This weekend, the D-III women’s hockey season kicks up another notch with many ECAC East, NCHA, and ECAC West schools opening up league play.

There a couple of interesting matchups between expected conference contenders, as well as some mid-level games that should provide for some exciting hockey for the weekend.

Oswego at Utica
Oswego and Utica are two teams that over the past few seasons have been mired in the mid-pack of the ECAC West behind the big power three of RIT, Plattsburgh, and Elmira. With RIT’s departure to Division I though, the third spot and hosting rights for the ECAC West Play-In round will be wide open in 2012-13. Utica was a young team last year, with only a handful of seniors. The Pioneers return junior forward Megan Myers, who might be one of the most underrated players in the country. Myers has scored 38 goals in 52 career games and tallied 35 assists for 73 points in two seasons. Utica also returns junior goaltender Jennifer Hamel, who posted solid numbers last season to take over the No. 1 goaltender job from Marissa Hotaling. Hamel was 7-7-3 with a 2.15 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage.

Oswego on the other hand sustained some heavy losses, with seven seniors graduating, including leading scorers Kelly Collins and Mackenzie Lee. The Lakers also lost six other underclassmen that were listed on last year’s roster, all from Canada. Head coach Diane Dillon has her work cut out for her this year, with just 14 skaters on the roster and three goalies.

I’ll go with Utica in a sweep here by scores of 5-1 and 4-0.

Castleton/New England College at Norwich
Castleton and New England College could be walking into an ambush this weekend in Northfield, Vt. The top-ranked Cadets opened up their 2012-13 season last weekend with the East/West Classic without securing a win on home ice against Elmira and Plattsburgh. Norwich hadn’t come out of a two-game series weekend without at least one win since December 2009. The Spartans and Pilgrims figure to be two of the stronger competitors in the ECAC East this year, as they try to bridge the gap up to Norwich and Manhattanville.

Castleton opened up with two victories at Cortland and Oswego last weekend, while NEC beat Cortland and then tied Oswego. I’m thinking Norwich’s offense starts to gel a little bit more this weekend and explods. I’ll go with Norwich 6-1 over Castleton on Friday and then the Cadets beat NEC 7-2 on Saturday.

Adrian at Wisconsin-River Falls (2)
Adrian heads to Wis.-River Falls this weekend for an early season showdown between the last two NCHA Tournament champions. Adrian upset Wis.-River Falls two years ago in the O’Brien Cup finals, while Wis.-River Falls came back last season to clinch the crown. The Falcons return eight of their top 10 scorers from a year ago, including junior Katie Batters and sophomore Alice Cranston. However, Wis.-River Falls needs to replace Melissa Deardorff between the pipes after she went 17-4-0 last season in 22 starts for the Falcons. Adrian is coming off a 16-10 season and returns seven of its top 10 scorers from last season, led by sophomore Hannah McGowan. In goal, the Bulldogs will call on senior Brittney Zeche,s who has yet to give up a goal this year after posting two shutouts last weekend against Augsburg. I’ll take Wis.-River Falls in two close games of 4-2 and 4-3.

Manhattanville at St. Anselm
This game was originally scheduled to take place at Manhattanville’s Playland Ice Casino rink, until Hurricane Sandy caused significant damage to the facility and forced the game to be moved to St. Anselm. Manhattanville is coming off two close games against Elmira and Plattsburgh at the East/West Hockey Classic. The Valiants lost 2-1 in overtime to Plattsburgh and then 3-1 to Elmira on Saturday, giving up a late goal to make it a two-goal deficit. St. A’s beat Sacred Heart 4-0 last weekend to open its season. Freshman Sarah Alonardo scored twice to lead the Hawks, while Lindsey Brown stopped all 14 shots she faced to pickup the shutout in net. This game really is a toss-up for me, as St. A’s regularly is near the top of the ECAC East conference standings, but because they’re Division II, they are ineligible for the league playoffs. I’ll take St. Anselm in a 3-2 game.