Playoff preview: WCHA women

(Shelby Amsley-Benzie-1 North Dakota).26  Jan. 13  St. Cloud State University hosts The University of North Dakota in a WCHA  match-up at the National Hockey and Event Center in St. Cloud,MN (BRADLEY K. OLSON)
North Dakota will be home for the entirety of the WCHA playoffs should it advance, but still needs a big performance from Shelby Amsley-Benzie.  (BRADLEY K. OLSON)

It’s conference tournament time.

Two weeks, three rounds, and four conference champions will be determined. More so than any previous year, a wide variety of narratives could unfold in most of the leagues. Let’s scratch the surface of what a few of those might be.

No. 1 Minnesota versus Minnesota State
Postseason history: When the two teams met in the 2010 quarterfinals, MSU extended Minnesota to the third overtime in the second game.

Minnesota Gophers
Record: 29-2-4
Impact players: Hannah Brandt is second in the NCAA with 62 points; linemate Dani Cameranesi has had a breakout sophomore season with 55 points to rank fourth in the country, and her 34 assists are third.
Hurdles to overcome: Minnesota lacks the offensive balance through its lines that it enjoyed last year.
Why they will advance: The Gophers are the only team to reach the semifinals in all 15 seasons.
Why the Gophers will win the WCHA tournament: Their seniors won their first three years.

Minnesota State Mavericks
Record: 3-30-1
Impact players: Freshman forward Nicole Schammel leads the team in all three categories with 11 goals, 10 assists, and 21 points; senior Kathleen Rogan is third in team scoring despite missing 13 games.
Hurdles to overcome: MSU ranks dead last in both scoring offense and scoring defense.
Why they will advance: Returning Mavericks can be encouraged by the memory of pushing Wisconsin to three games last year when nobody gave them a chance.
Why the Mavericks will win the WCHA tournament: Though it would take more wins in nine days than the Mavericks have had all season to date, there’s always a chance.

No. 2 Wisconsin versus St. Cloud State
Postseason history: The Huskies were swept at Wisconsin in 2013 and are 0-6 all time against the Badgers in the postseason.

Wisconsin Badgers
Record: 24-6-4
Impact players: Although much of the impact comes from the team’s balance, goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens and freshman Annie Pankowski have stood out.
Hurdles to overcome: There have been days during the second half where the only place to see Wisconsin’s offense was on a milk carton.
Why they will advance: The Badgers’ penalty kill has allowed only four goals all season.
Why the Badgers will win the WCHA tournament: Just reaching the final would be a good step, something they haven’t done since 2011.

St. Cloud State Huskies
Record: 8-26-1
Impact players: Although the numbers may not always show it, the strength of St. Cloud State is its goaltending.
Hurdles to overcome: Already offensively challenged, the Huskies’ scoring is down from last year.
Why they will advance: Julie Friend will need to repeat her performance from Friday when she made 52 saves to bump off the Badgers.
Why the Huskies will win the WCHA tournament: First-year coach Eric Rud has been holding some top-secret tactics in reserve.

No. 3 North Dakota versus Ohio State
Postseason history: This is the first postseason meeting.

North Dakota
Record: 20-11-3
Impact players: Goaltender Shelby Amsley-Benzie has the top save percentage in the country, and junior Becca Kohler is having a career year to lead the scoring.
Hurdles to overcome: At times the offense provides little margin for error.
Why it will advance: It displayed a knack for getting by the Buckeyes in tight games.
Why North Dakota will win the WCHA tournament: UND will be playing on home ice the whole way and is as hot as any team in the country, going 10-1-1 over its last dozen games.

Ohio State Buckeyes
Record: 17-14-3
Impact players: Four of the team’s top five scorers are seniors.
Hurdles to overcome: North Dakota does many of the same things, and it does them a little better.
Why they will advance: It’s due to get a few bounces at UND’s expense.
Why the Buckeyes will win the WCHA tournament: They can ride the scarlet and gray wave started by the football team.

No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth versus Bemidji State
Postseason history: UMD defeated the Beavers 7-3 in the semifinals in 2010, the only time they’ve advanced beyond the first round.

Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs
Record: 19-10-5
Impact players: Six players have at least 20 points, but only Zoe Hickel tops 30.
Hurdles to overcome: It’s looking likely that no Bulldogs player will reach 40 points for the third straight year, after only having one such season through the program’s first 13 campaigns.
Why they will advance: I can’t imagine Shannon Miller losing her final game in Duluth.
Why the Bulldogs will win the WCHA tournament: It seems like the kind of thing Miller would do for a swan song.

Bemidji State Beavers
Record: 18-15-1
Impact players: Goaltender Brittni Mowat, leading scorer Kaitlyn Tougas, and a bunch of kids sporting ice bags from blocking shots.
Hurdles to overcome: They’ll almost surely have to win four games versus ranked opponents to win the championship.
Why they will advance: The Beavers outscored the Bulldogs 9-6 in splitting the season series.
Why the Beavers will win the WCHA tournament: Determination can go a long way.