We have certain assumptions about what we consider a successful recruiting class. At the top of the list are players who have served on the American or Canadian national teams. Then come players who have been invited to camps by those teams, and/or been a part of top-flight junior programs. If you score a lot for a lesser junior team you may also be a good prospect. It’s harder to evaluate foreign nationals because the talent pool is more uncertain: for every Michelle Karvinen there is a random Swede whose skills are being accepted largely on faith. The problem with this system is that at every step along the way there is room for error: the national selection camps may have a flawed process; not every player on an excellent team is herself an excellent player. Although we have statistical measures for isolating her contribution they are largely in their infancy. Also, there is no adequate measure for determining whether a so-called blue chip prospect will make the transition from junior-level hockey to the much more demanding world of the NCAA.
In short, this discussion may be total balderdash, but let’s have it anyway 😉 Here’s the first part.
It is now basically a truism that the Big Two will recruit North America’s top talent. Annoy UMD as it will, this is simply fact. We need go back to last year to understand the depth of Wisconsin’s new bench, since Super Junior Annie Pankowski will finally be able to play after redshirting last season. She is joined by U.S. U18 member and Shattuck St. Mary’s standout Baylee Wellhausen, her teammate defender Maddie Rolfe, Canadian U18 skater Emily Clark and Canadian selection camp attendee Lauren Williams. This is still impressive given that the Badgers lost major commit Taylor Cianfarano to BC in circumstances that remain murky (for rumors, see the USCHO forum). They are fielding only six defenders initially and losing Alex Rigsby, but Desbien is an able replacement and given that their woes in the past few seasons were primarily a moribund offense, this year should mark another return to the top for the program. While I am not sold on Johnson as a coach (heresy!) having seen him work unsuccessfully with slightly lesser talent the past few seasons, if he can handle player development this team could coach itself within a year.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s major rival is presumably still reeling from the destruction meted out by Clarkson in the astonishing national title game. It feels like a dream, doesn’t it? Unfortunately Tech has lost its most exceptional class and even with the championship boost in interest did not entirely make up for that, being forced (gasp!) to turn to the United States for a recruit 😉 Brielle Bellerive is both the most impressive player and the most impressive name in this year’s frosh squad, and Clarkson has inked several players in the level directly below including Downers Grove’ own Savannah Harmon and a potential replacement for Erica Howe in Shea Tiley, although Howe is really irreplaceable. With their team philosophy still in place they could contend in the ECAC…but read on for further news about who may have actually picked up the best class in the conference. As for Minnesota, although the loss must sting, they are soothing it with another epic group from within Minnesota (good players from Minnesota public schools are another holy grail, comparable to an exceptional junior hockey career). UMN picked up Ms. Hockey Sydney Baldwin, runners-up Kelly Pannek and NIna Rodgers, and Chicago Mission’s Cara Piazza, all of whom were members of the U.S. U18 squad. We should see no strings and wires for the transition in Gopherville.
But who, surprisingly, signed the one of the best initial classes in the ECAC? Colgate, a team that I am embarrassed to say I sometimes forget exists (sorry!). Harvard has brought in a very, very strong group but if the Raiders can ramp up to college speed quickly they can contend. Top of the list is the AMAZINGLY-NAMED Lauren Wildfang, one of the star players on Canada’s U18 team. She is joined by all-province-level talents Kaila Pinckney, Megan Sullivan, and Shelby Perry, plus American prep standouts (although not on the most elite squads) Annika Zalewski and Ellie DeCaprio. I don’t think anyone is going to overlook Colgate in the coming years. But I also recall being pretty excited about the incoming class at Saint Cloud State a few seasons back, only to see them flame out spectacularly (although they only inked two real high school stars which is not enough to turn around a program’s fortunes).
Next time: whither Duluth, a look at Harvard as well as conference rival Princeton, fortune falls in BC’s lap, etc. In researching this post I was excited to think that somewhere in Canada there is a George Eliot High School, but sadly it is George Elliot High; how disappointing.