 29, 2017

Three games to look out for on opening weekend

College hockey season has finally arrived! Clarkson is the defending national champions, but will they repeat in 2017-18? Will Wisconsin get its revenge? There are plenty of questions that will be answered as the season goes on, but for now, here are three games to keep an eye as opening weekend gets underway:

No. 1 Clarkson (0-0-0) at No. 8 Northeastern (0-0-0)

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The Golden Knights are the defending champs and begin the season as the top-ranked team. Coach Desrosiers lost his two leading scorers from last season, but Clarkson still returns 16 letter winners from last year, including Loren Gabel (22 goals, 20 assists last year) as well as senior defenseman and Patty Kazmaier candidate Savannah Harmon, who last month was drafted sixth overall by the Buffalo Beauts in the NWHL draft. Shea Tiley is also back in net; the veteran netminder started 37 games last season, posting a 1.58 goals against average and a .931 save percentage. Clarkson got off to a slow start in 2016, losing three of its first six games, but went on a tear the rest of the way, going 30-1-4 to win its second title in four years. Expect the Golden Knights to get out of the gates a little quicker this year.

RELATED: Clarkson women's hockey program building a legacy

Northeastern will be looking to knock Boston College off the Hockey East pedestal this season, and opening up the season at home against the No. 1 team should be a good sign of where they stand before the Eagles come to town. The Huskies return 75 percent of their scoring from last season, including Denisa Krizova (18 goals, 27 assists) and McKenna Brand (23 goals, 15 assists). The Huskies struggled to close games out last season, winning only two of nine overtime games, but coach Dave Flint feels this is the deepest team he’s had at Northeastern, and they should give Clarkson a battle.

Mercyhurst (0-1-0) at No. 2 Wisconsin (3-0-0)

The Badgers have already played three games this season and, unsurprisingly, have won them all. After sweeping Lindenwood last weekend, Wisconsin opened up the two-game slate against Mercyhurst with a comfortable 4-0 win. The Badgers have met the Lakers 10 times now, with Wisconsin winning every time. Kristen Campbell picked up her third win of the season, as the former North Dakota product (she transferred to Wisconsin after North Dakota ended its women’s hockey program), has only allowed one goal on 38 shots. Wisconsin is now 16-0-1 all-time in September contests.

The Lakers didn’t get off to the start they were looking for Thursday night, and will try to turn things around in game two. Brooke Hartwick is the go-to scorer for Mercyhurst (16 goals, 18 assists last season), and the London, Ont., native will need to develop a rhythm offensively for the Lakers to have a chance. Mercyhurst also debuted a new goalie between the pipes, as redshirt freshman Kennedy Blair, who made 27 stops in the opener, will go head-to-head again with former North Dakota teammate Campbell.

MORE: Returning talent, new faces highlights 2017-18 season preview by the numbers

Note: This series features two of the winningest coaches in NCAA Division I women’s hockey history. Mercyhurst head coach Michael Sisti has 444 wins in his 19 seasons while Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson has 431 wins in 15 seasons. The two rank second and third respectively on the all-time list.

RPI (0-0-0) at Ohio State (0-0-0)

Ohio State is an interesting team. Last season, they put up a record of 14-18-5, although they went a perfect 6-0-0 against non-WCHA oppenents (outscoring them 24-1). Second-year head coach Nadine Muzerall will need to find some offense in order to improve in the WCHA, as the Buckeyes ranked 29th in the country last season, scoring only 1.86 goals per game. However, they only graduated two players and return all their top-scorers. Patty Kazmaier candidate Kassidy Sauve is the catalyst for the defense. Sauve turned aside an Ohio State single-season record 1,135 shots in 2016-17 while posting a 2.00 goals against average, .942 save percentage and seven shutouts.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will feature a new coaching staff and system as they look to bounce back from 2016-17. RPI brings back four of their top five scorers from a season ago, with senior captain Shayna Tomlinson leading the way for the Engineers as she has 49 points for her career, including 17 last season. Interim head coach Bryan Vines comes over from RPI’s men’s team, where he served as an assistant for the last eight seasons. Bringing a wealth of knowledge from both the collegiate and professional level, look for Vines to begin to turn things around, and OSU will be a good measuring stick for things to come.

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