- WCHA Leading at the Polls: As the second half of the 2015-16 campaign gets underway across women's college hockey this weekend, the WCHA continues to set this season's NCAA standard in the national polls. The league has matched ECAC Hockey with four ranked teams, including an NCAA-best three in the top five. No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 3 Minnesota and No. 5 Bemidji State hold the same spot in the both the USCHO.com and USA Today / USA Hockey Magazine rankings, while North Dakota is No. 7 in the former and No. 8 in the latter. A fifth WCHA team, Minnesota Duluth, is receiving votes in both polls.
Halfway Home: At the midpoint of the season, three WCHA teams (No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 3 Minnesota and No. 6-tied Bemidji State are in the top eight slots of the PairWise rankings, while a fourth (No. 9 North Dakota) is knocking at the door.
- Midseason Rewind: Befitting the nation's top conference, the first half of the 2015-16 WCHA season was filled with terrific hockey in every rink, every night. In fact, of the eight weekends in which at least two league series were played, six featured a series pitting two nationally-ranked WCHA teams. Here is a quick look at some of the many highlights of the season's first half:
- Badgers' Historic Start: Wisconsin set a program record by winning its first 18 games of the season, a run that had the Badgers atop the national rankings for six-straight weeks. UW's streak, fueled by the nation's top defense and anchored by sensational junior goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens, also included an incredible nine-straight shutouts and an NCAA-record (men or women) scoreless streak of 624 minutes and 18 seconds (between Oct. 3 and Nov. 14).
- Gopher Playmakers: After the first half of the regular season, Minnesota's Dani Cameranesi (18g-21a, 2.17ppg), Sarah Potomak (8g-26a, 2.12ppg) and Hannah Brandt (19g-19a, 2.11ppg) are among the nation's top-five leading scorers, ranking third, fourth, and fifth, respectively, for points per game. Minnesota's offense leads the NCAA at 5.56 goals per game, and the Gophers' top four scorers rank among the nation's top 10.
- Beavers Reach New Heights: After setting a program record for wins in a season last year, Bemidji State has ascended to No. 5 in the national polls – the highest ranking ever for the Beavers. Junior goaltender Brittni Mowat ranks fourth nationally with a .949 save percentage, while senior F Stephanie Anderson won gold for Team USA at the 2015 Four Nations Cup.
- No. 1s Beware the Ralph: North Dakota's first half featured 11 victories – including two home wins over top-ranked opponents at Ralph Engelstad Arena. UND upset No. 1 Minnesota by a 4-3 score Oct. 30, and then ended Wisconsin's perfect start with a 3-0 triumph Dec. 11.
- Bulldog Strong: First-year head coach Maura Crowell has guided Minnesota Duluth through the nation's toughest first-half schedule by RPI. The Bulldogs ended the first half on a 5-1-1 streak, including consecutive wins over ranked opponents (UND and Harvard). UMD's .786 winning percentage since Nov. 21 is tied for the fifth-best in the country.
- Husky Pride: Under the leadership of second-year head coach Eric Rud, St. Cloud State put together a program-record six-game winning streak to finish November with a perfect 6-0-0 record. The Huskies were led during the run by seniors Molly Illikainen (eight goals - including three game-winners - and five assists for 13 points during the run) and WCHA Defensive Player of the Month Katie Fitzgerald (1.33 goals-against average and .950 save percentage).
- Potter Takes the Reigns: Four-time Olympic medalist and two-time WCHA Player of the Year Jenny Potter returned to the league this year for her D-I head coaching debut with Ohio State. Rookie defenseman Lauren Boyle is tied for second among all NCAA freshman blue liners with 10 assists.
- Maverick Youngsters: Minnesota State's talented corps of freshmen and sophomores has scored 21 of the team's 25 goals this season and has accounted for 46 of the Mavs' 64 points (good for fourth among all WCHA underclassmen groups). Among upperclassmen, junior netminder Brianna Quade ranks third nationally with 509 saves.
By the Numbers
- 18: Current and former WCHA players (including BSU's Stephanie Anderson, UMN's Sydney Baldwin, Cara Piazza and Lee Stecklein, UND's Shelby Amsley-Benzie and Amy Menke, and UW's Annie Pankowski) participating in the USA Hockey Women's Winter Training Camp from Dec. 27, 2015 to Jan. 1, 2016 at Schwan's Super Rink in Blaine, Minn.
- Ohio State and Minnesota State Host CHA Opponents: Ohio State drops the puck on the second half by welcoming Penn State to Columbus on Saturday, Jan. 2 and Sunday, Jan. 3. Minnesota State will skate against Lindenwood on Sunday and Monday, Jan. 4.
- January 6-10: The rest of the WCHA returns to the ice beginning Wednesday, Jan. 6, as Bemidji State hosts Lindenwood for two games and Minnesota welcomes the Minnesota Whitecaps for an exhibition contest. League play resumes Jan. 8-10 with St. Cloud State at Minnesota State, Minnesota Duluth at Wisconsin and Ohio State at Minnesota. North Dakota hosts the Whitecaps for two exhibitions.