Talk about not easing into the schedule. For the opening act of the 2005-06 season, the WCHA has member institutions (Minnesota, Minnesota-State) tangling with heavyweight non-conference opponents (St. Lawrence, Mercyhurst) and offers up a marquee conference series in Madison where No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth renews a taut rivalry with the preseason co-No.1 Wisconsin. Four of the five meetings a year ago were decided by one goal. UMD won three including one in overtime in Madison, but the Badgers took an overtime decision in the semifinals of the WCHA tournament.
Game Time: Sunday, 3 p.m. ET (Broadcast Links)
No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth (26-6-2 overall, 22-4-2 WCHA)
Top Scorers: Noemie Marin, Jr., F (30-26-56), Jessica Koizumi, Jr., F (24-17-41), Allison Lehrke, Jr., F (10-13-23)
Top Goaltender: Riitta Schaublin, Jr. (20-4-1, 1.51, .942)
Scoring Offense: 3.85 (5th)
Scoring Defense: 1.59 (4th)
Penalty Minutes: 15.0 (6th)
Power Play: 51 of 224, 22.8% (5th)
Penalty Kill: 190 of 206, 92.2% (1st)
If there is a team that has become accustomed to adapting to the departure of great players, it is Minnesota-Duluth, and All-American defenseman Julianne Vasichek and All-Everything captain Caroline Ouellette are the latest to join that parade. However, talking to Coach Shannon Miller this week, she seems excited about the potential of the new group because of the depth she has to work with across the board. The revamped roster features a mix of experience (10 juniors) and promise (11 freshmen) that could put the Bulldogs in position to make amends for an upset loss in last year’s NCAA Quarterfinals.
Goaltender Riitta Schaublin had one of many breakout seasons among that junior nucleus, finishing in the nation’s top three in winning percentage, goals against average, and save percentage. Add four of her classmates to patrol the blueline alongside former First Team All-WCHA performer Krista McArthur (one of only two seniors), sophomore Rachel Drazan, and expected immediate contributor Myriam Trepanier, and the nation’s fourth-ranked scoring defense of a year ago should be stingy again in 2005-06. Up front, only one returning player in the nation (Karen Thatcher) put up more points than Noemie Marin did a year ago. After lining up alongside Ouellette all of last season, she and speedy sniper Jessica Koizumi will look to establish a new chemistry with German national team veteran Michaela Lanzl. Lehrke also quietly doubled her point totals last year and it was her power-play goal that sparked UMD’s 3-goal rally the last time the Bulldogs tangled with the Badgers on Kohl Center ice.
No. 1 Wisconsin (28-9-1 overall, 20-7-1 WCHA)
Top Scorers: Sara Bauer, Jr., F (26-29-55), Sharon Cole, Sr., F (11-27-38), Nikki Burish, Sr., F (14-21-35)
Top Goaltenders: Meghan Horras, Sr. (20-7-1, 1.75, .915), Christine Dufour, Jr. (8-2-0, 0.80, .953)
Scoring Offense: 4.47 (2nd)
Scoring Defense: 1.55 (3rd)
Penalty Minutes: 12.8 (20th)
Power Play: 45 of 196, 23.0% (4th)
Penalty Kill: 184 of 210, 87.6% (8th)
Since its inception, the WCHA has belonged to the Gophers and the Bulldogs. The Wisconsin Badgers may be ready to loosen that stranglehold despite needing to make some repairs to their trademark wall of defense. Gone are Carla MacLeod, Molly Engstrom, and Nicole Uliasz, leaving Bobbi-Jo Slusar, Emily Morris, and Kristen Witting as the backbone of a new-look blueline corp that also includes two converted veteran forwards in senior Meghan Mikkelson and junior Vicki Davis. But the goaltending tandem of senior Meghan Horras and junior Christine Dufour is still around to support their blueliners through the maturation process, and Coach Mark Johnson’s forwards know their way around their own zone as well.
Speaking of forwards, Wisconsin has lots of those in all shapes and sizes even with the departure of second-leading scorer Lindsay Macy and third-leading goal-getter Jackie Friesen (now one of the team’s assistant coaches). Want small and quick? Captain Sharon Cole and preseason WCHA Player of the Year Sara Bauer combined for 83 points as linemates last season, and Cole says rookie Kayla Hagen has fit in well with the duo so far in camp though she concedes the combination could change come the weekend. Want big and strong? 6’1 sophomore Jinelle Zaugg was a WCHA All-Rookie selection. Something in between? Madison native Nikki Burish more than doubled her career totals last year while Northeastern transfer Cindy Kenyon chipped in with 13 goals and 13 helpers to be one of six returning Badgers topping 20 points a year ago.