2016-17 WCHA Women's League Preview
By Bill Brophy for WCHA.com
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Bemidji State senior goaltender Brittni Mowat

Bemidji State

Coach: Jim Scanlan, 3rd year

Last season: 22-11-3, a school record for victories, finished in third place in WCHA, but was upset by Minnesota Duluth in league playoffs.

Key losses: The top three scorers -- Kaitlyn Tougas (8g-21a), Ivana Bilic (3g-19a), and Kristin Huber (9g-20a) – were among nine graduates.

Key returnees: Senior Brittni Mowat, a former All-WCHA and all-America goalie, is back. She posted a 22-11-2 overall record, a .938 saves percentage, and a 1.68 goals against average as a junior in 2015-16. Coach Scanlan likes the stability in the back-end, thanks to defenders like Madison Hutchison, and expects senior forward Lauren Miller to have a good year

Top newcomers: Forwards Kiki Radke and Haley Mack had high school success and are among seven freshmen who will try and add some offensive punch.

Outlook: The Beavers received honorable mention votes in national preseason top-10 voting. Mowat is among the best goalies in the country and Scanlan likes his defense. However, scoring is the biggest question mark and is the reason coaches picked the Beavers fifth in the WCHA preseason poll after back to back 20-win seasons. "Scoring is always going to be a challenge in this league because of the outstanding coaching and the outstanding goalies," said Scanlan. "It's just real hard to score. You have to work hard to manufacture them. We are looking forward to the challenge. Last year we didn't score a bundle. Hopefully we can create some chances and get some puck luck."


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Minnesota senior forward Dani Cameranesi

Minnesota

Coach: Brad Frost, 10th season

Last season: 35-4-1, won second-straight national title and fourth national championship in last five years, finished second in WCHA and lost to Wisconsin in WCHA Final Face-Off title game.

Key losses: All American forwards Hannah Brandt, the two-time WCHA Player of the Year, and former Olympian Amanda Kessel, defenseman Milica McMillen and goalie Amanda Leveille were among seven graduates who posted a 148-9-6 record in their careers at Minnesota.

Key returnees: Dani Cameranesi enters her senior year after leading the team with a career-high 68 points (33 goals, 35 assists) a year ago. She was the 2016 WCHA Scoring Champion with 53 points (24g-29a) in league games as well, and Cameranesi got one vote from the league coaches as the preseason Player of the Year. The Gophers also return four of their top-five and eight of their top-10 scorers from a year ago in 2016 National Rookie of the Year and Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player Sarah Potomak (15g-39a), along with Kelly Pannek (23g-26a), Kate Schipper (14g-26a) and Cara Piazza (11g-23a). Lee Stecklein, a second team all-American and a defenseman for the U.S. Olympic team three years ago, stabilizes the blue line corps.

Top newcomers: Forward Nicole Schammel was the Minnesota State's leading scorer as a freshman two years ago and is eligible after transferring. Forward Lindsay Agnew, who was named WCHA preseason co-Rookie of the Year, sharing the honor with Wisconsin freshmen Presley Norby and Abby Roque, is the most highly-touted of the six Gophers' newcomers.

Outlook: Minnesota is ranked second in the country in the USCHO preseason poll and also ranked No. 2, behind Wisconsin, in the WCHA coaches' poll. Coach Frost said Sidney Peters will get a chance to replace Leveille in goal and likes his team, which has posted a 107-9-6 overall record and made it to the NCAA title game the last three seasons with this group of seniors. "We're really looking forward to the season," Frost said. "We have a really good senior class, in particular our three captains, and we have a lot of good experience up and down our lineup, some good leadership and chemistry. You add that to our now-sophomores and juniors who are coming back and have another year of experience under their belt. We're looking forward to seeing the steps they can take."


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Minnesota Duluth senior forward Ashleigh Brykaliuk

Minnesota Duluth

Coach: Maura Crowell, 2nd season

Last season: 15-21-1, finished in sixth place in the WCHA, but upset Bemidji State in the first round of the league playoffs to qualify for the WCHA Final Face-Off, where UMD lost to Wisconsin in the semifinals.

Key losses: Goaltender Kayla Black, who played a lot of minutes in her Bulldog career and had a 10-6-1 record and a 2.47 goals-against average last year, graduated. Forward Michela Cava, a 19-goal scorer last season, was one of only three seniors who departed.

Key returnees: Ashleigh Brykaliuk, who led the Bulldogs in points (47, with 18 goals and 29 assists) and Lara Stalder, who won a bronze medal with Switzerland her freshman year and had 17 goals and 41 points for the Bulldogs last season, are as good a tandem as anyone in the league. Brykaliuk received one vote as the WCHA preseason Player of the Year. Sophomore Maddie Rooney, who split time in goal with Black last year and posted a 5-12 record and 3.18 GAA, will play a lot ("It's her net," said Crowell). Sidney Morin and Jessica Healey lead the defense corps.

Top newcomers: UMD adds five freshmen, including Sydney Brodt and Jaylin Elmes, who played on the under-18 national teams for the U.S. and Canada, respectively, last season.

Outlook: The Bulldogs have won five national championships in their history and, after a rare second-division WCHA finish last season, are forecast to finish fourth in the league this season. UMD also received honorable mention in the preseason national top 10. "What a difference a year makes," said Crowell. "Our season started with the last game of last year. We're excited. We are going to get UMD back to where our fans and coaches want us to be."


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Minnesota State senior goaltender Brianna Quade

Minnesota State

Coach: John Harrington, 2nd year

Last season: 3-29-4, finished in eighth place in WCHA and lost in first round of playoffs

Key losses: Katie Johnson, who had 21 points (5g-16a), was the team's leading scorer and graduated.

Key returnees: The Mavericks return 18 players, including four seniors. But none are more important than senior goaltender Brianna Quade, who played in 35 games, posting a .899 save percentage and a 3.43 goals-against average last year ("Brianna Quade is our leader, our rock and has been our MVP," said Harrington.) The Mavs also return an exciting sophomore forward in Emily Antony, who had 6 goals, 10 assists and 16 points, and junior Hannah Davidson, who posted 17 points (8g-9a) last year.

Key newcomers: The Mavs have six newcomers, including Sofia Poinar, who will be asked to score goals – a problem area for Minnesota State last season. "We have some good, talented players in our freshman class. But, we won't have to throw them into roles too early," said Harrington.

Outlook: The Mavericks have finished last in the WCHA in each of the last two seasons, but this rebuilding project seems to have taken hold. "We are a more experienced team this year, myself included, and we're continuing to grow," said Harrington. "Our young players grew last year and we were very competitive in the second half. We are looking to build on that."


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North Dakota senior forward Amy Menke

North Dakota

Coach: Brian Idalski, 10th season Last season: 18-12-5, finished in fourth place and qualified for the WCHA Final Face-Off. Lost to Minnesota in the semifinals of the WCHA postseason tournament.

Key losses: Graduated all-American goaltender Shelby Amsley-Benzie, who set every meaningful record in school history and who posted a .930 save percentage with a 1.60 goals-against average last season. Goal-scorers Meghan Dufault and Becca Kohler also graduated.

Key returnees: UND returns 16 of 25 players, including two of the team's top-five scorers from a year ago in leading scorer Amy Menke (19 goals, 40 points) and Halli Krzyzaniak (5g-12a). The Fighting Hawks also have three national team players: defensemen Krzyzaniak (Canada) and Anna Kilponen (Finland), and forward Vilma Tanskanen (Finland).

Top newcomers: UND brings in eight true freshmen and two redshirt freshmen, including forward Ryleigh Houston, who got one vote from the WCHA coaches as a preseason Rookie of the Year.

Outlook: Ranked No. 6 in the country in the USCHO preseason poll and predicted to finish third in the WCHA preseason coaches' poll. UND has been a fixture in the first division in the last six years and should be a contender again. Senior Lexie Shaw will get the chance to take over for Amsley-Benzie in goal. Coach Idalski says Shaw has played enough as a backup before that he is confident in his goaltending situation. He thinks the key to his team's success lies not in freshmen, but in second-year players. "You never can count on freshmen carrying the mail,'' Idalski said. "We will need our sophomore class to really step up, absorb roles and take it to the forefront. We need to see a lot of growth."


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Ohio State junior goaltender Kassidy Sauve

Ohio State

Coach: Nadine Muzerall, first season

Last season: 10-25-1, finished seventh in the WCHA and lost to Minnesota in a first-round playoff series.

Key losses: Leading scorer Claudia Kepler, who had 25 points (14g-11a) in 34 games, was one of five underclassmen who left the program. She transferred to Wisconsin, while forward Julia McKinnon graduated.

Key returnees: Kassidy Sauve was the top rookie goalie in the WCHA two years ago, but missed last season because of injury. Sophomore goaltender Alex LaMere played most of Ohio State's minutes in net, posting a .896 save percentage and a 3.22 goals-against average. Defensemen Dani Sadek and 2016 WCHA All-Rookie Team selection Lauren Boyle help solidify a strong blue line. Katie Matheny is a senior forward.

Top newcomers: Defenseman Jincy Dunne was a medical redshirt last season, but came to OSU as one of the nation's most heralded rookies and there is hope she is healthy. Dunne got one vote in the preseason Rookie of the Year tally from coaches. Jacyn Reeves is a transfer from Union and the Buckeyes also add four freshmen to the roster.

Outlook: The Buckeyes are picked by coaches to finish seventh. Muzerall, who was hired Sept. 10, less than three weeks before the first game, is OSU's third coach in three seasons. However, she brings the credibility of being a member of Minnesota's coaching staff, which has won four NCAA titles in five years. Muzerall does have 16 returnees on her roster, including Sauve and Boyle. OSU has a tough start to the season – with three straight road series, including a WCHA opener at defending champ Wisconsin.


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St. Cloud State sophomore forward Julia Tylke

St. Cloud State

Coach: Eric Rud, 3rd year

Last season: 13-18-4, finished in fifth place in the WCHA and lost to North Dakota in a first-round playoff series.

Key losses: Katie Fitzgerald led the Huskies' charge up the standings with arguably the best season ever for a SCSU goaltender, but she graduated. Molly Illikainen, the Huskies' leading scorer who averaged a point per game with 17 goals and 15 assists, also graduated.

Key returnees: Forward Julia Tylke, a member of the all-WCHA rookie team last season, had 24 points (9g-15a) to rank second on the team a year ago and is the best scorer among the 17 returnees from last season, including seven seniors.

Top newcomers: The Huskies have seven newcomers, including Maddie Dahl, a transfer from Union, and goalie Janine Alder, a former member of the Swiss national team, who will get a chance to replace Fitzgerald. "You can't replace Katie Fitzgerald," said Rud. "She had a great senior year and carried us. We'll have an old-fashioned competition for who will play in the net." Outlook: St. Cloud State experienced highs last year, like seven-game unbeaten streak that stands as the second-longest in school history, and finished in fifth place. To keep that momentum going, they will need to replace a top goaltender and a proven goal-scorer in Illikainen. "The attitude of the program is real strong," said Rud. "We went into the playoffs looking to win, and we built on that this offseason." The Huskies get a tough test in the season opening series – hosting defending champion Wisconsin Sept. 23 and 24.


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Wisconsin senior goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens

Wisconsin

Coach: Mark Johnson, 14th season

Last season: 35-4-1, won the WCHA title, qualified for the NCAA Frozen Four, was the WCHA Final Face-Off playoff champion for the second-straight season.

Key losses: Courtney Burke was a highly decorated defenseman who graduated.

Key returnees: All-American goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens is back after a remarkable junior season and, not surprisingly, she was voted the coaches' WCHA preseason Player of the Year. Last season she played in 38 games, setting NCAA single-season records for shutouts (21), save percentage (.960) and goals-against average (0.76). Forward Annie Pankowski (22 goals, 36 assists and 58 points last season) also got a vote for WCHA Player of the Year and heads a deep group of UW forwards, which includes Sarah Nurse, Emily Clark and Sophia Shaver. Melissa Channell and Jenny Ryan are dependable defenseman in front of Desbiens. The Badgers return 15 players, including six seniors.

Top newcomers: Two of the Badgers' seven freshmen shared the WCHA preseason Rookie of the Year award, according to league coaches. They are forward Abby Roque and Presley Norby, who were the coaches' choice along with Minnesota's Lindsey Agnew.

Outlook: Ranked No. 1 in the preseason USCHO poll and the preseason favorite among league coaches to win the WCHA again, the Badgers have high expectations. They play air-tight defense, are deep at forward and have great goaltending. The coaches predict the Border Battle will once again determine who wins the WCHA. Last year the Badgers and Gophers split six games. UW won the regular season crown by one point in the standings and then beat Minnesota 1-0 in the WCHA playoff championship. However, the Gophers beat the Badgers in a classic overtime NCAA semifinal. Mark your calendars: The Minnesota/Wisconsin rivalry resumes when the Gophers and the Badgers face-off for a series in Madison, Wis., Dec. 2-3 and meet again to close out the regular season Feb. 18-19 at Ridder Arena.