Women's college hockey is back in full swing.
The first weekend of action gave us our first huge upset of the year after No. 14 Penn State stunned No. 3 Wisconsin 4-1 to kick off the season on Thursday before the Badgers stormed back to win 9-1 the following night.
Last season saw a return to a normal schedule and non-conference play, some dazzling individual seasons, several greats write themselves into their program's record books and a first-time national champion in Ohio State.
Here are five storylines to watch during the 2022-23 women's college hockey season:
Can the WCHA keep up its dominance?
The Western Collegiate Hockey Association has produced each of the last three national champions. Ohio State took down conference foe Minnesota Duluth in the title game. Four of the 12 teams in last year's tournament hailed from the WCHA. The Buckeyes topped the USCHO preseason poll with Minnesota and Wisconsin rounding out the top three, in addition to Duluth coming in at No. 5.
Since women's hockey became an NCAA-sanctioned sport in 2000, all but four national championships have gone to WCHA programs. The Badgers and Golden Gophers each have six, while the Bulldogs have five. Aside from Ohio State, Clarkson (ECAC) is the only other team to win with three titles.
The Buckeyes return largely the same roster that won last season, while the Badgers welcome a pair of United States Olympians in freshman defender Caroline Harvey and graduate forward Jesse Compher, a former standout at Boston University. OSU, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Duluth boast solid freshmen classes as well.
The WCHA could absolutely have at least four squads in the tournament.
Who steps up in the crease for Wisconsin?
The Badgers graduated one of the best goaltenders to come through their program in Kennedy Blair, who had a 1.55 goals-against average (GAA) on her career, leaving Cammi Kronish, Chloe Baker and Jane Gervais to compete for the starting role this season.
Kronish, in her fifth year, has eight appearances and three starts, and Gervais, a redshirt sophomore, has three appearances under her belt with two starts. Meanwhile, Baker is a freshman.
The Badgers certainly have the firepower to outscore any problems that might come up in goal this season. Although, typically, Wisconsin is never particularly busy in their own end to begin with, allowing just 1.56 goals-against per game in 2021-22 (fourth best in the NCAA).
Gervais and Kronish each have a start through the first two games of the season.
Can Northeastern break through on the national stage?
Northeastern returns a stacked squad this year, despite graduating the greatest goaltender in program history in Aerin Frankel as well as their all-time leader in defender scoring, Skylar Fontaine. This season's group returns three key graduate students in captain Alina Müller, who ranks third in scoring all-time at NU, forward Chloe Aurard (42 points in 31 games last season), and forward Maureen Murphy, who led the NCAA in goals last year with 30. Unlike the Badgers, Northeastern already has a clear successor between the pipes in junior Gwyneth Phillips, who has a 0.70 GAA, a .962 save percentage and a 13-1-0 record on her career.
The Huskies have been a perennial shoo-in to be a top five team and win Hockey East. However, Dave Flint's talented squad has fallen short of a national championship, despite two-straight Frozen Four appearances and five tournament appearances in a row. They'll look to make another run at their first title as the clear favorites to come out of their conference once again.
The ECAC is loaded
The ECAC saw the WCHA's four tournament teams last season and raised them five, although only Yale made it to the Frozen Four.
Two-time defending champion No. 6 Colgate looks to be the preseason favorite, but the likes of No. 7 Yale, No. 8 Quinnipiac, ninth-ranked Clarkson, No. 10 Princeton, No. 11 Harvard and twelfth-ranked Cornell will each have a say in the matter. Yes, that's seven ECAC teams right on top of each other in the top-15 of the USCHO preseason poll.
Colgate boasts a talented crop of incoming youngsters, while Quinnipiac, who gave Ohio State quite a scare in the national quarterfinals last season, and Yale are welcoming back many of their key players. Princeton will get junior forward Sarah Fillier back after her triumphant runs with Canada at the Winter Olympics in February and the World Championships in August.
This should be one of the best conferences to track wire-to-wire this season.
The race for the Patty Kazmaier Award
All three of last season's top-three finalists for the Patty Kaz — winner Taylor Heise (Minnesota), Gabbie Hughes (Minnesota Duluth) and Sophie Jaques (Ohio State) — return this season, along with three more from the top-10 in Müller (Northeastern), Casey O'Brien (Wisconsin) and Therese Schafzal (Vermont).
All six are safe bets to be in the mix for the award once again, especially Müller, who has been a finalist each of her previous four years with the Huskies.
Three former top-10 finalists in Compher, Fillier (twice) and Minnesota's Grace Zumwinkle are coming back to the collegiate ranks, as well as fellow Olympian Cayla Barnes (Boston College). Meanwhile, Murphy will almost assuredly fill the net for Northeastern again alongside Müller and Aurard in an effort to make a statement for being left out of the top-10 last season as the nation's leading goal-scorer.
Given the amount of talent returning to or remaining in NC women's hockey, this year's race for the top award should be packed yet again.