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Women's college hockey preview

Six stories to watch as Boston women’s college hockey teams prepare for the season

Northeastern's Aerin Frankel is one of the best goalies on the college level, male or female.
Northeastern's Aerin Frankel is one of the best goalies on the college level, male or female.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

The pre-Olympic season is always compelling to watch in women’s college hockey, as players look to better their resumes headed into national team selection activities, and this year is no different, regardless of the pandemic. Three of the Boston area’s women’s college hockey teams — Northeastern, Boston University and Boston College — feature some of the sport’s best players.

While those stars may face a season full of starts and stops — for example, Boston University will open its season the first weekend in December, but not play again for a month — that may allow offenses to rest and reload. That means defense will be a key to success among the area’s teams this season, and Northeastern, BU, and BC have blue line strength.

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Here is a look at six storylines as those three teams begin their season:

Will this be the year Northeastern earns a national title?

“This team needs a national title soon,” said Huskies senior goaltender Aerin Frankel in a recent season preview with Hockey East, and there are not many who will disagree. Northeastern has captured the league championship the last three years, but has not yet seen national success. Many believe last season, when the Huskies went 32-4-2, may have been their best chance at making their first national title game, which would have taken place in Boston.

Northeastern's Alina Mueller celebrates NU's 2020 Beanpot title.
Northeastern's Alina Mueller celebrates NU's 2020 Beanpot title.Blake Nissen

But Northeastern coach Dave Flint returns many of his playmakers, including 2018 Olympian Alina Mueller (27 goals, 39 assists last season) and Chloe Aurard (21 goals, 28 assists), and the team has incredible depth, which makes it the overwhelming favorite to win yet another league title.

Aerin Frankel could be the best goalie in women’s college hockey

The other key leader Flint returns is Frankel, who is not only one of the best goalies on the college level, male or female, but is receiving consideration for the 2022 US Olympic Team. Frankel, from Briarcliff Manor, NY, set Northeastern’s single-season records with a 1.07 goals against average, 27 victories, and 10 shutouts. Her .958 save percentage was the best in the nation, and she showed her prowess against the country’s best when she made a career-high 51 saves in a game against powerhouse Wisconsin last year. She has an aggressive style of play in net, but it works in a league full of top-notch scorers. It helps that she shares the ice with some of those sharp shooters daily. “I get to practice with girls with great shots, and that pushes me to be more competitive,” said Frankel.

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Frankel receives an assist from a stellar Northeastern blue line that includes senior Skylar Fontaine, but there is no doubt that she truly is a special talent and the Huskies’ best netminder since Swiss Olympian Florence Schelling.

Northeastern, BC receive a boost from transfers

Both Northeastern and Boston College have added transfers to their roster who could make significant impacts. Maureen Murphy departed Hockey East conference-mate Providence College for Northeastern. She was a key cog for the Friars for two years before losing most of last season due to injury. From the well-known program at Shattuck St. Mary’s in Minnesota, Murphy has strong hockey smarts. Murphy led Providence in scoring during her 43-point sophomore season in 2018-19, and her eight game-winning goals that season ranked her second in Division 1. Her arrival on Huntington Avenue will provide the already deep Huskies even more options.

Murphy shares a high school alma mater with Boston College transfer goaltender Abigail Levy, who joins the Eagles from Minnesota State. Levy started 56 games for the WCHA program, where she was regularly tested against the Western powerhouses. Her freshman season was particularly strong, with a .924 save percentage and 988 saves. She will compete for time in goal with junior goalie Maddy McArthur, who has started the majority of games for BC over the last two seasons.

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BU adds Canadian talent on defense

BU received an injection of youth on defense — freshmen Andi Calderone and Tamara Giarquinto. There are high expectations for the rookie pair, given the Hockey Canada experience they have. Giarquinto was one of the top recruits of her class, having been a part of Canada’s silver medal-winning team at the 2020 U-18 Women’s World Championship. While playing in that event, Giarquinto was coached by Terriers assistant coach Tara Watchorn, herself a member of an impressive Canadian blue line pairing during her own BU playing days. “We have a young defense that will get to grow together,” said Watchorn in a recent interview.

Jesse Compher is poised for a stellar senior season

After her junior campaign was somewhat subdued due to injury, BU’s Jesse Compher will be looking to regain her form during her final year on Commonwealth Avenue. Even in a down year, she had 29 points last year, including 13 goals, showing the talent that has earned her a regular roster spot on US national teams. As a sophomore, she was a top-10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award and was third in the country in scoring with 61 points. Compher has a talented crew around her, but her performances will be key if the Terriers want to overtake Northeastern.

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Can Hannah Bilka repeat her fabulous freshman campaign?

Boston College may not have been its regular high-flying self last season, finishing just 17-16-3 and falling in the Hockey East quarterfinals, but even in a down year, it had the nation’s best rookie. Hannah Bilka, a forward from Coppel, Texas, started her first collegiate campaign with a nine-game scoring streak, tallying 10 goals and eight assists. She continued to lead BC with 14 goals and 23 assists, which also made her the conference leader among rookies in points scored. Bilka also was a difference-maker in tight games and saw a lot of time on the power-play unit. A well-rounded and speedy player, Bilka will need to continue her hot play if BC wants to propel past Northeastern and BU’s difficult defenses.