NCAA Women's College Hockey is Back
The 2023-24 season is set to kick off on Saturday, September 23, 2023, at 3:00 PM EDT with an excellent slate of matches to bring us into the new season. Women’s collegiate hockey is growing and this season is set to show us even more growth and parity between teams.
Meet the Conferences
In women’s collegiate hockey, there are five conferences that teams play in. These include the CHA, ECAC Hockey, Hockey East, NEWHA, and the WCHA.
The College Hockey America conference (CHA), is one of the smallest conferences in the country with only five teams including Penn State, Lindenwood, and Mercyhurst. Penn State made their NCAA tournament debut last season after winning the CHA title. The downfall for the CHA is the lack of size. This means that teams play a lot fewer games, making their schedules more open but also easier compared to the ECAC, Hockey East, or WCHA, which can hurt a team come tournament time. Penn State was picked as the favorite in the CHA preseason poll.
The biggest conference is ECAC Hockey, with a total of 12 teams, including two-time national champions Clarkson, Yale, Colgate, and Quinnipiac. Colgate was the automatic bid from the ECAC last season after a successful run in the ECAC tournament over Clarkson. Yale had clinched their first-ever ECAC regular season title but were unable to find success come ECAC tournament time. The conference is highly competitive with four teams making the NCAA tournament and is bound to put on another show this season. Colgate was picked as the favorite in the ECAC Hockey preseason poll, receiving 11 of the 12 first-place votes.
Hockey East consists of ten teams with Northeastern being the current powerhouse of the conference. They have made the last three Frozen Fours but have yet to prevail for a title. Northeastern is joined by the likes of Vermont, Providence, and Boston College in the Hockey East. The Hockey East may not be nearly as competitive as some of the other conferences but part of that comes down to universities needing to invest more money into their women’s hockey programs. Women’s hockey is growing and with more investment, we could see the Hockey East conference become a much more competitive conference in the upcoming years. Northeastern topped the Hockey East preseason poll with nine of the ten first-place votes.
The New England Women’s Hockey Alliance (NEWHA) made their first NCAA tournament automatic bid last season, sending Long Island University who were the regular season champions. A conference consisting of eight teams, they struggle with consists mostly of smaller schools including Long Island University, St. Anselm, and Stonehill. These schools are primarily Division II schools across all other sports, making women’s hockey the exception. This season, the NEWHA will be adding Assumption University for the Greyhounds’ inaugural season in women’s hockey. They will start their season on September 29 against RIT at 7:50 p.m.
The Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) has proven itself as the premier conference in women’s collegiate hockey, having won 19 of the 23 played NCAA national championships. The WCHA includes the likes of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, and Ohio State. With a total of eight schools, it is a highly competitive conference game-in and game-out. There is a standard of winning in the WCHA which is seen in the high level of hockey that is put out onto the ice each season.
This can also be seen in that there has always been a WCHA team in the Frozen Four since 2001 when the NCAA created a national championship for women’s hockey. The only time that the WCHA did not send a team to the final was 2018 when it was between Clarkson and Colgate. There have been seven all-WCHA finals, thus continuing to show how dominant the conference is.
Wisconsin topped the WCHA preseason poll, but Ohio State was directly tied in terms of points with 46 points and four first-place votes for both squads.
The 2022-23 Tournament
The 2022-23 NCAA tournament was one to remember with first-time teams, upsets, and a lot of overtime. In the first round, a matchup between Quinnipiac and Penn State went to three overtimes. Wisconsin’s run to the final required them to knock off the No. 3, 2, and 1 seeds. We saw top-level goaltending as players in the position continue to improve as the years go by.
The Wisconsin Badgers made history becoming the first unranked team to win the national championship and becoming the first team to reach seven national championships, with a 1-0 win over Ohio State. The scoreline was unexpected in a match-up between two of the top offensive teams in the country but the singular goal from Kirsten Simms in the first period was enough for the Badgers who played a great game in transition and on defense.
There were doubts in January about whether or not Wisconsin would even make the tournament, after a five-game losing streak, including a 5-0 loss to Ohio State so it’s not amiss to say that the Badgers had a challenging season. Ohio State were the defending champions, and the favorites to win the 2023 title.
The Buckeyes easily took down Northeastern in the semifinals with a 3-0 win while the Badgers battled to the line with Minnesota, before a Caroline Harvey blast in overtime sent Wisconsin to the national championship.
The energy and momentum from the win over Wisconsin’s biggest rival in Minnesota could be seen in the national championship as they showed no signs of tired legs or exhaustion.
The 2023-24 Season
The 2023-24 season will run from the end of September to the end of March with a break from December 10 to January 4, 2024. Conference tournaments vary in when they start and end based on the size of the conference but the NCAA tournament is set to begin on March 14, 2024.
The NCAA tournament consists of 11 teams, including five at-large bids, one for each conference. The top five seeds are placed in the second round of the tournament, making them only one win away from the Frozen Four. The other six teams play a first-round game.
The Wisconsin Badgers topped the preseason poll, with Ohio State and Minnesota sitting in second and third. Throughout the season, we are bound to see movement from the top spot but it can be expected that one of those three teams will likely be there for the majority of the season.