2017-18 WCHA Women's League Preview
By Bill Brophy for WCHA.com
photo
Bemidji State senior defenseman Alexis Joyce

Bemidji State

Head Coach: Jim Scanlan, fourth season

Last season: 12-20-3 (7-18-3-1), finished in seventh place in the WCHA before falling in three games to Minnesota in the first round of the league tournament.

Key losses: Brittni Mowat, an all-American goalie and the WCHA's all-time saves leader, graduated and will be tough to replace. The Beavers also graduated veteran defensemen Madison Hutchinson and Lauren Miller, who had nine goals and 18 points.

Key returnees: Alexis Joyce is one of the best senior defensemen in the league. She scored four goals last year and has had at least 18 points in each of the last three seasons. She will be the nucleus of the blue line corps. The Beavers welcome back 17 letter-winners, including leading scorer Emily Bergland (16 goals and 25 points last season), a junior, along with Emma Terres (6 goals, 14 points) and Summer Thibodeau (4 goals, 9 points), two of the six seniors on the roster.

Top newcomers: Clair DeGeorge is the most highly touted of nine newcomers – a group Scanlan is "very excited about" – and arguably the best recruit in program history. The 5-foot, 10-inch power forward was one of three high school players invited to USA Hockey's national team selection camp over the summer. Freshman Lydia Passolt will get ice time at forward and Mak Langlei will be a member of the youthful defense. Freshman goalie Kerigan Dowhy is among three players who will try and replace Mowat, who established school goaltending records in most every significant statistical category.

Outlook: The Beavers averaged less than two goals per game last year. Seven of their top 10 scorers return. Scanlan said "That is the good news. The bad news is we didn't score a lot." He admits the biggest pre-season question mark is in goal, where Dowhy will compete with senior Erin Deters and redshirt freshman Lauren Bench for the starting job. Deters has appeared in 11 games and compiled a 3-5-1 record in three seasons with two career shutouts, a 2.45 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.


photo
Minnesota senior defenseman Sydney Baldwin

Minnesota

Coach: Brad Frost, 11th season

Last season: 26-8-5 (19-4-5-3), finished second in the WCHA for the second-straight season and qualified for the NCAA Frozen Four for the sixth-straight campaign.

Key losses: The Gophers lost their top seven leading scorers. Linemates Dani Cameranesi, Kelly Pannek and Sarah Potomak all scored 18 or more goals last year and all are gone this season. Cameranesi graduated and Pannek, the country's top scorer last season with 62 points, is playing for the U.S. National team while Potomak is with Team Canada. Former Olympian and all-American Lee Stecklein, a premier defenseman who played in the Frozen Four each of her seasons with the Gophers, was one of six players who graduated after watching her class post a 133-17-11 record (.860).

Key returnees: Senior co-captains Sydney Baldwin, a defenseman, and Caitlin Reilly, the leading returning goal scorer with eight, are back but Nicole Schammel, who had six goals last season, and Lindsay Agnew, who had three as a freshman, will need to step up their offensive production. Frost, in talking about the opportunities on this year's roster, noted that freshmen will have every opportunity to be on top lines. Sidney Peters also returns in goal.

Top newcomers: The WCHA coaches voted Grace Zumwinkle as the preseason rookie of the year. She has impressed with her big shot at the IIHF World 18 championships. Alex Gulstene was in net for Team USA when the Americans won the last two gold medals at the IIHF World U18 championships and will get a chance to compete with Peters for the goalie job. Taylor Wente, also a gold medalist for Team USA at the U18s, will be in the mix at forward for the Gophers as well, along with Jackie Pieper, a transfer from Merrimack.

Outlook: The Gophers are the WCHA coaches' preseason pick to win the league title and are ranked third in the first USCHO and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls of the new season. But this is a Gopher team with a much different look. Minnesota lost 70 percent (120 goals) of its offensive production through graduation or players centralizing on their respective Olympic teams, so it will ask a lot of its highly touted freshmen like Zumwinkle and Gulstene and increased production from Piazza, Agnew and Cara Piazza. "They have a great opportunity to make an impact," said Frost.


photo
Minnesota Duluth senior forward Katerina Mrázová

Minnesota Duluth

Coach: Maura Crowell, third season

Last season: 25-7-5 (19-5-4-1), finished in third place in the WCHA, reached the championship game and lost to Wisconsin in the Final Face-Off and then lost to Minnesota in the NCAA quarterfinals.

Key losses: Lara Stalder, the WCHA Player of the Year and a top-3 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, who scored 23 goals and 56 points, and Ashleigh Brykaliuk (17-28=45) graduated, along with WCHA Defenseman of the Year Sidney Morin (8-16=24). Additionally, goalie Maddie Rooney, the MVP of the Final Face-Off last season, is away from school while playing for Team USA in preparation for the 2018 Winter Olympics. The graduating UMD seniors accounted for 81 of UMD's 110 goals last season. In addition, Brooklynn Schugel, who had five goals as a freshman last season, will miss this season with a torn anterior cruciate injury.

Key returnees: Senior Katerina Mrázová, who had nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points last season, and sophomore Sydney Brodt (8-13=21) return, along with Swedish Olympian Michelle Löwenhielm. Senior Jessica Healey and sophomore Jayln Elmes are back on the blue line.

Top newcomers: UMD has 12 new players, including 10 freshmen – the second-biggest freshman class in program history. The Bulldogs added Ryleigh Houston, a member of the all-WCHA rookie team last season at North Dakota with eight goals and 18 assists for 26 points, while Minnesota Duluth also picked up arguably UND's top recruit, Ashton Bell, who spent time at Canada's Development Camp in August. Both are expected to make a big impact on the Bulldogs front line, where seven total forwards will be rookies. UMD also added ex-Mercyhurst goalie Jessica Convery, who transferred over the summer for her senior season. "I didn't see that coming when trying to figure this out," admitted Crowell, who said Catherine Johnson and Hanna Markel will also compete for the job between the pipes.

Outlook: Crowell was named WCHA and national coach of the year after the Bulldogs reached the NCAA tournament, won 25 games and regained national prominence last season. Now she faces the challenges of rebuilding with many new faces on her staff (assistant coach Chris Connelly resigned just days before the season opener) and in her lineup. The Bulldogs were picked to finish in a tie for third by WCHA coaches and are nationally ranked again in preseason polls, so hockey folks believe UMD can find a goalie, reshuffle its lineup to find some goal scoring and be a power again in 2017-18.


photo
Minnesota State senior defenseman Anna Keys

Minnesota State

Coach: John Harrington, 3rd season

Last season: 7-26-4 (4-21-3-1), finished in eighth place in the WCHA and lost to Wisconsin in the first round of the league tournament.

Key losses: Goalie Brianna Quade, who has been a presence between the pipes over the last three years and finished fifth all-time in most saves in school history, graduated, along with defenseman Anna Fiegert.

Key returnees: The Mavericks return their top five scorers – junior forwards Emily Antony (7 goals, 14 points) and Corbin Boyd (2-11=13), senior forwards Lindsay Coleman (5-8=13) and Hannah Davidson (4-8=12) and senior defenseman Anna Keys (3-8=11). Keys is among a group of shot-blocking blue-liners which makes the Mavs tough to play against. Chloe Crosby and Katie Bidulka will battle for the goaltending job.

Key newcomers: The Mavs have five newcomers – including forward Rebekah Kolstad, who returns to her hometown as a junior after spending her first two years with the now-defunct North Dakota program. Harrington is excited about the play of freshman forwards Brittyn Fleming and Mariah Gardner.

Outlook: The Mavericks have finished last in the WCHA in each of the last three seasons, but they have shown signs of improvement. The Mavs won seven games last year, more than doubling their total from the previous two seasons, with four of the victories coming in league play (they had no WCHA wins the previous season and just one the year before that.) As Harrington points out, the team of 21 freshmen and sophomores that he inherited in 2015 has grown up into juniors and seniors. Now the Mavs need to use their experience to score some goals, find a goalie to replace Quade and take the next step in the rebuilding process.


photo
Ohio State junior goaltender Kassidy Sauve

Ohio State

Coach: Nadine Muzerall, 2nd season

Last season: 14-18-5 (7-16-5-2), finished fifth in the WCHA and lost to North Dakota in a three-game, first-round league playoff series.

Key losses: Senior forwards Katie Matheny (7 goals last season) and Breanna Grant (2 goals) graduated.

Key returnees: Kassidy Sauve, a second team all-American in 2016-17 after setting single-season school records in saves and save percentage, is the coaches' choice as the WCHA pre-season Player of the Year – and her presence in net gives the Buckeyes great hope. Defensemen Dani Sadek (3-12=15), Jincy Dunne, an all-WCHA rookie team member when she scored 4 goals and 14 points last season, and Lauren Boyle (6-8=14) help solidify a veteran and strong blue line. Maddy Field (14 goals and 30 points) and Julianna Iafallo (7-12=19) are coming off good seasons.

Top newcomers: The Buckeyes have seven freshmen and have added two junior forwards via transfer. Charly Dahlquist had eight goals and 15 points as a sophomore at North Dakota last season, while Harvard transfer Grace Zarzecki is a two-time U18 national team player that scored 10 goals as a rookie. She played just seven games for the Crimson last season before getting shut down because of injury. Emma Maltais, who was invited to Canada's Olympic camp this summer, and Tatum Skaggs are the freshmen forwards who figure to get ice time for a team that struggled to score at times last season.

Outlook: The Buckeyes are picked by coaches to finish in third place and as Muzerall noted, "It has been awhile since we were ranked that high." But with Sauve coming off an all-American season, everyone back on defense and more depth at forward, optimism is rampant in Muzerall's second season in Columbus.


photo
St. Cloud State junior forward Julia Tylke

St. Cloud State

Coach: Eric Rud, 4th season

Last season: 9-23-4 (7-18-3-2), finished in sixth place in the WCHA and lost to Minnesota Duluth in a first round league playoff series.

Key losses: Senior forwards Lauren Hespenheide (4 goals, 11 points) and Payge Pena (6-7=13) graduated.

Key returnees: SCSU returns 75 percent of its goals and 71 percent of its offensive production from last season, including its top four goal-scorers and point-getters -- junior forward Julia Tylke (12 goals, 20 points), sophomore forward Kayla Friesen (7-11=18), senior forward Alyssa Erickson (8-7=15) and junior forward Hannah Potrykus (7-8=15). Goalie Janine Alder, a former member of the Swiss national team, returns after a strong rookie season in which she matched the school single-season record with three shutouts, to go along with a 2.55 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.

Top newcomers: The Huskies have 11 incoming freshman and transfers as well as redshirt sophomore forward Dana Rasmussen, who sat out last season after transferring from Ohio State. Forward Hallie Theodosopoulos and sophomore defenseman Abby Thiessen both join the Huskies after moving from Grand Forks, N.D. Defenseman Taylor Wemple also joined the Huskies after the announcement cutting North Dakota's program. Wemple is one of five newcomers—including four freshmen on the blue line. "She is an elite skater and showed in her first year in college hockey that she's a really strong defender," Rud said of Thiessen. "When you can bring a ready-made defender into your program it's an advantage because it doesn't happen often."

Outlook: With a veteran goaltender in Alder and many of its top scorers back, Rud is feeling optimistic, even if league coaches predicted St. Cloud would finish in sixth place. "Each year I have been here we have finished ahead of where we were predicted to," Rud said. "We feel we have everything going in the right direction."


photo
Wisconsin sophomore forward Abby Roque

Wisconsin

Coach: Mark Johnson, 15th season

Last season: 33-3-4 (22-2-4-3), won the WCHA regular season title for the second-straight season and sixth time overall, was runner-up at the NCAA Frozen Four and was WCHA Final Faceoff playoff champion for the third-straight season and a record seventh time.

Key losses: Goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens, the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner who set an NCAA record for career shutouts, graduated and is playing on the Canadian national team along with forwards Sarah Nurse, who graduated, and Emily Clark, who has a year of eligibility remaining at UW. Forward Annie Pankowski is also on hiatus, playing with Team USA. Defensemen Jenny Ryan and Mellissa Channell, four-year regulars, also graduated.

Key returnees: Forward Abby Roque, the 2016-17 WCHA Rookie of the Year following an eight-goal, 28-point freshman campaign, got one vote as the league preseason player of the year and will be asked to help shoulder some of the scoring load. She joins junior Sam Cogan (11-15=26 last year), sophomore Presley Norby (6-15=21), junior Sophia Shaver (3-15=18) and senior Baylee Wellhausen (15-7=22), all veterans from past Frozen Fours.

Top newcomers: Kristen Campbell, a sophomore that transferred from North Dakota after the school dropped the program, and freshman Breanna Blesi, will compete for the goaltending job. UW should also get a boost from senior transfer Claudia Kepler, who played three seasons at Ohio State and led the Buckeyes in scoring as a junior in 2015-2016 before sitting out last season. The Badgers also have some freshmen who will make an impact. Defensemen Grace Bowlby and Natalie Buchbinder, a U.S. national U18 team veteran, are touted recruits, and rookie forwards Delaney Drake and Brette Pettet will get a chance to play regularly.

Outlook: Despite being without the top four scorers and their Patty Kaz-winning goaltender from last season's national runner-up team, the Badgers are ranked No. 2 in the preseason USCHO and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls, and are the preseason WCHA runner-up among league coaches. Johnson said this is the youngest team he has coached at Wisconsin with 16 freshmen and sophomores, and said how the young players develop will determine the success of the Badgers. The coaches predict the Border Battle rivals will once again determine who wins the WCHA.