WCHA Week 18: Stretch Run Kicks Into Gear With Four League Series; No. 3 Minnesota Hosts No. 8 North Dakota In Top-10 Matchup
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North Dakota travels to Ridder Arena for a weekend series against Minnesota

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. 8 North Dakota.

- Winning Hockey: Not surprisingly, four of the NCAA's top-12 winning percentages also belong to WCHA teams: Wisconsin (second at .946, 26-1-1), Minnesota (tied for third at .889, 24-3-0), Bemidji State (ninth at .643, 17-9-2) and North Dakota (11th at .615, 14-8-4). Additionally, the WCHA finished its regular season nonconference slate with an NCAA-best .786 winning percentage (32-8-2).

- Pairing Up: Entering the final five 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.

- Playoff Home-Ice: The two teams atop the league standings, front-running Wisconsin and second-place Minnesota, have each clinched home-ice for the first round of the 2016 WCHA playoffs. Bemidji State, meanwhile, can clinch home-ice for the first time in program history with a sweep at St. Cloud State this weekend. Depending on results of its games at Minnesota and the BSU-SCSU series, North Dakota could also potentially clinch as soon as this weekend (the Fighting Hawks need to earn one more point in their two games than the Huskies do in theirs).

- Welcome Back, Amanda: Minnesota has announced that Amanda Kessel will officially return to the Gophers for the remainder of the 2015-16 season. Kessel, a two-time All-American and 2013 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner, has not played collegiately since the 2013 NCAA championship game. She took a redshirt for the 2013-14 season to represent the United States at the Sochi Olympics, before missing the 2014-15 campaign while recovering from a concussion. Kessel, the 2013 WCHA Player of the Year and a three-time All-WCHA performer, will make her debut this weekend when the Gophers host No. 8 North Dakota at Ridder Arena.

- Brandt Watch: Another 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 111 career goals (Monique Lamoureux, who scored 113 with UMN and UND, is fifth), second with 157 assists (three shy of Jocelyne Lamoureux, who holds the league record with 160 during her career with UMN and UND) and second with 268 points (17 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: BEMIDJI STATE senior D Ivana Bilic has helped the Beavers rank in the top-10 nationally for scoring defense with 71 blocked shots, the second-most in the country ... MINNESOTA linemates Hannah Brandt (21g-26a), Dani Cameranesi (25g-28a) and Sarah Potomak (11g-34a) are among the nation's top five leading scorers, ranked third, fourth, and sixth in points per game, respectively ... MINNESOTA DULUTH senior G Kayla Black, the program's all-time leader with 20 shutouts and 2,783 saves, picked up the 51st win of her career last Saturday ... 10 of MINNESOTA STATE'S last 11 games have been decided by two-goals-or-less, including eight one-goal decisions and three ties ... NORTH DAKOTA'S blue-liners, who have played a big role in the Fighting Hawks ranking ninth nationally for scoring defense (1.88gpg), have also contributed offensively, with six of seven recording points ... OHIO STATE senior F Julia McKinnon has 10 points in her last six games, tied for fifth nationally during that span (second WCHA) ... ST. CLOUD STATE is in the midst of potentially four-straight weekends against ranked opponents, welcoming No. 7 Bemidji State this week after traveling to No. 2 Wisconsin and hosting No. 3 Minnesota the previous two series (with a set at No. 8 North Dakota upcoming) ... 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

- 0.62, .966, 14 and 24 (and 31): 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 tied for third on the shutout list. Additionally, her 31 career blank slates are also third in NCAA annals.


The Week Ahead

- No. 8 North Dakota at No. 3 Minnesota: The nearly-weekly all-WCHA, top-10 matchup moves to Ridder Arena for a series between longtime rivals, as the No. 3 Gophers host the No. 8 Fighting Hawks. UND defeated then-No. 1 Minnesota back on Oct. 30.

- Minnesota Duluth at Minnesota State: First-year WCHA coaches Maura Crowell (UMD) and John Harrington (MSU) square off for the second time. UMD got the upper hand back in October, skating to a pair of victories in Duluth.

- (2) Wisconsin at Ohio State: The Buckeyes, who are fourth in the country with 22 goals in their last six games, will host the second-ranked Badgers and the NCAA's top defense.

- No. 7 Bemidji State at St. Cloud State: Huge WCHA points are on the line, as the No. 7 Beavers can clinch home-ice with a sweep of the Huskies (currently in fifth place). SCSU is 4-2-1 in its last seven home games.


The Week in Review

- Two taught defensive contests at the Sanford Center went to the visitors, as No. 3 Minnesota won a pair of 2-1 contests at No. 7 Bemidji State.

- Ohio State logged its second-straight game with 6+ goals to win the first game of a series at AMSOIL Arena, before Minnesota Duluth snapped its seven-game losing streak with a 4-3 victory Saturday.

- Minnesota State continued its run of close games, taking No. 8 North Dakota to the limit in a 2-1 Fighting Hawks' win and a 5-5 tie. UND won the shootout for the extra league point.

- Thanks to a trio of Emily Clark goals and a pair of shutouts by Ann-Renée Desbiens, No. 2 Wisconsin earned a pair of 3-0 wins over St. Cloud State at LaBahn Arena.

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


at No. 3 Minnesota 2, at No. 7 Bemidji State 1
at No. 3 Minnesota 2, at No. 7 Bemidji State 1 - OT
(Jan. 29 and 30 at Sanford Center; Bemidji, Minn.)

Two taught defensive contests at the Sanford Center went to the visitors, as No. 3 Minnesota won a pair of 2-1 contests at No. 7 Bemidji State.

In Friday's series opener, the Gophers' Cara Piazza broke a 1-1 tie in the first minute of the third period to seal the win after Sydney Baldwin and BSU's Ciscely Nelson exchanged goals in the first period. Amanda Leveille made 16 saves as the Gophers outshot the Beavers, 27-17.

Game two saw the Gophers rally from a 1-0 deficit to secure the overtime win. Lee Stecklein scored the game-winning goal just 47 seconds into overtime after Dani Cameranesi tied the game at 1-1 on a power-play goal with 6:39 remaining in regulation. Leveille made a season-high 28 saves in the win. Lauren Miller scored for the Beavers, while goaltender Brittni Mowat finished a 67-save weekend with a season high-tying 42 stops.


Ohio State 6, at Minnesota Duluth 4
at Minnesota Duluth 4, Ohio State 3
(Jan. 29 and 30 at AMSOIL Arena; Duluth, Minn.)

Ohio State logged its second-straight game with 6+ goals to win the first game of a series at AMSOIL Arena, before Minnesota Duluth snapped its seven-game losing streak with a 4-3 victory Saturday.

Friday's game was exciting from the start, with the teams combining for six goals and taking a 3-3 tie into the first intermission. Ohio State kept the momentum going with three more in the second period en route to the 6-4 win. Kendall Curtis had an assist and the game-winning goal for the Buckeyes, while Julia McKinnon (2a), Cara Zubko (2a), Dani Sadek (1g-1a), Lauren Boyle (1g-1a) Lauren Spring (1g-1a) and Claudia Kepler (1g-1a) all had multi-point efforts for OSU.

UMD skated out to a two-goal advantage in Saturday's series finale on goals by freshman Morgan Morse and Katherine McGovern, before OSU scored three unanswered goals of its own. Ashleigh Brykaliuk tied the game at 15:09 in the second period, before Morse netted her third goal of the series with just 1:54 left in the game to seal UMD's first win in 2016. Kayla Black's 33 saves helped her pick up the 51st win of her Bulldog career.


No. 8 North Dakota 2, Minnesota State 1
No. 8 North Dakota 5, Minnesota State 5 - OT (UND won the shootout, 1-0)
(Jan. 29 and 30 at Ralph Engelstad Arena; Grand Forks, N.D.)

Minnesota State continued its run of close games, taking No. 8 North Dakota to the limit in a 2-1 Fighting Hawks' win and a 5-5 tie. UND won the shootout for the extra league point.

In Friday's contest, North Dakota used a 23-5 advantage in shots in the second period to eventually score the game's first goal. Minnesota State tied the game in the third, but UND's Layla Marvin scored less than 30 seconds later to put the Fighting Hawks ahead to stay, 2-1.

Saturday's contest saw a much different story line as both team's offenses went on display in a 5-5 tie. By the end of regulation North Dakota had tied the game on four separate occasions, but was never able to gain a lead over the Mavericks. On special teams, Halli Krzyzaniak scored a power-play goal, while Amy Menke tallied her fifth career short-handed goal. Becca Kohler netted the tying goal with under three minutes remaining, Sam LaShomb was the lone goal scorer in the shootout, while Shelby Amsley-Benzie made all three stops to give UND the shootout win. Jordan McLaughlin had two goals and an assist for the Mavericks, Emily Antony had a career-high three helpers and Kathryn Bidulka made a career-best 37 saves.


at No. 2 Wisconsin 3, St. Cloud State 0
at No. 2 Wisconsin 3, St. Cloud State 0
(Jan. 30 and 31 at LaBahn Arena; Madison, Wis.)

Thanks to a trio of Emily Clark goals and a pair of shutouts by Ann-Renée Desbiens, No. 2 Wisconsin earned a pair of 3-0 wins over St. Cloud State at LaBahn Arena.

Clark scored the game-winner just 3:03 into Saturday's game, while Sam Cogan and Sarah Nurse (empty-netter) scored insurance markers in the third period for Desbiens (15 saves). SCSU netminder Katie Fitzgerald made 46 stops as the Huskies were outshot, 49-15.

After honoring its 2005-06 NCAA championship team on Sunday, the Badgers and Desbiens posted another 3-0 victory. The junior goaltender moved into third place on the all-time NCAA charts with her 31st career shutout, stopping all 13 shots she faced. Nurse scored a short-handed goal to put UW ahead 1-0, before Clark scored twice in the third (both off double-assists from Cogan and Annie Pankowski). Fitzgerald recorded another 40 saves for SCSU.