WCHA Week 21: WCHA Playoffs Get Underway With Four First-Round Series
WISCONSIN HOSTS MINNESOTA STATE, MINNESOTA WELCOMES OHIO STATE, BEMIDJI STATE HOSTS MINNESOTA DULUTH AND NORTH DAKOTA ENTERTAINS ST. CLOUD STATE
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Top-seeded Wisconsin hosts Minnesota State this weekend

Opening Face-Off

- WCHA Leading at the Polls: After another terrific regular season for the nation's top women's college hockey conference, the WCHA has matched ECAC Hockey with four ranked teams in both the USCHO.com and USA Today / USA Hockey Magazine rankings: No. 2 Minnesota, No. 3 Wisconsin, No. 7 Bemidji State and No. 10 North Dakota.

- Winning Hockey: Not surprisingly, four of the NCAA's top-13 winning percentages also belong to WCHA teams: Wisconsin (second at .897, 30-3-1), Minnesota (third at .894, 29-3-1), Bemidji State (eighth at .691, 22-9-3) and North Dakota (13th at .578, 16-11-5). Additionally, the WCHA finished its regular season nonconference slate with an NCAA-best .786 winning percentage (32-8-2).

- Playoffs!!!: Now the fun really begins, as the 2016 WCHA Playoffs get underway this weekend with four, best-of-three first round series at host institutions. Top-seed Wisconsin hosts (8) Minnesota State, (2) Minnesota welcomes (7) Ohio State, (3) Bemidji State - hosting a postseason series for the first-time ever - entertains (6) Minnesota Duluth, and (4) North Dakota is home against (5) St. Cloud State. The four winning teams advance to the 2016 WCHA Final Face-Off, held March 5-6 at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis (participating teams will be re-seeded according to regular season finish).

- 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 the 2016 postseason, she is the WCHA's all-time assists leader with 161 career helpers. She also ranks fifth in league history (since 1999-2000) with 114 career goals (UW's Brianna Decker, who scored 115 with UW, is fourth) and second with 275 points (12 behind former UND star Joceylne Lamoureux's league-record 285). In NCAA Division I history (since 2000-01), Brandt is eighth for goals (Decker is seventh), second for assists (Harvard's Julie Chu holds the NCAA record with 197) and fourth for points (J. Lamoureux and Chu are tied for second).

- Quickly Around the WCHA: At 22-9-3, BEMIDJI STATE has the most wins in program history, has reached the 20-victory plateau during the regular season for the first time ever and secured its' highest-ever WCHA regular season finish (third place) ... MINNESOTA's five seniors (Hannah Brandt, Brook Garzone, Amanda Kessel, Amanda Leveille and Milica McMillen) enter the playoffs as the most successful class in program history (142-8-6, .929) ... MINNESOTA DULUTH junior F Ashleigh Brykaliuk has moved up to 12th nationally with an average of 1.29 points per game, while senior F Michela Cava is 24th nationally with 0.53 goals per contest ... MINNESOTA STATE junior G Brianna Quade leads the WCHA and ranks second nationally with 950 saves ... NORTH DAKOTA leads the NCAA with an average of 15.56 blocks per game; the Fighting Hawks also rank fifth nationally with a .898 penalty-kill percentage ... A pair of OHIO STATE rookies - D Lauren Boyle (3g-14a) and F Maddy Field (9g-8a) - have 17 points overall, tied for fourth among WCHA freshmen ... ST. CLOUD STATE senior F Molly Illikainen, who has a career-high 17 goals and 31 points this season, is two points shy of the career 100-point plateau (45g-53a=98pts) ... WISCONSIN, which is enjoying the sixth 30-win season in program history, tied the school record with 24 conference wins en route to its fifth WCHA regular season championship (also 2005-06, 2006-07, 2010-11 and 2011-12).


By the Numbers

- 53: Points, in 28 league games, for 2015-16 WCHA scoring champion Dani Cameranesi. The Minnesota junior scored 24 goals and had 29 assists in conference outings, averaging 1.89 points per contest.

- 0.81: Goals-against average, in 27 league games, for 2015-16 WCHA goaltending champion Ann-Renée Desbiens. The Wisconsin junior allowed just 22 goals in over 1,625 minutes between the pipes during conference contests.

- 24 and 41: Points for WCHA co-defenseman scoring leaders Milica McMillen of Minnesota (6g-18a) and Courtney Burke of Wisconsin (4g-20a), along with conference points for rookie scoring champ Sarah Potomak of Minnesota (10g-31a).

- 11: Current and former WCHA players named to the Team USA roster for the 2016 IIHF World Championships. Current student-athletes Stephanie Anderson (Bemidji State), Annie Pankowski (Wisconsin) and Lee Stecklein (Minnesota) will all be back to defend the gold medal won at the 2015 event in Malmo, Sweden.


2016 WCHA Playoffs – First Round (Best-of-Three)

- (8) Minnesota State at (1) Wisconsin: WCHA regular season champion Wisconsin opens the postseason by hosting eight-seed Minnesota State at LaBahn Arena, where the nationally third-ranked Badgers have won a program-record 22-straight games.

- (7) Ohio State at (2) Minnesota: Minnesota brings a 15-game unbeaten streak (14-0-1) into its series against Ohio State. The No. 2 Gophers are unbeaten in their last 38 games against the Buckeyes (36-0-2), dating back to Feb. 2008 (including a 4-0-0 mark this year).

- (6) Minnesota Duluth at (3) Bemidji State: No. 7 Bemidji State is hosting a WCHA playoff series for the first time ever, and will welcome a Minnesota Duluth team that they swept this season - also the first time the Beavers have gone 4-0-0 in a season against UMD. BSU outlasted host UMD, two-games-to-one, in last season's WCHA playoffs.

- (5) St. Cloud State at (4) North Dakota: North Dakota and St. Cloud State will meet in the playoffs for the first time ever, two weeks after the teams split in Grand Forks. The 10th-ranked Fighting Hawks are 30-26-1 all-time against the Huskies.


The Week in Review

- The WCHA's top two teams met at Ridder Arena, with then-No. 3 Minnesota winning an instant classic over then-No. 2 Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon to complete a sweep.

- Host Minnesota State continued its run of tightly-contested games, but No. 7 Bemidji State wrapped up its most successful regular season in program history (and clinched the WCHA's third seed for the playoffs) with a sweep in Mankato.

- Sophomore goaltender Alex LaMere was outstanding for Ohio State in a series-opening win, before No. 9 North Dakota rallied from a two-goal deficit to earn the split with a 3-2 victory Saturday.

- Both St. Cloud State (Friday night) and Minnesota Duluth (Saturday) were on the winning end of a 3-2 final to leave their weekend series with a victory apiece, while the Huskies' win gave them the fifth seed for the playoffs.

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


at No. 3 Minnesota 4, No. 2 Wisconsin 0
at No. 3 Minnesota 4, No. 2 Wisconsin 3
(Feb. 19 and 20 at Ridder Arena; Minneapolis, Minn.)

The WCHA's top two teams met at Ridder Arena, with then-No. 3 Minnesota winning an instant classic over then-No. 2 Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon to complete a sweep.

The Gophers cruised to a 4-0 win in game one of the series behind a season-high 35-save shutout from Amanda Leveille and two goals from Amanda Kessel - including her 100th career marker. Hannah Brandt recorded two assists, with her second helper standing as the 161st of her career - an all-time WCHA record. UW netminder Ann-Renée Desbiens posted a season-high 32 saves in the loss.

In Saturday's 4-3 overtime win, Kelly Pannek (1g-2a) scored the game-winning goal with 54 seconds remaining in overtime to seal the win and series sweep. Kate Schipper (1g-1a), Cara Piazza (1g-1a), and Dani Cameranesi (2a) recorded two points each, and Amanda Leveille made 31 saves in the win. The Gophers took an early 2-0 lead and led 3-1 midway through the second period, but Wisconsin tied the game early in the third period on penalty shot goal by Annie Pankowski (1g-1a). Leveille made 31 stops to finish the weekend with a career-high 66 saves.


No. 7 Bemidji State 3, at Minnesota State 1
No. 7 Bemidji State 2, at Minnesota State 1
(Feb. 19 and 20 at Verizon Wireless Center; Mankato, Minn.)

Host Minnesota State continued its run of tightly-contested games, but No. 7 Bemidji State wrapped up its most successful regular season in program history (and clinched the WCHA's third seed for the playoffs) with a sweep in Mankato.

Three different Beavers scored in the series opener, a 3-1 win. Stephanie Anderson opened the scoring with BSU's first short-handed marker of the season, while Summer Thibodeau scored in the second period and Kaitlyn Tougas sealed the win with an empty-netter. Hannah Davidson was the lone goal-scorer for Minnesota State.

Anna-Maria Fiegert gave the Mavericks a 1-0, second-period lead on Saturday night, before BSU rallied to score the game's final two tallies. Lauren Miller scored the game-tying goal at 6:57 of the second and Kristin Huber scored her seventh game-winning goal of her career with less than eight minutes remaining in the third period to seal the victory. Brittni Mowat stopped 42-of-44 shots over the weekend for BSU.


at Ohio State 3, No. 9 North Dakota 1
No. 9 North Dakota 3, Ohio State 2
(Feb. 19 and 20 at OSU Ice Rink; Columbus, Ohio)

Sophomore goaltender Alex LaMere was outstanding for Ohio State in a series-opening win, before No. 9 North Dakota rallied from a two-goal deficit to earn the split with a 3-2 victory Saturday.

LaMere stonewalled the Fighting Hawks' attack Friday night, making 31 saves in a 3-1 OSU victory. She was backed by second-period goals by freshman Maddy Field and Dani Sadek (power-play game-winner), before Claudia Kepler sealed the win with an empty-netter. Meghan Dufault scored a late third-period marker for UND.

On Saturday, Ohio State jumped out to a 2-0 lead within the first three minutes on goals by Alexa Ranahan and Lauren Spring; but after the slow start, UND netminder Shelby Amsley-Benzie (23 saves) shut the door on the Buckeyes for the remainder of the game. Amy Menke cut the deficit in half before the end of the first period. Then a big second period vaulted UND into the lead with goals from Becca Kohler and Dufault. UND weathered a late push from OSU in the third period to hold onto the 3-2 win.


at St. Cloud State 3, Minnesota Duluth 2
Minnesota Duluth 3, at St. Cloud State 2
(Feb. 19 and 20 at Herb Brooks National Hockey Center; St. Cloud, Minn.)

Both St. Cloud State (Friday night) and Minnesota Duluth (Saturday) were on the winning end of a 3-2 final to leave their weekend series with a victory apiece, while the Huskies' win gave them the fifth seed for the playoffs.

The host Huskies jumped out to a 3-0 lead Friday night on goals by Molly Illikainen in the first period, and Lauren Hespenheide and Lexi Slattery (power-play game-winner) in the second. UMD rallied behind strikes from Ashleigh Brykaliuk and Michela Cava, but SCSU's Katie Fitzgerald (31 saves) stood strong to seal the 3-2 win.

Saturday night's contest was a back-and-forth affair, with Hannah Potrykus (SCSU), Michelle Lowenhielm (UMD) and Maria Lindh (UMD) scoring in the first two periods. Huskies' freshman Julia Tylke tied the game 2-2 at the 14:11 mark of the third period; however, Lowenhielm scored her second of the game just 45 seconds later to give the Bulldogs a 3-2 lead they would not relinquish. UMD senior G Kayla Black made 25 saves in her 54th career victory.