WCHA Week 1: Premier Conference in Women's College Hockey Opens Its 17th Season
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Bemidji State welcomes CHA opponent Robert Morris to the Sanford Center for a two-game series

Opening Face-Off

- Tradition Starts Here: The women's Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA), home to a record 15 national championships, drops the puck on its 17th season this weekend with three regular season series and two nonconference contests.

- A Look at the Polls: As the new campaign opens, the WCHA is in a familiar place with four teams in the USCHO.com rankings. No. 1 Minnesota garnered preseason top billing for the fourth straight season, while the Gophers are joined by 2015 Frozen Four opponent Wisconsin (No. 3) and 2015 Final Face-Off participants North Dakota (No. 6) and Bemidji State (No. 9 - the Beavers' highest ranking since 2011-12).

- New Faces Behind the Bench...: This weekend marks the WCHA head coaching debuts of two of the league's three new bench bosses: Minnesota Duluth's Maura Crowell (at Lindenwood) and Minnesota State's John Harrington (vs. Union). The Jenny Potter era at Ohio State will begin Oct. 2 at Lindenwood.

- ...And an Encore For Last Season's Rookies: Bemidji State's Jim Scanlan, who earned USCHO.com Coach of the Year honors after guiding the Beavers to a school-record 21 wins in 2014-15, begins his second season with a home series against Robert Morris. After helping his St. Cloud State team double its win total last year, Eric Rud gets his second campaign underway with an exhibition contest.

- Nonconference Success: Bemidji State, Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota State will look to continue the WCHA's run of nonconference success. WCHA teams finished the 2014-15 season with an NCAA-best 38-11-2 (.765) record against non-league opponents. In fact, the WCHA was the only D-I league to own a winning nonconference record.


By the Numbers

- 5: Returning WCHA All-Americans, of the six the league had in 2014-15: First Team members Hannah Brandt (Sr., F, Minnesota) and Brittni Mowat (Jr., G, Bemidji State), and Second Team selections Shelby Amsley-Benzie (Sr., G, North Dakota), Dani Cameranesi (Jr., F, Minnesota) and Lee Stecklein (Jr., D, Minnesota).

- 20: Underclassmen on Minnesota State's roster, including 10 freshmen for the young Mavericks.

- 360: Career wins for Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson, who enters the 2015-16 season fourth all-time among Division I women's coaches (third among active bench bosses).

- 2,125: Distance, in miles, between Madison, Wisc. and San Jose, Calif. The third-ranked Badgers open their season against Providence in a two-game series Oct. 2 and 3 that will be held at Sharks Ice - the official training facility for the NHL's San Jose Sharks.


The Week Ahead

- Robert Morris at No. 9 Bemidji State: The ninth-ranked Beavers open the campaign by welcoming CHA opponent Robert Morris to the Sanford Center for a two-game series. The two teams also met in a season-opening series in 2014-15, with BSU opening the Jim Scanlan era with a sweep in Pennsylvania (5-2 and 3-1).

- Minnesota Duluth at Lindenwood: The Bulldogs and new head coach Maura Crowell open with a two-game series in Missouri against CHA's Lindenwood. Crowell, who posted a 23-7-4 record as Harvard's interim head coach in 2013-14, begins her tenure with three consecutive road trips. UMD swept Lindenwood last October in Duluth (3-1 and 6-2).

- Union at Minnesota State: John Harrington returns to the collegiate ranks with his women's and Division I head coaching debut with Mavericks. The longtime bench boss at Division III St. John's and former assistant at St. Cloud State and Denver leads the Mavericks against ECAC foe Union.

- Exhibitions: Top-ranked Minnesota tunes up for the regular season by hosting the Minnesota Whitecaps, an elite, post-collegiate team featuring 15 former Gophers. St. Cloud State will welcome the Whitecaps to the Herb Brooks Center on Saturday evening. No. 6 North Dakota also hosts an exhibition game, Friday evening against Manitoba.


2014-15 Season in Review Another Banner Year for the WCHA

Since its founding, the women's WCHA has set standards of excellence unmatched by any other Division I conference - in any sport. The 2014-15 campaign was no exception, with Minnesota capturing its sixth national title, WCHA players earning six of the 12 spots on All-America teams, numerous players competing internationally and the sport's best fans being treated to terrific hockey, night in and night out.


ON THE ICE

National Champions: The WCHA won its 15th national championship in 16 seasons, as Minnesota captured the 2015 Women's Frozen Four for the Gophers' sixth national title in program history.

Polling Place: No. 1 Minnesota, No. 3 Wisconsin, No. 8 North Dakota and No. 10 Bemidji State gave the WCHA an NCAA-best four teams (tied with the ECAC) in the final polls.

  • Six of the WCHA's eight teams spent at least one week ranked in the top 10 of either the USCHO.com or USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.

Winning Hockey: For the first time in the league's illustrious 16-year history, the WCHA featured five different 20-win teams: Minnesota (34), Wisconsin (29), North Dakota (22), Bemidji State (21) and Minnesota Duluth (20).

  • Minnesota (No. 2 at .878), Wisconsin (No. 4 at .775), North Dakota (No. 9 at .635), Minnesota Duluth (No. 11 at .608), No. 13 Bemidji State (No. 13 at .551) and Ohio State (No. 15 at .514) gave the WCHA an NCAA-best (tied with the ECAC) six of the nation's top 15 winning percentages.

Nonconference Success: The WCHA boasted, far and away, the best nonconference winning percentage in the country at .765 (38-11-2). In fact, the WCHA was the country's only conference to finish above .500 in nonconference play.

NCAA Tournament: In addition to Minnesota, the WCHA was also represented in the NCAA Tournament and Frozen Four by Wisconsin.

International Stage: The WCHA continued to make its mark on international ice during the 2014-15 season.

  • Twenty-eight (28) current or former WCHA student-athletes, representing six member institutions and all four competing countries, participated in the 2014 Four Nations Cup.
  • Forty (40) current or former WCHA student-athletes, representing seven member institutions and competing for six different countries, participated in the 2015 IIHF World Championships.


NATIONAL ACCOLADES

Rookie of the Year: Wisconsin freshman forward Annie Pankowski was chosen as the National Rookie of the Year by the Women's Hockey Commissioners Association and USCHO.com. Pankowski, who also earned WCHA Rookie of the Year honors, led all NCAA freshman with 21 goals and 1.10 points per game (22 assists for 43 points in 39 games).

All-Americans: Six WCHA players earned CCM All-America honors First Team members Brittni Mowat (G, Bemidji State), Rachel Ramsey (D, Minnesota) and Hannah Brandt (F, Minnesota); and, Second Team selections Shelby Amsley-Benzie (G, North Dakota), Lee Stecklein (D, Minnesota) and Dani Cameranesi (F, Minnesota).

Patty Kaz Finalists: For the second straight year, Minnesota's Brandt was a top-3 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award. The junior forward ranked among NCAA leaders for goals (2nd - 34), assists (t3rd - 40), points (2nd - 74), points per game (3rd - 1.85) and game-winning goals (t6th - 6).

  • Gophers teammates Cameranesi (2nd nationally with 42 assists and 7th with 1.62 points per game) and Ramsey (2nd among defensemen with 9 goals and 33 points) were among the top-10 finalists.
  • North Dakota's Ashley-Benzie was the lone goaltender among the top-10 finalists. The junior netminder led the country with a .952 save percentage, while ranking fifth with a 1.21 goals against average and nine shutouts.

USCHO.com Honors: Several WCHA players and staff were recognized by the editorial staff at USCHO.com:

  • Bemidji State's Jim Scanlan was honored as the USCHO.com Coach of the Year after leading the Beavers to a program-record 21 wins, their first-ever berth in the Final Face-Off championship game and a top-10 national ranking.
  • UND's Amsley-Benzie, along with UMN's Brandt and Stecklein, were named to the All-USCHO.com First Team; UMN's Ramsey and BSU's Mowat earned Second Team honors; UMN's Cameranesi and Amanda Leveille garnered Third Team accolades; while UW's Pankowski and UMN's Kelly Pannek were named to the All-Rookie Team.


IN THE CLASSROOM AND IN THE COMMUNITY

Hockey Humanitarian Award: For her efforts in founding the Nikumbuke Women's Soccer League in rural Kenya, all while balancing a rigorous academic load and leading the Badgers on-ice, Wisconsin's Brittany Ammerman was the recipient of the 2015 BNY Mellon Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian Award.

  • Minnesota Duluth's Zoe Hickel was also a finalist for this prestigious award.

Scholar-Athletes: Forty-seven (47) student-athletes, representing all eight member institutions, earned Scholar-Athlete Award status for maintaining a GPA of 3.50 or above.

All-Academic Team: Ninety-two (92) student-athletes, representing all eight member institutions, earned a spot on the All-Academic Team for maintaining a GPA of 3.00 or above.


IN THE STANDS

See You at the Rink: WCHA schools ranked 1-4 nationally for average attendance, with fans heading through the turnstiles at Minnesota's Ridder Arena (2,037 per game), Wisconsin's LaBahn Arena (1,922), North Dakota's Ralph Engelstad Arena (1,150) and Minnesota Duluth's AMSOIL Arena (1,130).

Final Face-Off Attendance Grows: Year-over-year overall attendance at the Final Face-Off, held in 2015 at UND's Ralph Engelstad Arena, increased by 62.9% to 3,406 (up from 2,090 in 2014).