WCHA Week 19: No. 2 Wisconsin Eyes 2015-16 Regular Season Championship; Badgers Can Clinch Fifth WCHA Title In School History
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No. 2 Wisconsin hosts Minnesota State for two games this weekend

Opening Face-Off

- WCHA Leading at the Polls: The nation's top women's college hockey conference continues to set this season's standard in the opinion polls, with the WCHA matching ECAC Hockey with four ranked teams in both the USCHO.com and USA Today / USA Hockey Magazine rankings: No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 3 Minnesota, No. 7 Bemidji State and No. 9/8 North Dakota.

- Winning Hockey: Not surprisingly, four of the NCAA's top-12 winning percentages also belong to WCHA teams: Wisconsin (second at .950, 28-1-1), Minnesota (third at .879, 25-3-1), Bemidji State (ninth at .650, 18-9-3) and North Dakota (12th at .589, 14-9-5). Additionally, the WCHA finished its regular season nonconference slate with an NCAA-best .786 winning percentage (32-8-2).

- Pairing Up: Entering the final four weeks before the NCAA tournament, three WCHA teams are in the top eight of the national PairWise rankings: No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 3 Minnesota and No. 8 Bemidji State. North Dakota is just outside, in ninth.

- Badgers Chasing a Championship: Nationally second-ranked Wisconsin has its eyes on the first prize up for grabs this season, as the Badgers can clinch the 2015-16 WCHA regular season championship by earning as many points (or more) as Minnesota does this weekend. UW has won four WCHA regular season titles (2005-06, 2006-07, 2010-11 and 2011-12), while a Badgers' crown this season would end the Gophers' three-year reign atop the standings. A Wisconsin sweep of Minnesota State this weekend would bring the trophy to Madison, regardless of how Minnesota fares.

- Playoff Home-Ice is Set: While seeds and opponents are yet to be determined, there is no mystery surrounding where the first round of the 2016 WCHA playoffs will be held: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Bemidji State and North Dakota will all be hosting. The best-of-three series at Bemidji's Sanford Center on Feb. 26-28 will be a special occasion, as the Beavers have home-ice for the first time in program history.

- Brandt Watch: One of the all-time great players in WCHA history, Minnesota senior forward Hannah Brandt continues to move up the league and NCAA record books. Entering Friday, she ranks sixth in WCHA history (since 1999-2000) with 112 career goals (Monique Lamoureux, who scored 113 with UMN and UND, is fifth), second with 158 assists (two shy of Jocelyne Lamoureux, who holds the league record with 160 during her career with UMN and UND) and second with 270 points (15 behind J. Lamoureux's league-record 285). In NCAA Division I history (since 2000-01), Brandt is 10th for goals (M. Lamoureux and Dartmouth's Katie Weatherston are tied for eighth), third for assists (J. Lamoureux is second) and fourth for points (J. Lamoureux and Harvard's Julie Chu are tied for second).

- Quickly Around the WCHA: Second-year BEMIDJI STATE head coach Jim Scanlan, who last year guided the Beavers to the first 20-win season in program history, is one win shy of his 40th career victory (39-26-4) ... MINNESOTA linemates Hannah Brandt (22g-27a), Dani Cameranesi (25g-29a) and Sarah Potomak (11g-34a) are among the nation's top five leading scorers, ranking third, fourth, and sixth in points per game, respectively ... When MINNESOTA DULUTH linemates Michela Cava (Friday) and Ashleigh Brykaliuk (Saturday) tallied consecutive hat tricks last weekend, they became the first Bulldogs to post back-to-back three-goal games since Caroline Ouellette and Noemie Marin pulled off the feat Feb. 5-6, 2005 ... 11 of MINNESOTA STATE'S last 13 games have been decided by two-goals-or-less, including nine one-goal decisions and three ties (five overtime contests) ... NORTH DAKOTA senior F Meghan Dufault, who recently surpassed Alyssa Wiebe (2008-12) for fifth place in program history, currently has 125 career points - six shy of Michelle Karvinen (2011-14) in fourth ... OHIO STATE is the only team in the country to finish out its season with six-straight games against ranked opponents (last weekend vs. No. 2 Wisconsin, this weekend at No. 7 Bemidji State and next weekend vs. No. 9/8 North Dakota) ... ST. CLOUD STATE is wrapping up its own stretch of playing ranked opponents in four-straight series, visiting No. 9/8 North Dakota this weekend after previously playing vs. No. 3 Minnesota, at No. 2 Wisconsin and vs. No. 7 Bemidji State ... WISCONSIN senior D Courtney Burke is two points shy of becoming the 19th player in program history to reach 100 career points (16g-82a).


By the Numbers

- 0.61, .966, 15 and 25 (and 32): NCAA-leading goals-against average, save percentage, shutouts and wins for sensational Wisconsin junior goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens. Both the GAA and save percentage numbers are on pace to set NCAA single-season records, while she is third on the shutout list (Wisconsin program record). Additionally, her 32 career blank slates are also third in NCAA annals.


The Week Ahead

- Minnesota State at No. 2 Wisconsin: A Badgers' sweep (or any combo in which UW earns the same or more points this weekend than Minnesota) gives Wisconsin the 2015-16 WCHA regular season title. The Badgers have won a program-record 20-straight home games.

- Ohio State at No. 7 Bemidji State: The Beavers, who have a one-point lead on UND for third place, are closing in on their second-straight 20-win season. BSU swept the Buckeyes in Columbus back on Nov. 6-7.

- No. 3 Minnesota at Minnesota Duluth: These two programs, who have a combined 11 national championships to their name, meet at AMSOIL Arena. The Gophers are unbeaten in the last 17 meetings, including a sweep at Ridder Arena on Oct. 23-24.

- St. Cloud State at No. 9/8 North Dakota: Both teams are looking to rise in the playoff seeding, as the Fighting Hawks are one point behind BSU for third and the Huskies are tied for fifth. UND is undefeated in the last 23 meetings, but SCSU got a shootout win Oct. 24.


The Week in Review

- Senior netminder Amanda Leveille posted consecutive shutouts and Amanda Kessel had two assists in her return to the ice to help No. 3 Minnesota capture a win and a tie, but a huge effort by UND goaltender Shelby Amsley-Benzie helped the No. 8 Fighting Hawks leave Ridder Arena with two points.

- Linemates Michela Cava and Ashleigh Brykaliuk became the first UMD skaters in 11 years to post consecutive hat tricks, leading the Bulldogs to a road sweep at Minnesota State.

- Thanks to a pair of points from four different Badgers and another shutout by Ann-Renée Desbiens, Wisconsin earned a sweep over Ohio State with 2-1 and 2-0 wins at the OSU Ice Rink.

- No. 7 Bemidji State clinched home-ice for the first round of the 2016 WCHA playoffs for the first time in school history following a five-point weekend at St. Cloud State.

- Full recaps and box scores are available at wcha.com.


at No. 3 Minnesota 3, No. 8 North Dakota 0
No. 8 North Dakota 0, at No. 3 Minnesota 0 - OT (UND wins shootout, 2-1)
(Feb. 5 and 6 at Ridder Arena; Minneapolis, Minn.)

Senior netminder Amanda Leveille posted consecutive shutouts and Amanda Kessel had two assists in her return to the ice to help No. 3 Minnesota capture a win and a tie, but a huge effort by UND goaltender Shelby Amsley-Benzie helped the No. 8 Fighting Hawks leave Ridder Arena with two points.

Friday night's series opener saw Kessel record two helpers in her first college hockey game in almost three years, while Leveille made 29 saves in her sixth shutout of the season as the Gophers won, 3-0, in front of 2,635 fans. Hannah Brandt scored the game-winning goal on the power play midway through the first period, and defensemen Sydney Baldwin and Sophie Skarzynski added goals in the second and third.

The Gophers and Fighting Hawks skated to a scoreless tie in Saturday's game two. Leveille and Amsley-Benzie held off their opponents for a full 65 minutes. UND then won the 11-round shootout, 2-1. Amy Menke scored on the first shootout attempt, and Kessel scored for the Gophers in the second round to tie it at 1-1. Charly Dahlquist then scored the shootout-winner for the Fighting Hawks in the 11th round. Amsley-Benzie stopped a career-high 10-of-11 shooters during the shootout round.


Minnesota Duluth 3, at Minnesota State 2 - OT
Minnesota Duluth 5, at Minnesota State 2
(Feb. 5 and 6 at Verizon Wireless Center; Mankato, Minn.)

Linemates Michela Cava and Ashleigh Brykaliuk became the first UMD skaters in 11 years to post consecutive hat tricks, leading the Bulldogs to a road sweep at Minnesota State.

Cava scored all three of UMD's goals Friday night, capping her first collegiate hat trick punctuated with the overtime game-winner 3:54 into the extra session. The senior's first two goals gave UMD a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission, but Minnesota State's Savannah Quandt and Amanda Martin both scored in the third period to send the game to OT.

Cava's short-handed goal tied Saturday's game 1-1 just before the first period ended, setting the stage for Brykaliuk. The junior scored once in the second and twice more in the third - including the game-winner - to help UMD seal the 5-2 win. UMD had has many shots in the third period — 22 — as it had in the first two, and outshot MSU 44-21 in the game.

Senior Kayla Black manned the pipes in both games for the Bulldogs, making a total of 41 saves en route to picking up career wins 51 and 52.


No. 2 Wisconsin 2, at Ohio State 1
No. 2 Wisconsin 2, at Ohio State 0
(Feb. 5 and 6 at OSU Ice Rink; Columbus, Ohio)

Thanks to a pair of points from four different Badgers and another shutout by Ann-Renée Desbiens, Wisconsin earned a sweep over Ohio State with 2-1 and 2-0 wins at the OSU Ice Rink.

Jenny Ryan and Annie Pankowski tallied goals Friday, with Pankowski's second-period shot past OSU netminder Stacy Danczak (26 saves) standing as the game-winner. Claudia Kepler scored a third-period goal for the Buckeyes.

Baylee Wellhausen snapped a scoreless tie with a second-period goal Saturday, while Sam Cogan buried an insurance marker in the third. Desbiens made 17 saves for her program-record 15th shutout of the season. Alex LaMere turned in a 35-save effort for OSU.


No. 7 Bemidji State 3, at St. Cloud State 3 - OT (BSU wins shootout, 1-0)
No. 7 Bemidji State 4, at St. Cloud State 1
(Feb. 5 and 6 at Herb Brooks National Hockey Center; St. Cloud, Minn.)

No. 7 Bemidji State clinched home-ice for the first round of the 2016 WCHA playoffs for the first time in school history following a five-point weekend at St. Cloud State.

SCSU twice battled back from two-goal deficits Friday to salvage a 3-3 tie. Molly Illikainen and Alyssa Erickson scored third-period goals for the Huskies, erasing earlier strikes by BSU's Kristin Huber, Emily Bergland and Ivana Bilic (who also added an assist). The Beavers' Reilly Fawcett scored the lone shootout goal, lifting BSU to the extra point.

The Beavers then used members of its senior class the following night to secure home-ice. Bemidji State seniors Kaitlyn Tougas, Stephanie Anderson and Bilic all combined for six points as the Beavers downed the Huskies, 4-1. Tougas led the way by tying a career-high with three points (2g-1a) in the game, while Bilic followed with two assists and Anderson scored the game's last goal.