The long-awaited return of college hockey inches ever closer, with first pucks dropping around the country late September for the 2023-24 season.
A winding campaign last season culminated in Wisconsin edging Ohio State 1-0, and an early look at this upcoming season from NCAA Digital's Jordan Menard features a number of familiar faces.
Here's Menard's preseason top 5 for the upcoming women's college hockey season:
Despite eclipsing double-digit losses for the first time in a decade last season, Wisconsin roared back to its dynastic best once tournament play commenced. A 9-1 battering of Long Island and a comfortable 4-2 win over Colgate pushed the Badgers through to the Frozen Four, where they would secure narrow victories over rivals Minnesota and Ohio State to hoist a seventh national championship prize.
The Badgers shouldn't have to change much, returning four of their five points leaders from last season, including defender and second-team all-American Caroline Harvey. A relatively uneventful offseason did leave a noticeable absence in the crease, however, as starting goalkeeper Cami Kronish graduated. Last year's deputy shot stopper Jane Gervais, who projects to replace Kronish in 2023, acquitted herself well in 11 starts a season ago while posting a 92.6% save percentage.
In total, Wisconsin returns 18 players from a national title team while adding Minnesota State transfer Anna Wilgren, making it tough to bet against the Badgers as favorites to win their fourth championship in five seasons.
2. Ohio State
The Buckeyes, of course, fell narrowly to Wisconsin in the 2023 National Championship Game, a frustrating affair from an OSU perspective given its statistical edge. Ohio State won the face-off battle and outshot UW by nearly 10, somehow failing to breach Kronish's net in 31 attempts. OSU entered the 2023 tournament as the No. 1 overall seed after a 33-6-2 record and had bested the Badgers twice already that season, including a 5-1 January beatdown, making their eventual finals defeat doubly agitating.
Ohio State's revenge tour features a reloaded cast of characters, with the Buckeyes luring in six new players from the transfer portal. Ex-Boston College Hanna Bilka and Cayla Barnes headline this much needed infusion of talent, with OSU losing three of its four points leaders from last year.
Jennifer Gardiner, the leading assist provider in Columbus last year, returns, uniting with OSU's new-look roster to form one of the most talented squads in America poised to avenge last season's heartbreak.
After making its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance in 2017, Colgate continued its rapid ascent into the upper echelon of college hockey, bowing out in their third straight quarterfinal appearance last season. The Raiders secured their third consecutive ECAC Conference tournament title emphatically — a comfortable run ended in an 8-2 battering of Clarkson — before ultimately falling 4-2 against Wisconsin.
Earning the third overall seed in last season's tournament, the Raiders begin the year in similarly rare air with strong aspirations of getting over the quarterfinal hump. First-team All-American forward Danielle Serdachny, who totaled a stunning 46 assists last season, is back in central New York for one final go, joined by all nine of Colgate's 2022-23 points leaders.
This veteran Raiders outfit has an early opportunity to rise up Menard's rankings, hosting the Buckeyes for a two-game series to open the regular season.
The Gophers have taken Ohio State's offseason model to an even more extreme level, recruiting nine new roster additions for another crack at the championship.
Minnesota's duo of All-American forwards Taylor Heise and Grace Zumwinkle headline the major losses suffered in the 2023 offseason, with the Gophers cumulatively missing four of their top five goal scorers along with blocks leader Emily Oden. The Gophers' transfer additions offer a much-needed veteran presence on a roster featuring six freshmen, with defenders Solveig Neunzert and Taylor Stewart having combined for 227 appearances at Princeton and Minnesota Duluth, respectively.
Another Frozen Four participant, Northeastern's strength will once again lie in the crease with First-Team All-American Gwyneth Philips back for her fifth year in Boston. Further up the rink, the Huskies suffered a few significant departures, losing their three leading scorers to graduation, but NU did manage to add Yale graduate transfer Becca Vanstone.
After breezing through Hockey East conference play last season with just two losses, the Huskies' stout defense provides a similar opportunity for success in 2023-24.