Women’s WCHA 2016-17 season preview

Dani Cameranesi (Minnesota - 21) celebrates Pannek's goal which gave Minnesota a 3-0 lead. - The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers defeated the Boston College Eagles 3-1 to win the 2016 NCAA national championship on Sunday, March 20, 2016, at the Whittemore Center Arena in Durham, New Hampshire. (Melissa Wade)
Minnesota returns a lot of punch from last season’s championship squad, including top scorer Dani Cameranesi. (Melissa Wade)

The late addition of Amanda Kessel back to Minnesota’s lineup gave the Gophers just the jump they needed heading into the playoffs last season, and they rode that momentum to a sixth NCAA title, defeating Boston College in the final. The Gophers graduated a strong senior class, as in addition to Kessel, they lost scoring phenom Hannah Brandt and starting goalie Amanda Leveille. The Gophers return enough to still be one of the conference’s top teams, but with Wisconsin returning its top scorers and starting goalie, the Badgers look to be the team to beat this year.

Bemidji State

Last season
22-11-3, 17-9-2, (third). Lost to Minnesota-Duluth in the first round of the WCHA tournament.
Names to know
Senior Britni Mowat: The goalie is a huge part of BSU’s recent success. An All-WCHA second team pick last season, she set BSU program goaltending records for wins in a season (22) and wins in a career (51).
“Each season is a new journey. The success our program has enjoyed in the past only gives our group the belief that it can be done, but there is a long way to go and a lot of hard work ahead. Our goal as a team is always the same: Try to improve every day. If we can embrace this process, that’s what will happen. There are no guarantees in this game, and this league is extremely competitive. We look forward to going out and doing the best we can each and every night.” – Coach Jim Scanlan.
Three questions
1. Can the Beavers keep the momentum? They lost nine players to graduation and it was the group that started to bring Bemidji to prominence. With that leadership gone, there’s room for other players to step up and make sure the past few seasons weren’t a fluke.
2. Who’s going to score? Four of the top five scorers graduated, and the remaining high-scorer, Alexis Joyce, is a defenseman.
3. There was a culture change when coach Jim Scanlan took the reins. BSU set a program record in wins. Scanlan was named USCHO National Coach of the Year and WCHA Coach of the Year. How does he follow that up?
Crystal ball
The Beavers surprise and finish third.

Minnesota

Last season
35-4-1, 24-3-1, (second). Won a sixth NCAA National Championship.
Names to know
Senior Lee Stecklein: At 6 feet tall, Stecklein is an imposing presence on the Gophers’ blue line and was crucial to Leveille’s success in net. Her ability to clog up lanes and block shots should help Sidney Peters transition to the starting role. She was a second team All-American and first team All-WCHA last season.
Sophomore Sarah Potomak: The National Rookie of the Year was a crucial part of the Gophers’ season, especially down the stretch and in the Frozen Four, where she was named to the All-Tournament Team.
Senior Dani Cameranesi: While Hannah Brandt and Amanda Kessel were flashier, it was Cameranesi that led the Gophers in points and goals last season.
Freshmen Alex Woken and Patti Marshall won gold with the U.S. U-18 team at the 2015 and 2016 IIHF Women’s World Championships.
Three questions
1. How will Sidney Peters fare in net? The Gophers counted on Amanda Leveille for the past four seasons and coach Brad Frost called her the most underrated played in the league. Peters has seen limited action, but faces some of the best players in the country in practice every day. Can she translate that to game action?
2. Can they hold off Wisconsin? Minnesota’s held the advantage in this rivalry in recent years, but history tell us that while one team has dominated a few years at time, the tide always changes. With no Amanda Kessel to come off the bench late in the season, do the Gophers have what it takes to three-peat?
3. Can they finish strong? The Gophers host North Dakota and Wisconsin for the final two weekends of the season, their two biggest rivals and the two teams most likely to be vying for top spot in the league. It’s likely every point will matter this season, so those four games will be crucial to how the final standings turn out.
Crystal ball
Minnesota is never out of the conversation, but it may be time that the momentum shifts in Wisconsin’s favor. The Gophers finish second but still receive a bid to the NCAA tournament.

Minnesota-Duluth

Last season
15-21-1, 10-17-1, (sixth). Lost to Wisconsin in the semifinals of the WCHA tournament.
Names to know
Senior Lara Stalder: The Switzerland National Team player was second on the team in scoring with 41 points in 34 games.
Senior Ashleigh Brykaliuk: Led the Bulldogs in scoring with 47 points in 37 games played. Her 18 goals and 29 assists were career bests.
Senior Sidney Morin is a scoring threat from the blue line. Freshman Sydney Brodt won gold at the 2016 U-18 Women’s World Championships with Team USA.
“Preparations began last spring to get our players in top shape for what will be a very exciting UMD hockey campaign. Our returning players put in the hours and effort to get themselves ready to go this fall, and our incoming freshmen are eager and excited to begin their Bulldog careers! We have an excellent group of seniors this season who have taken ownership over the team and are guiding the underclassmen in the right direction. There’s great energy around this group.” – Coach Maura Crowell.
Three questions
1. Will a tough nonconference schedule work in their favor? Caught outside looking in when at-large bids have come around in the past, UMD has Boston College and Harvard as its only nonconference games this season. Wins will certainly give them some credence, but losses certainly won’t help.
2. Will Maddie Rooney be able to settle in the net for the Bulldogs? Crowell said it’s Rooney’s net and hopes that the security of having the spot locked up helps her be confident as the season starts.
3. Who’s going to step up and provide depth? Brykaliuk, Stalder, and graduated senior Michela Cava had almost 60 percent of UMD’s points last season. One prolific line won’t cut it in the WCHA, so the Bulldogs have to find players that can challenge on the second and third lines.
Crystal ball
Minnesota Duluth finds scoring from the freshmen and finishes fourth. The Bulldogs will be in the conversation for an at-large bid.

Minnesota State

Last season
3-29-4, 0-25-3, (eighth). Lost to Wisconsin in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
Names to know
Senior goalie Brianna Quade: Made more than 1,000 saves last season, third most in the country.
Junior Hannah Davidson: Led the team with eight goals and was second in scoring with 17 points last season.
Three questions
1. Will experience help? Last year the Mavericks had just one senior and 22 freshmen, including coach John Harrington. This season, being able to ease new players into the lineup should help the team not be so overwhelmed.
2. Can someone give Brianna Quade a rest? The goalie has been the team MVP a few years running; she really hasn’t had a choice and she’s been spectacular, considering the number and quality of shots she’s facing. However, all of Mankato would be OK if she didn’t have to carry the team anymore.
3. Can they pace themselves and be competitive all season? The Mavericks play four of the five series on the road and face Wisconsin and Bemidji as well as hosting Minnesota in the final month. It’s a brutal stretch for anyone, so Minnesota State needs to be fit enough to be there full strength at the end.
Crystal ball
There’s only room to improve for the Mavericks.

North Dakota

Last season
18-12-5, 13-10-5, (fourth). Lost to Minnesota in the semifinals of the WCHA tournament.
Names to know
Senior Lisa Marvin: Three surgeries and 22 months after a near-fatal accident where she was hit by a car, Marvin was cleared to play college hockey again last week.
Senior Halli Krzyzaniak: North Dakota’s best returning scorer as a defenseman. A lethal shot from the blue line. She has skated for Team Canada in the past two Women’s World Championships.
Sophomore Anna Kilponen: The Finland National Team member was named to the All-WCHA Rookie Team.
Senior Amy Menke was a second team All-WCHA selection and will anchor the offense.
Three questions
1. Who’s going to win the net? Coach Brian Idalski feels Lexi Shaw pushed Shelby Amsley-Benzie to be better in net, but redshirt freshman Kristen Campbell will push her for playing time. Amsley-Benzie provided so much confidence for the Hawks in the net. The sooner they settle on one goalie, the better everyone will feel, I think.
2. Where will the scoring come from? North Dakota’s top three scorers – who accounted for 50 percent of their points last season – all graduated. They need some players to step up to make this season a success.
3. Can the freshmen make an immediate impact? Idalski said he never counts on the newcomers as the make the transition, but if North Dakota is going to be able to make waves this season, they’ll need some of their freshmen to make an impact.
Crystal ball
It’s a bit of a rebuilding year for the Hawks and they finish fifth.

Ohio State

Last season
10-25-1, 6-21-1, (seventh). Lost to Minnesota in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
Names to know
Sophomore Lauren Boyle: Named to the WCHA All-Rookie team. Dishes passes from the blue line.
Senior Katie Matheny: Should see an increased role on an offense that will need veteran leadership.
Three questions
1. Are they ready? With a late coaching change and a second off season chock-full of off-ice distractions, are the Buckeyes players mentally prepared to start their season? Just a week before the season started, Associate head coach Jess Koizumi admitted she hadn’t really seen the team skate or met with head coach Nadine Muzeral. Captains and the men’s staff were working with the team, but there’s likely to be a bumpy transition. Unfortunately for them, they face Wisconsin, Bemidji State, Minnesota, and Minnesota-Duluth before Halloween.
2. Will Jincy Dunne play? She’s listed on the roster as a redshirt freshman, but little is known about her health as she deals with complications from a concussion. She was listed on the roster at this time last season as well, but never suited up for the Buckeyes. Dunne took part in pre-Sochi camp with Team USA as a 16-year old.
3. Can they do more than just play spoiler? There were flashes of brilliance by the Buckeyes last season and their wins against North Dakota (twice) and Minnesota-Duluth played a part in how those team’s seasons ended up, but they need to find a way to win the games they should in addition to garnering a few upsets.
Crystal ball
For their sake, I hope the Buckeyes can start to build something, but this isn’t the year they’re going to make a move. They’ll finish seventh.

St. Cloud State

Last season
13-18-4, 9-15-4, (fifth). Lost to North Dakota in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
Names to know
Sophomore Julia Tylke: Was impressive for the Huskies as a freshman and looks to be the center of their offensive efforts moving forward.
Three questions
1. Is Madeline Dahl ready to be the starter? An injury has kept her from starting for more than two years and she’s going to see a lot of shots. Can she stay healthy and provide stability for the Huskies between the pipes?
2. Which freshmen are going to step up? Coach Eric Rud said he expects four of them to fight for ice time. He also said they need to replace the offensive output of Molly Illikainen by committee. There’s room for a newcomer to step in and be very important to the Huskies.
3. Can they play spoiler? If they can answer the first two questions, St. Cloud has the chance to make waves in the WCHA this season. They upset North Dakota and UMD last season, as well as battling to ties with them and Bemidji. There’s potential for the Huskies.
Crystal ball
It’s a sixth place finish for the Huskies.

Wisconsin

Last season
35-4-1, 24-3-1, (first). Won the WCHA regular season and tournament crowns. Lost to Minnesota in the NCAA tournament semifinals.
Names to know
Senior Ann-Renée Desbiens: The goalie broke multiple NCAA records last season, including shutouts in a season and consecutive shutout minutes. She also set new single-season records for save percentage and goals-against average. What’s she going to do for an encore?
Freshman Presley Norby: Looks to have joined juniors Sydney McKibbon and Sarah Nurse on the second line, making them even faster. Norby won gold with Team USA at 2016 Women’s World Championships. She was a late injury replacement after impressing coaches as a non-roster invitee to pre-tournament camp.
Freshmen Maddie Rowe is 5-feet-11, and brings needed height to the Badgers blue line. Seniors Jenny Ryan and Mellissa Channell anchor the blue line.
Three questions
1. Who’s going to stop them? On paper and preseason polls, they’re the best team in the country. They return Desbiens and six of their top seven scorers.
2. Can they get past Minnesota? The Badgers beat Minnesota in the regular season, ending a long winless drought, and then downed the Gophers again in the WCHA tournament, but they couldn’t get past the Gophers in the national semifinal. In fact, the Badgers’ last four Frozen Four losses have come at the hands of Minnesota, dating back to the 2012 National Championship game. For the Badgers to win it all, they’ve have to find an answer for the Gophers.
3. Which freshman is going to make a difference? Last season, Sam Cogan cemented her role on the top line and tallied 27 points. The year before, Annie Pankowski was the National Rookie of the Year. Norby seems the odds-on favorite, but Abby Roque may be the dark horse, joining the Badgers’ potent third line.
Crystal ball
Wisconsin repeats as conference champions – and wins it all.

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