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women's college hockey preview

Women’s college hockey: Five local story lines to watch for as the 2022-23 season begins

Cayla Barnes (left, during the 2022 Winter Olympics) is a two-time Olympian. She's also returning for Boston College.Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Winter Olympians dot the rosters of the four women’s Beanpot schools as the 2022-23 hockey season begins, setting the stage for what could be the most national parity the sport has ever seen. What questions face Northeastern, Boston College, Boston University, and Harvard as they take the ice?

How will Northeastern replace the spectacular Aerin Frankel?

Frankel, the Huskies’ record-setting goalie, is off to pro hockey, leaving senior Gwyneth Philips to take over. NU coach Dave Flint is confident in Philips as a starter.

“I give her a lot of credit,” said Flint. “She waited three years in the wings behind Aerin. A lot of goalies might not have stayed. She could have been a starter for most teams in the NCAA.”

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If it weren’t enough to lose Frankel, the Huskies also graduated one of the nation’s best defensewomen in Skylar Fontaine, who never got the respect she deserved nationally. To fill that gap, they looked to one of the few teams to defeat them in last year’s 31-5-2 season: Vermont. The Catamounts’ top defender, Maude Poulin-Labelle, transferred to Huntington Avenue.

Skylar Fontaine is one of a few big names who will wave goodbye to Huntington Avenue.Jared Wickerham For The Boston Globe

NU’s defense might have a new look, but the offense still features the fantastic Alina Mueller. Mueller had 39 points last season despite playing only 21 games because of a combination of injury and playing for the Swiss Olympic team. Dynamic scorers Maureen Murphy and Chloé Aurard also return.

Will international experience benefit Boston College?

The Eagles had ups and downs last season, but this year should be smoother. BC returns two-time US Olympian Cayla Barnes for her senior season. After her second Olympic team centralization and third World Championships, BC is excited to have her hockey smarts return.

Fellow senior Hannah Bilka returns after a summer that saw her finish third in scoring (5 goals, 7 assists) at her first World Championships.

“The experience those two have gained from being in that tournament is great,” said BC coach Katie Crowley. “Both of them are leaders and captains for our program and we will really lean on them a lot.”

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The Eagles also get Abigail Levy back for her grad year, after she led the nation in saves last season with 1,143. With a more settled and older roster, the Eagles have a promising year ahead.

After a down year, how will Boston University bounce back?

It’s no surprise that a team led by a former goaltender (Brian Durocher backstopped the Terrier men in the 1970s) bolstered its roster by adding an outstanding netminder in Ohio State transfer Andrea Braendli. A 2022 Swiss Olympian, she led the Beijing Games in saves with 242, and set a boatload of records with the Buckeyes, including career wins with 57.

But wait. Don’t the Terriers already have a great goalie in sophomore Callie Shanahan, whose 53-save performance against Northeastern last January turned many heads? They do, but having both will help a BU team that will be reliant on defense.

Andrea Braendli, seen here in action at the World Championships earlier this month, is set to backstop BU.BO AMSTRUP/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images

Both Shanahan and Braendli will have an asset on defense in senior Nadia Mattivi, one of Italy’s national team veterans. She is steady and has proven troublesome for some of Hockey East’s best scorers.

Offensively, however, BU lost its top two scorers, and even with them, they were seventh in goals in Hockey East last season. A great defense can do only so much, and the Terriers need their forwards to increase their output.

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In the strongest-ever ECAC Hockey season, how will Harvard fare?

Harvard was one of seven ECAC teams in the preseason national top 15, after a 2021-22 season that saw the Crimson make the NCAA Tournament and win their first Beanpot title since 2015.

However, several pieces of that run are gone. Senior goaltender Becky Dutton and senior forwards Keeley Moy and Becca Gilmore graduated, and forwards Taze Thompson and Dominique Petrie transferred.

“Everyone knows that we had a deep senior class last year, which drove the bus for us,” said coach Katey Stone, entering her 28th season. “We have tremendous opportunity for our young ones. Many of them didn’t see much time last year in their positions because we were so deep with our older ones.”

Stone is back for another season at the helm of the Harvard team.Jim Davis

Anne Bloomer and Kristin Della Rovere head up a senior class that possesses a lot of jump and speed. Stone is looking to sophomore defender Mia Biotti and junior forward Shannon Hollands to contribute more. Goaltender Alex Pellicci returns for her sophomore year after promising outings last season.

What does the national scene look like?

Defending champion Ohio State remains at the top of the field nationally, but ECAC Hockey is ruling the rankings with seven teams in the top 15. Colgate and Yale look to be the class of that field, but the conference is so immensely talented from top to bottom that the old coach standby of “anyone can win any game any day,” rings true.

Old standbys like Wisconsin and Minnesota also are highly considered, but keep an eye on Penn State. The Nittany Lions now have a roster of impressive players, including USA U-18 team standout Tessa Janecke, and opened their season last weekend with a defeat of the Badgers.

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Kat Cornetta can be reached at sportsgirlkat@gmail.com.