After a 2018-19 Frozen Four appearance, expectations are sky-high for No. 5 Cornell women’s hockey. With most of its key pieces returning, the Red is likely to compete for the top spot in a tough ECAC while vying to return to the NCAA Tournament. Here’s a rundown of what to watch for:
Inside the schedule:
Cornell starts its 29-game regular season at home this weekend with a pair of games against Robert Morris before quickly jumping into ECAC play. Other nonconference tilts include a pre-Thanksgiving midweek trip to Syracuse, a two-game set at Ohio State and two games at home against Mercyhurst.
The Red will get the notoriously tough North Country road trip over with early, heading to Potsdam and Canton in November before hosting Clarkson and St. Lawrence Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.
Returning scoring, potential line combinations and D pairs:
Cornell’s top three point scorers from last season will all be back at Lynah for the 2019-20 campaign. Junior forward Maddie Mills, senior forward Kristin O’Neill and senior defender Jaime Bourbonnais recorded 39, 38 and 29 points last season, respectively.
O’Neill, Mills and then-junior Amy Curlew made up Cornell’s top line for much of last season and figures to remain intact for 2019-20. The graduation of centers Lenka Serdar ’19 and Diana Buckley ’19 leaves the rest of the Red’s forward lines unclear heading into Friday night. But seniors Grace Graham (11 goals last season) and Paige Lewis (seven goals) and sophomore Gillis Frechette (seven goals, all in the final 11 games, including the overtime winner at Northeastern in the NCAA Tournament) are among the more than 10 returning forwards.
On defense, the Red won’t have to make any changes if it doesn’t want to. Late last season and in the playoffs, the pairings were then-sophomore Willow Slobodzian and then-junior Jaime Bourbonnais, then-sophomore Kendra Nealy with then-junior Micah Zandee-Hart and then-freshman Athena Song with then-sophomore Devon Facchinato.
The Cornell defense allowed just 1.7 goals per game last season.
“Our strength is definitely our defense — not just our defensive players, but our defense as a whole from the goalies to the forwards,” Zandee-Hart said. “So having that confidence within our defensive system is huge.”
Between the pipes:
Although the Red returns the bulk of its scoring and most of the core of the 2018-19 team, the graduation of Marlène Boissonnault ’19 leaves the team in need of a new starting goaltender — Boissonnault was the team’s go-to goalie in her junior and senior seasons after splitting time as a sophomore.
A small sample of excellent play late last season from then-sophomore Lindsay Browning makes Boissonnault’s departure less of a cause for concern. Browning finished the season with a 1.34 goals against average and .948 save percentage in six starts and eight total games.
Most notably, Browning came on in relief of a struggling Boissonnault in March’s ECAC semifinal game against Princeton, backstopping the Red to a thrilling double-overtime victory and earning the start the next day against Clarkson.
All signs point to Browning being the starting netminder — the other options in goal are sophomore Kaity McKenzie, who made one appearance last season in garbage time of a 7-0 win against Union, and junior Ally Dalaya, who hasn’t seen collegiate game action.
“[Browning] showed a lot of confidence and we gained a lot of confidence in her with her performances in those games [late last season],” said head coach Doug Derraugh ’91. “So going into this year, we feel really comfortable with her being our starting goaltender, and we also have two goalies behind her that can challenge her and do the job as well.”
Derraugh will have six freshmen at his disposal this season as he looks to put together a lineup without Pippy Gerace ’19, Lenka Serdar ’19 and Diana Buckley ’19. That Cornell had only four graduates — three forwards and a goaltender — will leave the four rookie forwards, two new defenders and one freshman D/F to battle for playing time.
The ECAC sports some of the nation’s top players and top teams. A season ago, three ECAC squads — Cornell, Clarkson and Princeton — earned NCAA Tournament bids after a conference tournament that saw the Red beat Princeton in double overtime of the semifinals before falling to the Golden Knights in the championship game.
The preseason ECAC poll placed Cornell and Princeton in a tie for the No. 2 spot behind Clarkson. Colgate, Harvard and St. Lawrence round out the top six.
Cornell has garnered plenty of national attention, too: The Red is ranked No. 5 in both the USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine national polls, right behind No. 4 Clarkson and just ahead of No. 6 Princeton.
The ECAC returns plenty of star power: Princeton’s Sarah Fillier (last season’s ECAC Rookie of the Year), Clarkson’s Elizabeth Giguere (led the nation with 73 points last year) and Cornell senior Kristin O’Neill were named preseason all-conference forwards. O’Neill’s 22 goals last season were tied with Fillier for fifth-most in the league.
Bourbonnais joined O’Neill as a preseason All-ECAC selection. Bourbonnais earned the ECAC’s Best Defenseman award last year and was named a first team all-league selection. She led all ECAC blueliners with nine goals and ranked second in assists (19) and points (28).
Opening night info:
Cornell’s season’s opening faceoff is set for 6 p.m. Friday at Lynah Rink. The Red hosts Robert Morris again at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Correction: In a previous version of this story, Marlène Boissonnault’s ’19 last name was misspelled.