WCHA Week 1: College Hockey's Premier Conference Begins Its 18th Season
Top-Ranked Wisconsin Opens Its WCHA Title Defense At St. Cloud State
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Top-Ranked Wisconsin Opens Its WCHA Title Defense At St. Cloud State

Opening Face-Off

- Tradition Starts Here: The Women's League of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA), home to a record 16 national championships (including 15 NCAA Frozen Four crowns), six Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winners, 86 All-Americans and countless Olympic, national team and professional players, drops the puck on its 18th season this weekend.

- Polling Place: Five (5) of the WCHA's eight teams earned recognition in the preseason USCHO poll, including three teams ranked in the top-10. Wisconsin is the nation's preseason No. 1, as the reigning WCHA regular season and playoff champions return six of their top seven scorers and record-setting goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens.

  • Two-time defending NCAA champion Minnesota is No. 2, while perennial top-10 fixture North Dakota opens at No. 6.
  • Bemidji State, coming off a program-record 22 win campaign, and Minnesota Duluth, which upset the Beavers in the 2016 WCHA Quarterfinals, are both receiving votes.

- Million Takes the Reigns: Katie Million, an experienced and visionary leader with a proven track record of accelerating exposure, partnerships and revenue, was named the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) Vice President and Women's League Commissioner on July 21, 2016. Million joins the WCHA after a highly-successful 17-year stint with the New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) in Lake Placid, including the last three years as the organization's director of events.

- Rare League Opener: St. Cloud State hosts Wisconsin this weekend in the season- and league-opening series. The last time there was a WCHA series on the opening weekend of the season was 2012-13, when the Badgers visited Minnesota State.


By the Numbers

- 0.76, .960 and 21: NCAA single-season records for goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts set in 2015-16 by remarkable Wisconsin goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens, who was named the USCHO National Player of the Year following her brilliant junior campaign.

- 4: Returning WCHA All-Americans, of the six the league had in 2015-16: First Team members Desbiens, and Second Team selections Dani Cameranesi (Sr., F, Minnesota), Annie Pankowski (Jr., F, Wisconsin) and Lee Stecklein (Sr., D, Minnesota). A fifth player, Bemidji State senior goaltender Brittni Mowat, was a First Team All-American in 2014-15.

- 5: Straight seasons that WCHA teams have ranked 1-4 nationally in attendance. Last season, Minnesota drew 42,501 (2,125 per game) to Ridder Arena, Wisconsin welcomed 42,398 (2,019) to LaBahn Arena (including a program-record 12 sellouts), Minnesota Duluth greeted 21,293 fans (1,331) at AMSOIL Arena and North Dakota hosted 16,143 (1,009) at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.

- 8: Of the 10 WCHA players who ranked in the top-25 nationally for scoring in 2015-16 return in 2016-17: Cameranesi (fifth at 1.70 points per game), Pankowski (seventh at 1.45), Minnesota sophomore (and 2016 National Rookie of the Year) Sarah Potomak (eighth at 1.42), Minnesota Duluth senior Ashleigh Brykaliuk (10th at 1.27), UMN junior Kelly Pannek (15th at 1.23), UMD senior Lara Stalder (16th at 1.21), Wisconsin junior Emily Clark (18th at 1.18) and North Dakota senior Amy Menke (22nd at 1.14).

- 11: 2016 National Women's Hockey League (NWHL) Draft picks on WCHA rosters in 2016-17 - more than half of the 20 overall selections: Stecklein (BUF), Cameranesi (CON), Desbiens (BOS), Wisconsin's Sarah Nurse (BOS), UW's Jenny Ryan (NYR), UW's Mellissa Channell (CON), Brykaliuk (BOS), UW's Sydney McKibbon (NYR), North Dakota's Halli Krzyzaniak (BOS), Menke and Stalder.

- 395: Career wins for Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson, who enters the 2016-17 season (his 14th behind the bench) third all-time among Division I women's coaches. Only two others have reached the 400-win plateau at the D-I level (Harvard's Katey Stone with 446 and Mercyhurst's Michael Sisti with 429).


The Week Ahead

- No. 1 Wisconsin at St. Cloud State: The Badgers and Huskies open the 2016-17 campaign with a WCHA league series this weekend. St. Cloud State's 13 victories in 2015-16 under Eric Rud (now entering his third year) were the Huskies' most since the 2009-10 campaign. Wisconsin, the nation's preseason No. 1, opens its quest to repeat as WCHA regular season champs.

- Whitecaps Exhibitions: Minnesota (Friday night) and Minnesota Duluth (Saturday) will host exhibitions with the Minnesota Whitecaps, a professional team that features 20 former WCHA players.


2015-16 Season in Review – Another Banner Year for the WCHA

Since its founding, the women's WCHA has set standards of excellence unmatched by any other Division I conference - in any sport. The 2015-16 campaign was no exception, as the WCHA: won its 16th national championship (15th NCAA Frozen Four title, in addition to one AWCHA crown); comprised half of the Frozen Four field; tied for the NCAA lead with four teams in the final opinion polls; boasted the best nonconference winning percentage in the country; featured both the USCHO National Player and Rookie of the Year, along with the Women's Hockey Commissioners Association Rookie of the Year; celebrated a Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award top-3 finalist and five top-10 finalists; saw six players earn CCM All-America accolades; saw student-athletes earn nominations for NCAA Woman of the Year and the Hockey Humanitarian Award; and applauded numerous current and former players that competed on the international stage, along with 26 that starred professionally in either the CWHL or during the inaugural season of the NWHL.


ON THE ICE

National Champions: Minnesota won the 2016 NCAA Women's Frozen Four, knocking off previously unbeaten Boston College to earn its second consecutive crown, fourth in five years and the seventh national championship in program history.

  • In addition to Minnesota, the WCHA was also represented in the National Collegiate Women's Championship and Frozen Four by Wisconsin.

A Look at the Rankings: No. 1 Minnesota, No. 3 Wisconsin, No. 9/10 North Dakota and No. 10/9 Bemidji State gave the WCHA an NCAA-best four teams (tied with ECAC Hockey) in the final USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls.

  • Five (5) of the WCHA's eight teams spent at least one week ranked in the opinion polls, as Minnesota Duluth - which played the nation's toughest schedule by RPI - also spent time among the top-10.

Winning Hockey: Not surprisingly, four of the nation's top-12 winning percentages in 2015-16 belonged to WCHA teams. Frozen Four semifinal opponents Minnesota and Wisconsin tied for second-best with identical 35-4-1 records (.888). The best regular season in program history propelled Bemidji State to ninth at .653 (22-11-3), while North Dakota was 12th at .586 (18-12-5).

Nonconference Success: The WCHA boasted, far and away, the best nonconference winning percentage in the country at .800 (35-8-2) – including a perfect 3-0 mark in the NCAA Tournament.

  • All eight WCHA teams were at .500-or-above against nonconference opponents. Wisconsin (7-0-0), Minnesota (6-0-0) and St. Cloud State (4-0-0) were all perfect; Bemidji State posted a .917 mark (5-0-1); North Dakota finished at 3-1-0 (.750); Ohio State went 4-2-0 (.667); Minnesota State logged a 3-2-1 (.583) ledger; and, Minnesota Duluth was an even .500 (3-3-0).

Badgers Win Regular Season and Final Face-Off Titles: Long among the nation's elite programs, Wisconsin returned to the top of the WCHA's regular season and postseason mountains in 2015-16.

  • The Badgers earned their fifth WCHA regular season crown in program history, and first since 2011-12, with a 24-win, 74-point campaign.
  • Wisconsin then successfully defended its Final Face-Off championship, in the process matching the league record with the sixth postseason title in program annals.

National Accolades: Record-setting Wisconsin goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens was chosen as the USCHO National Player of the Year after a remarkable junior campaign. Minnesota forward Sarah Potomak was tabbed as the National Rookie of the Year by both the Women's Hockey Commissioners Association and USCHO.

  • Six WCHA players earned CCM All-America honors - First Team selections Desbiens (UW) and Minnesota senior forward Hannah Brandt, along with Second Teamers Courtney Burke (UW senior defenseman), Lee Stecklein (UMN junior defenseman), Dani Cameranesi (UMN junior forward) and Annie Pankowski (UW sophomore forward).
  • UW's Desbiens was a top-3 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award. Badgers' teammate Pankowski, along with UMN's Brandt and Cameranesi, and North Dakota senior goaltender Shelby Amsley-Benzie, gave the WCHA an NCAA-best five players among the top-10 finalists.
  • The WCHA also had an NCAA-best nine players on All-USCHO teams: UW's Desbiens (First Team); UMN's Brandt, Cameranesi, Stecklein and Amanda Leveille (senior goaltender), and UW's Pankowski (Second Team); UW's Burke and Bemidji State senior defenseman Ivana Bilic (Third Team); and, UMN's Potomak (All-Rookie Team.


THE NEXT LEVEL

International Stage: The nation's premier women's college hockey conference continued to make its mark on international ice during the 2015-16 season.

  • Four Nations Cup: Thirty-two (32) current or former WCHA student-athletes, representing seven member institutions and all four competing countries, participated in the 2015 Four Nations Cup hosted by Sweden.
  • IIHF Worlds: Thirty-six (36) current or former WCHA student-athletes, representing seven member institutions and competing for six different countries, participated in the 2016 IIHF World Championships.

CWHL and NWHL Impact: WCHA alumni dotted rosters across the two women's professional leagues, with the league (and four of its institutions) represented on eight of the nine combined rosters for the Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL) and the National Women's Hockey League (NWHL).

  • Fifteen (15) former WCHA players competed on four of the five CWHL clubs: Calgary (5 players), Toronto (4), Brampton (3) and Montréal (3).
  • Eleven (11) league alumni played across the four founding franchises of the NWHL in its inaugural season: Boston (4), Connecticut (3), Buffalo (2) and New York (2).

NWHL Draft and Signings: More than half – 11 of 20 – selections in the 2016 NWHL Draft are 2016-17 rising seniors representing four WCHA schools.


IN THE CLASSROOM AND IN THE COMMUNITY

CoSIDA Academic All-Americans: North Dakota senior Shelby Amsley-Benzie, Minnesota senior Hannah Brandt and Gophers' junior Lee Stecklein all earned CoSIDA Academic All-America honors for their combined performances athletically and in the classroom.

  • A three-time Academic All-American, Amsley-Benzie recorded a perfect 4.0 grade-point average.

Scholar-Athletes: Fifty-two (52) student-athletes, representing all eight WCHA Women's League member institutions, earned WCHA Scholar-Athlete Awards for maintaining a GPA of 3.50 or above. This number represented a 10.6-percent increase, from 47 in 2014-15.

All-Academic Team: One hundred and twenty-one (121) student-athletes, representing all eight WCHA Women's League member institutions, earned a spot on the WCHA All-Academic Team for maintaining a GPA of 3.00 or above. This number represented a 31.5-percent increase, from 92 in 2014-15.

Hockey Humanitarian Award: Ohio State senior defenseman Cara Zubko was one of 18 nominees for the 2016 BNY Mellon Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian Award, presented annually to college hockey's finest citizen – a student-athlete who makes significant contributions not only to his or her team but also to the community-at-large through leadership in volunteerism.

NCAA Woman of the Year: North Dakota's Shelby Amsley-Benzie, a two-time WCHA Student-Athlete of the Year and the 2016 WCHA Postgraduate Scholarship winner, is among the 517 nominees for the 2016 NCAA Woman of the Year award (but is just one of nine that played hockey, across all three NCAA Divisions). The NCAA Woman of the Year award honors graduating female college athletes who have exhausted their eligibility and distinguished themselves throughout their collegiate careers in academics, athletics, service and leadership.