- It's Time for Playoff Hockey: Following another terrific regular season, the women's Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) begins its postseason this weekend with the best-of-three quarterfinal round.
- Back-to-back WCHA regular season champion Wisconsin, the tournament's top seed, will host eighth-seeded Minnesota State. Minnesota, the two-time defending national champ and the WCHA's second seed, welcomes seventh-seeded Bemidji State. Minnesota Duluth, the No. 3 seed, faces off against No. 6 seed St. Cloud State; and, fourth-seeded North Dakota hosts the No. 5 seed, Ohio State (full previews are below).
- Topping the Polls: 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 -- which has been atop the rankings since the preseason -- 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, 3 and 5, respectively, in the current PairWise rankings.
- Back-to-Back for the Badgers: Top-ranked Wisconsin won the 2016-17 WCHA regular season championship, its second-straight league title and sixth in program history (all under head coach Mark Johnson, the most by any bench boss 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.
- Better than Before: Three WCHA teams concluded the regular season having amassed more victories than they did in all of the 2015-16 campaign.
- Minnesota Duluth improved by seven wins overall and nine in league play during the second year of the Maura Crowell era. The Bulldogs, who enter the postseason 22-5-5 overall, went 19-5-4-1 in WCHA play for their most league wins since the 2009-10 season. Also, UMD's third-place finish in the league standings is the program's highest since tying for second in 2010-11.
- Minnesota State has won seven games thus far, more than the Mavericks did in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons combined (six). Under second-year head coach John Harrington, the Mavs also won four WCHA games this season after combining for just one in the past two years.
- Head coach Nadine Muzerall has led Ohio State to a 13-16-5 record thus far in her debut season, a three-game improvement over the Buckeyes' final 10-25-1 mark of 2015-16. The Buckeyes also jumped from seventh in the WCHA standings last year to fifth in 2016-17.
- 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. 22, the country's top-six toughest schedules belong to WCHA teams, while the entire membership is in the top-20.
- Wisconsin has played D-I's toughest schedule to date, while Minnesota Duluth ranks second, St. Cloud State is third, Minnesota is fourth, North Dakota is fifth, Bemidji State is sixth, Ohio State is 11th and Minnesota State is 18th.
- 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 postseason.
- Wisconsin has the nation's top winning percentage at .879 (27-2-4). Minnesota is tied for fourth at .773 (23-5-5), Minnesota Duluth is seventh at .766 (22-5-5) and North Dakota is 17th at .500 (14-14-6).
- 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 2,038 each night (including 15 dates at Ridder Arena and one home contest at Braemar Arena in Edina, Minn.); Minnesota Duluth ranks third by hosting 1,217 per contest at AMSOIL Arena; and, North Dakota is fourth with an average of 904 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 (.893, 23-1-4), goals-against average (0.74), save percentage (.961) and shutouts (13).
- 16: Wisconsin's active unbeaten streak, the longest in the country. The Badgers are 13-0-3, having outscored their opponents 72-12 during the stretch.
- 46: Saves needed by Kassidy Sauve to set Ohio State's single-season record. The redshirt-sophomore leads the country with 1,040 stops this season, the 19th-best single-season total in NCAA women's history. She is looking to better Lisa Steffes' OSU mark of 1,085 saves set during the 2010-11 campaign.
- 47: Points by Lara Stalder, the most by a Minnesota Duluth skater entering the postseason since Emmanuelle Blais ran up 49 points in 2009-10. The senior enters the quarterfinal round of the 2017 WCHA Playoffs with a career-long 11 game scoring streak intact (21 points on 11 goals and 10 assists).
- 57: NCAA-leading points total by Minnesota forward Kelly Pannek, on 17 goals and 40 assists. The junior also leads the country in points-per-game (1.73), assists, assists-per-game (1.21), power-play points (18) and face-offs won (478). She has tallied a point in 28 of the Gophers' 33 contests thus far.
- 3,522: Career saves by Brittni Mowat, most in Bemidji State history. The senior goaltender is now the Beavers' career leader in games played (131), minutes (7718:31), wins (61), GAA (2.04), save percentage (.931) and saves (3,522).
The Week Ahead – 2017 WCHA Playoffs (Quarterfinal Round)
- (8) Minnesota State at (1) Wisconsin: The Mavericks and Badgers meet in the quarterfinals for the second-straight season, following a Wisconsin sweep in the 2016 WCHA Playoffs. UW, the two-time defending WCHA Final Face-Off champion, has an eight-game winning streak in the league postseason and is 41-14 all-time. The Mavericks' last victory in the WCHA Playoffs came at then-No. 2 Wisconsin on March 1, 2014. UW swept the regular season series.
- (7) Bemidji State at (2) Minnesota: The Gophers and Beavers meet for the first time in postseason play since BSU's 1-0 victory in 2015 WCHA Final Face-Off semifinal. Minnesota, which went 3-1-0 against Bemidji State in the regular season, has advanced to the Final Face-Off each season in league history.
- (6) St. Cloud State at (3) Minnesota Duluth: The Huskies return to Duluth just five days after the Bulldogs completed a sweep to end the regular season (UMD's second of SCSU in 2016-17). In the teams' only previous postseason meeting, UMD won a decisive game three at home in 2007.
- (5) Ohio State at (4) North Dakota: These teams split last weekend in Grand Forks, and now meet again a week later in what promises to be a tightly-contested series. The Buckeyes won the season series, 2-1-1, with all four games being decided by two-goals-or-less (including two one-goal contests and a tie). The teams last met in the WCHA Tournament in 2015, when host North Dakota swept to advance to the Final Face-Off.
The Week in Review
- In a heavyweight matchup between the top two teams in the WCHA standings, top-ranked Wisconsin and No. 4 Minnesota skated to a pair of ties to close out the regular season (with each winning one shootout apiece).
- Minnesota Duluth capped its best WCHA season since 2010-11 in strong fashion, as the No. 2 Bulldogs swept visiting St. Cloud State.
- In a matchup that will be played out again in this weekend's quarterfinal round of the 2017 WCHA Playoffs, North Dakota and Ohio State split a pair of tightly-contested games.
- Bemidji State and Minnesota State closed out the regular season with a split, as the Beavers used an offensive outburst to win Friday before the Mavericks' Chloe Crosby earned her first career victory Saturday.
- Full recaps and box scores are available at wcha.com.
No. 1 Wisconsin 1, at No. 4 Minnesota 1 - OT (UW wins shootout, 2-1)
at No. 4 Minnesota 1, No. 1 Wisconsin 1 - OT (UMN wins shootout, 1-0)
(Feb. 18 and 19 at Ridder Arena; Minneapolis, Minn.)
In a heavyweight matchup between the top two teams in the WCHA standings, top-ranked Wisconsin and No. 4 Minnesota skated to a pair of ties to close out the regular season (with each winning one shootout apiece).
Saturday, the teams found it near impossible to find the back of the net as goaltenders Ann-Renée Desbiens (Wisconsin) and Sidney Peters (Minnesota) began their weekend-long duel. The teams went 39:57 without registering a goal, before the Gophers' Nicole Schammel scored just three seconds before the second intermission. UW senior Sarah Nurse thwarted Peters' shutout bid, scoring with 6:25 remaining in regulation to force overtime, tied 1-1. After the teams remained scoreless through overtime, Nurse and Jenny Ryan scored in a five-round shootout victory for the Badgers. Desbiens stopped 34 of 35 shots through 65 minutes for Wisconsin, while Peters had 30 saves for Minnesota.
The two goaltenders were even better Sunday, as the teams skated to a scoreless tie. Peters made a career-high 38 saves, while Desbiens finished with 35. Lee Stecklein netted the only shootout goal, giving the Gophers the extra WCHA point in front of 3,129 fans at Ridder Arena.
at No. 2 Minnesota Duluth 2, St. Cloud State 1
at No. 2 Minnesota Duluth 4, St. Cloud State 1
(Feb. 17 and 18 at AMSOIL Arena; Duluth, Minn.)
Minnesota Duluth capped its best WCHA season since 2010-11 in strong fashion, as the No. 2 Bulldogs swept visiting St. Cloud State.
With the Huskies looking to stay in fifth place and the Bulldogs gunning for the second seed, the teams found hard to come by in Friday's series opener. UMD opened the scoring 4:18 into the game, as Katherine McGovern's goal gave the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead they held until the third period, when freshman Sydney Brodt expanded the advantage to two goals. St. Cloud State's Janna Haeg scored in the last minute with the extra attacker, but Bulldog goaltender Maddie Rooney posted 28 saves to finish off the 2-1 UMD victory. On the other end of the ice, SCSU goaltender Janine Alder finished with 38 saves of her own.
On senior night, the Bulldogs got a heavy output from their graduating players to close the regular season out with a win. After Brodt gave the home team an early advantage, senior forwards Ashleigh Brykaliuk, Demi Crossman and McGovern all found the back of the net to propel UMD to a 4-1 triumph.
Ohio State 4, at North Dakota 2
at North Dakota 3, Ohio State 2
(Feb. 17 and 18 at Ralph Engelstad Arena; Grand Forks, N.D.)
In a matchup that will be played out again in this weekend's quarterfinal round of the 2017 WCHA Playoffs, North Dakota and Ohio State split a pair of tightly-contested games.
Friday night, North Dakota kept the puck moving on the offensive end; but, despite outshooting the visitors 34-15, the Fighting Hawks were stymied by Buckeye goaltender Kassidy Sauve in a 4-2 OSU victory. The Buckeyes' Maddy Field opened a two-goal night and three-score weekend with the only goal of the first period. After the teams traded goals early in the second, Samantha Bouley put the Buckeyes in the driver seat with her sixth goal of the season. UND freshman Ryleigh Houston cut the lead in half early in the third, but soon after Field iced the victory for the Buckeyes. Sauve tallied 32 saves for OSU in a victory that ultimately gave the Buckeyes the fifth seed for the 2017 WCHA Playoffs.
The Fighting Hawks entered the postseason on a high note, snapping a six-game losing streak with a 3-2 victory in Saturday's series finale. UND's offensive pressure paid off, as freshman Emma Nuutinen got the Hawks on the board first with her ninth goal of the season early in the first period. After Field tied the game up a few minutes into the middle frame, UND's Kayla Gardner answered less than two minutes later. Charly Dahlquist gave the Fighting Hawks a two-goal, third-period lead and, despite a late goal by OSU's Lauren Spring, UND held on for the one-goal victory.
at Bemidji State 6, Minnesota State 1
Minnesota State 3, at Bemidji State 1
(Feb. 17 and 18 at Sanford Center; Bemidji, Minn.)
Bemidji State and Minnesota State closed out the regular season with a split, as the Beavers used an offensive outburst to win Friday before the Mavericks' Chloe Crosby earned her first career victory Saturday.
Friday night, sophomore Emily Bergland led the charge with a pair of goals -- including the power-play game-winner and a short-handed tally -- as the Beavers clicked offensively. After Abby Halluska and Bergland gave the home team a 3-0 lead, the Beavers then received goals from Haley Mack, Lauren Miller and Ciscely Nelson before Minnesota State scored its only goal of the night. Brittni Mowat made 18 saves for Bemidji State in a 6-1 victory.
The Beavers continued to barrage Crosby in the finale, but the freshman held her ground, stopping 41 of 42 to lead the Mavericks to victory in just her second career start. Maverick juniors Anna Keys and Amanda Martin gave their team a 2-0 advantage early in the second, but Bergland netted her third goal of the weekend to close the gap heading into the final period of play. With the Beavers knocking on the door, another Minnesota State junior came through as Amanda Conway scored 4:14 into the third period. Crosby made 11 saves over the final 20 minutes as the Mavericks earned the split with a 3-1 victory.