WCHA Week 20: Final Playoff Positioning Comes Down To The Wire
SCSU, OSU And BSU All Within Four Points For The Fifth Through Seventh Seeds; Top-Ranked UW Visits No. 4 UMN In Latest 'Border Battle' Series
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Top-Ranked UW Visits No. 4 UMN In Latest 'Border Battle' Series

Opening Face-Off

- Topping the Polls -- and the PairWise: The women's Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) has three of the top-four teams in the USCHO.com and USA Today / USA Hockey Magazine opinion polls. Wisconsin remains the unanimous No. 1 in both, followed by No. 2 Minnesota Duluth and No. 4 Minnesota. The Badgers, Bulldogs and Gophers are also Nos. 1, 2 and 3, respectively, in the current PairWise rankings.

- Back-to-Back for the Badgers: Top-ranked Wisconsin has clinched the 2016-17 WCHA regular season championship, securing its second-straight league title -- and sixth in program history -- with a five-point weekend against No. 2 Minnesota Duluth.

  • UW head coach Mark Johnson has been behind the bench for all six of the Badgers' league titles, the most by any head coach in WCHA history.
  • Wisconsin has repeated twice before in program history. The Badgers won back-to-back championships following the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, and again after the 2010-11 and 2011-12 campaigns.

- Postseason Seeds: The top four teams, which will host a quarterfinal round series in the 2017 WCHA Playoffs, are set. Wisconsin is the top seed and North Dakota is locked into the fourth spot, while Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth will also be home the weekend of Feb. 24-26.

  • Minnesota will earn the second seed with a single point this weekend against Wisconsin, or if Minnesota Duluth loses a point against St. Cloud State. If the Gophers are swept and the Bulldogs sweep, UMD will be the No. 2 seed by virtue of the third league tiebreaker, fewest conference losses.
  • Minnesota State will finish as the eighth seed and travel to Wisconsin for the quarterfinals. The fifth through seventh seed is still very much up in the air, with just four points separating St. Cloud State, Ohio State and Bemidji State.
  • The Huskies control their own destiny, as they hold a one-point lead on the Buckeyes and a four-point advantage on the Beavers (BSU needs a three-point win Friday, and help from UMD, to stay alive for fifth). However, the only clear-cut head-to-head tiebreaker in that trio is SCSU vs. OSU, as the Huskies won the season series, 2-1-1. The other series (SCSU vs. BSU, and OSU vs. BSU) both resulted in splits.

- Stalder Secures Olympic Spot: Minnesota Duluth senior forward Lara Stalder moved overseas last week, but continued her torrid streak by scoring eight goals in three games to help Switzerland qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics. The Swiss defeated the Czech Republic (and UMD's Katerina Mrázová), 4-1 last Sunday.

- Every Game, Every Rink: Between a challenging nonconference slate and the gauntlet of arguably the nation's premier conference, WCHA teams are playing some of D-I's toughest schedules, per the RPI Strength-of-Schedule ledger.

  • As of Feb. 16, the country's top-five toughest schedules belong to WCHA teams, while the entire membership is in the top-15.
  • Minnesota Duluth has played D-I's toughest schedule to date, while Wisconsin ranks second, Bemidji State is third, St. Cloud State is fourth, North Dakota is fifth, Minnesota is ninth, Ohio State is 12th and Minnesota State is 13th.

- Winning Hockey: Despite these tough schedules, six WCHA teams have reached double-digit win totals, while half of league membership is at .500-or-better entering the weekend.

  • Wisconsin has the nation's top winning percentage at .903 (27-2-2). Minnesota is tied for fourth at .790 (23-5-4), Minnesota Duluth is seventh at .750 (20-5-5) and North Dakota is tied for 16th at .500 (13-13-6).

- We Are WCHA: Once again, the top-four teams in NCAA D-I women's hockey for average and total attendance are WCHA schools.

  • Wisconsin leads the country with an average of 3,037 fans per game (including 15 dates at LaBahn Arena and one home contest at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis.); Minnesota is second by welcoming 1,856 each night (including 13 dates at Ridder Arena and one home contest at Braemar Arena in Edina, Minn.); Minnesota Duluth ranks third by hosting 1,239 per contest at AMSOIL Arena; and, North Dakota is fourth with an average of 911 per game at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.

By the Numbers

- 5: Categories in which Wisconsin senior goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens leads the country: wins (23), winning percentage (.923, 23-1-2), goals-against average (0.76), save percentage (.957) and shutouts (12).

- 10: Straight shootout losses by Minnesota State, before earning the extra WCHA point in 10 rounds last Friday at Ohio State. Prior to that contest, the Mavericks last won a WCHA shootout on Oct. 19, 2012 against Minnesota Duluth.

- 12: Shootout rounds between victorious Wisconsin and Minnesota Duluth last Saturday, the second-longest in WCHA history. The only longer shootout was a 13-rounder, won by Bemidji State at Minnesota State on Nov. 6, 2009.

- 19: Point streak by Minnesota Duluth senior forward Ashleigh Brykaliuk between Dec. 10, 2016 and Feb. 4, 2017 -- the second-longest in program history Only Finnish Olympian Hanne Sikio recorded a longer scoring spree as Bulldog, posting a 23-game run during the 1999-2000 season.

- 56: NCAA-leading points total by Minnesota forward Kelly Pannek, on 17 goals and 39 assists. The junior also leads the country in points-per-game (1.81), assists, assists-per-game (1.26), power-play points (18) and face-offs won (437). She has tallied a point in 27 of the Gophers' 31 contests thus far.

- 982: NCAA-high saves by Ohio State redshirt-sophomore Kassidy Sauve, 139 more than the next-highest goaltender and 188 more than the second-place WCHA netminder. Sauve, who ranks third nationally with a .944 save percentage, is 104 stops from topping OSU's single-season record of 1,085 saves.


The Week Ahead

- No. 1 Wisconsin at No. 4 Minnesota: The Border Battle returns to Ridder Arena, after the Gophers and Badgers split Dec. 3-4 in Madison. Sunday's regular season finale will be televised live on the Big Ten Network.

- St. Cloud State at No. 2 Minnesota Duluth: The Huskies control their own destiny to earn the fifth seed for the 2017 WCHA Playoffs, while the second-ranked Bulldogs are looking for their most conference wins since either 2010-11 (18-7-3) or 2009-10 (20-6-2). UMD swept a road series Dec. 2-3.

- Minnesota State at Bemidji State: The Beavers are still mathematically alive for the fifth seed for the 2017 WCHA Playoffs, but need to take at least four points from the Mavericks and get some help along the way. The Mavericks won the opener Dec. 2 in Mankato, before BSU came back to earn a series split.

- Ohio State at North Dakota: The Buckeyes are just a point behind St. Cloud State for fifth place, while the Fighting Hawks are looking to snap a five-game winless skid. OSU earned four points, posting a tie and win, against UND on Dec. 2-3 in Columbus.


The Week in Review

- Top-ranked Wisconsin clinched the 2016-17 WCHA regular season championship -- the Badgers' second-straight title -- with a five-point weekend at home against No. 2 Minnesota Duluth, which was without five skaters all weekend.

- No. 5/4 Minnesota ran its winning streak to six games and its unbeaten run to eight-straight contests (7-0-1) with a sweep of visiting North Dakota.

- Ohio State ended its home schedule on a high note with a four-point weekend against visiting Minnesota State.

- St. Cloud State closed out its home schedule against Bemidji State, with both teams earning a win in the weekend split.

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


at No. 1 Wisconsin 1, No. 2 Minnesota Duluth 1 - OT (UW wins shootout, 3-2)
at No. 1 Wisconsin 8, No. 2 Minnesota Duluth 0
(Feb. 11 and 12 at LaBahn Arena; Madison, Wis.)

Top-ranked Wisconsin clinched the 2016-17 WCHA regular season championship -- the Badgers' second-straight title -- with a five-point weekend at home against No. 2 Minnesota Duluth, which was without five skaters all weekend.

The teams played a highly-entertaining, 1-1 tie Saturday in a contest that was not decided until the 12th shootout round, when Wisconsin finally earned the extra point. The Badgers' Sarah Nurse broke the scoreless tie with 10:43 to play in regulation, but the Bulldogs responded with the equalizer from freshman Sydney Brodt at the 14:38 mark. Following a scoreless overtime, the teams engaged in the second-longest shootout in WCHA history, finally won by UW freshman Mekenzie Steffen in the 12th round. UMD goaltender Maddie Rooney finished with 43 saves, keeping the Bulldogs in the game despite being outshot, 44-22.

Wisconsin clinched the regular season crown with a dominating effort in the series finale. Baylee Wellhausen led the way with her first career hat trick, Annie Pankowski scored twice, Ann-Renée Desbiens posted her 50th career shutout and the Badgers celebrated Senior Day and the league championship with a convincing, 8-0 victory.


at No. 5/4 Minnesota 4, North Dakota 2
at No. 5/4 Minnesota 6, North Dakota 2
(Feb. 10 and 11 at Ridder Arena; Minneapolis, Minn.)

No. 5/4 Minnesota ran its winning streak to six games and its unbeaten run to eight-straight contests (7-0-1) with a sweep of visiting North Dakota.

Friday night saw the Gophers take an early 2-0 lead, then put the game away late with a pair of empty-net goals for the 4-2 victory. Caitlin Reilly and Katie Robinson put the home team up by a pair midway through the second period, before UND's Hallie Theodosopoulos cut the deficit in half just before intermission. Kelly Pannek pushed the Minnesota lead back to two with an empty-net goal at the 18:25 mark of the third period; and, after Rebekah Kohlstad's power-play goal again narrowed the margin, Kate Schipper sealed the Gopher triumph.

Saturday night, the Gophers held the lead firmly from start to finish. Taylor Williamson led the charge with two of her team's first three goals, as Minnesota registered opened a 5-0 lead en route to a 6-2 victory. Caitlin Reilly also had a pair, to go along with goals from Cara Piazza and Sarah Potomak.


Minnesota State 1, at Ohio State 1 - OT (MSU wins shootout, 4-3)
at Ohio State 4, Minnesota State 2
(Feb. 10 and 11 at OSU Ice Rink; Columbus, Ohio)

Ohio State ended its home schedule on a high note with a four-point weekend against visiting Minnesota State.

The goaltenders were the stars Friday night, as each team could only muster a single goal in a 1-1 tie. Demi Gardner put Minnesota State on the board first near the end of the opening period with the fourth goal of her freshman campaign. The Buckeyes were unable to get anything past Brianna Quade until the closing minutes, when Maddy Field sent the game to overtime with her ninth goal of the season. Quade finished with 40 saves on 41 shots, while on the other end Kassidy Sauve made 24 stops. The Mavericks would get the extra point in a marathon, 10-round shootout -- the longest in Ohio State history.

The Buckeyes used a three-goal, second-period outburst to earn a 4-2 win in Saturday's series finale. Fittingly, OSU's two graduating seniors -- Breanne Grant and Katie Matheny -- each scored on Senior Day. Grant's second-period tally stood as the game-winner, while Matheny gave the Buckeyes a 4-0 lead 8:27 into the third period. Julianna Iafallo and Jessica Dunne also scored for OSU, while Steph Keryluk and Hannah Davidson found the back of the net for Minnesota State. Sauve made 24 saves in the win.


at St. Cloud State 5, Bemidji State 2
Bemidji State 3, at St. Cloud State 1
(Feb. 10 and 11 at Herb Brooks National Hockey Center; St. Cloud, Minn.)

St. Cloud State closed out its home schedule against Bemidji State, with both teams earning a win in the weekend split.

The Huskies used an all-around team effort to earn a 5-2 win in the series opener, as five different skaters - including four underclassmen - scored. After the teams traded goals in the first, SCSU took the lead 18 seconds into the middle frame off the stick of Hannah Potrykus. Janna Haeg followed less than three minutes later to push the Huskies' lead to 3-1, where it would remain until BSU's Emily Bergland scored at the 11:39 mark of the third period. SCSU quickly answered, however, with Julia Tylke and Payge Pena scoring down the stretch as the Huskies pulled away. Freshman goaltender Janine Alder made 34 saves for the victory.

The Beavers looked to make up ground in the standings Saturday evening, and used a pair of third-period goals to earn a much-needed, 3-1 victory. BSU's Ciscely Nelson and SCSU's Kayla Friesen traded second-period goals, and the game remained tied 1-1 deep into the final stanza. Beavers' defenseman Alexis Joyce snapped the tie with the game-winning goal with 4:17 remaining in regulation, while Lauren Miller added an empty-net goal to back a 30-save effort by goaltender Brittni Mowat.