In 2017-18, Wisconsin was the dominant team in the WCHA, with Ohio State a close second. Minnesota made things interesting, defeating the Badgers for the WCHA Final Faceoff title and earning an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. The league as a whole sent two teams to the Frozen Four, but for the very first time, the NCAA championship game did not feature a team from the WCHA. Teams like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio State, and Minnesota Duluth will all be hungry to get to that stage this year, and bring the title back to the conference for the first time since 2015-16.
Head Coach: Mark Johnson
2017-18 Record: 31-5-2 (20-2-2-2 WCHA)
Key Departures: F Claudia Kepler, F Baylee Wellhausen, D Lauren Williams
Key Returners: F Abby Roque, F Presley Norby, F Sam Cogan, F Sophia Shaver, F Alexis Mauermann, F Brette Pettet, D Mekenzie Steffen, D Mikaela Gardner, D Maddie Rolfes, D Natalie Buchbinder, D Grace Bowlby, G Kristen Campbell
Key Additions: F Annie Pankowski, F Emily Clark, F Sophie Shirley, F Britta Curl, D Nicole LaMantia
Breakout Candidate: F Brette Pettet. She scored just shy of 20 points as a freshman. I think she’ll be able to build off of that this season, even with a stacked forward group ahead of her.
3 Things to Know
- Seven Badgers were on the ice for this summer’s U22 Series: Campbell and Shirley for Canada, and Buchbinder, Curl, Gardner, Roque, and Shaver for the U.S. They were also well-represented at each country’s national team camp in September. At the U.S. National Team Evaluation Camp were Gardner, Pankowski, Rolfes, Shaver, Roque, and Buchbinder. Clark and Shirley attended Canada’s Fall Festival.
- Wisconsin led the country in shots on goal against per game with 19.84.
- Last season, Roque was second in the WCHA in faceoff wins with 436, and fourth in faceoff percentage with 59.9%.
The Badgers came up just short of two championships last season, losing to Minnesota in the WCHA Final Faceoff championship game and then to Colgate in the Frozen Four. They are in great position to get back to both of those stages this season and take home a trophy. Goaltender Kristen Campbell had a strong first year as starter, with a performance worthy of a Second Team All-America nod, and that gives the Badgers a certainty in net that Minnesota and Ohio State don’t have to start the year. Kepler and Wellhausen are notable losses, but they get a big boost from the return of Clark and Pankowski. Wisconsin also has a ton of experience on its blue line, something that I think will benefit them when it counts. With their depth, they are firmly in the top two of the WCHA and a likely challenger for a national championship.
Head Coach: Brad Frost
2017-18 Record: 24-11-3 (13-8-3-0 WCHA)
Key Departures: F Caitlin Reilly, F Cara Piazza, D Sydney Baldwin, G Sidney Peters
Key Returners: F Grace Zumwinkle, F Nicole Schammel, F Taylor Wente, F Alex Woken, D Sophie Skarzynski, D Olivia Knowles, D Patti Marshall, D Emily Brown, G Alex Gulstene
Key Additions: F Sarah Potomak, F Amy Potomak, F Kelly Pannek, F Taylor Heise, F Catie Skaja, F Emily Oden, D Grace Ostertag, Crystalyn Hengler, G Sydnee Scobee
Breakout Candidate: D Patti Marshall. With Baldwin’s departure, she should have a more prominent role, and she’s coming off of a 2-goal, 17-point sophomore year.
3 Things to Know
- The Gophers’ incoming class tops Neutral Zone’s rankings for the upcoming season. That’s probably because six of them are IIHF Under-18 World Championship alums; Amy Potomak was a member of Team Canada, and Heise, Skaja, Oden, Ostertag, and Hengler all won gold with Team USA.
- It could be a fairly interesting battle for the Gophers’ starting job between Scobee and Gulstene. Scobee is a junior transfer from Vermont and owns a career .923 save percentage and 2.59 GAA. Gulstene struggled a bit as a rookie, playing 13 games but recording a 2.37 GAA and .893 save percentage. For what it’s worth, they split the opening series against Mercyhurst.
- 2017-18 was the first time in seven years that Minnesota missed the Frozen Four. They needed an automatic bid to even get into the NCAA Tournament, which they accomplished after defeating Wisconsin in the WCHA championship game.
With their line-up restocked with two returning Olympians and a highly skilled rookie class, the Gophers should be in good shape to compete with Wisconsin for first in the WCHA, as well as earn a national championship. They need to sort out their goaltending, but Gulstene and Scobee are both capable goalies, so there isn’t a big reason to panic. Offensively, Minnesota will have a ton of depth; Pannek, the Potomak sisters, and Zumwinkle are all huge threats, while Heise should be an impact player right away. Their defense loses a big piece in Sydney Baldwin, but their blue line as a unit should be able to operate efficiently, with so many skilled, mobile defenders. Barring several meltdowns in goal, Minnesota won’t have a problem making the NCAA Tournament this year and has a good chance to take the WCHA crown.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Head Coach: Nadine Muzerall
2017-18 Record: 24-11-4 (14-6-4-3 WCHA)
Key Departures: F Julianna Iafallo, F Lauren Spring, D Dani Sadek, G Kassidy Sauvé
Key Returners: F Emma Maltais, F Tatum Skaggs, F Madison Field, F Charly Dahlquist, F Liz Schepers, D Jincy Dunne, D Lauren Boyle, G Amanda Zeglen
Key Additions: F Sara Saekkinen, D Madison Bizal, D Eve Savander, D Sophie Jaques, G Andrea Braendli
Breakout Candidate: F Liz Schepers. She didn’t lead the team in scoring like classmates Maltais and Skaggs, but she put together a respectable freshman season with 7 goals and 16 points, and there is room for her to take a more central role in the offense this year.
3 Things to Know
- The Buckeyes had their best season in program history last year, finishing second in the WCHA and reaching the Frozen Four for the first time.
- Ohio State might face the single biggest loss this season with Sauvé’s transfer to Clarkson. She was fifth in the country in save percentage (.938) in 2017-18, and faced the second-most shots out of any goalie who ranked within the top 10 (981). If you’re looking for more insight on her transfer and how the shot count played into it, I highly recommend this feature from The Victory Press.
- Maltais was named the WCHA Rookie of the Year in 2017-18 after leading the Buckeyes in scoring with 16 goals, 24 assists and 40 points (second in the conference).
Sauvé’s loss in net is a big one, especially when you consider the Buckeyes gave up the second-most shots on goal in the WCHA last season (1,131; only St. Cloud gave up more). They’ll have to hope that Zeglen, a sophomore, or Braendli, a freshman who represented Switzerland at the 2018 Olympics, can be just as reliable. Offensively, I think this team will be dangerous, with Maltais and Skaggs turning in great rookie performances. There is some nice depth up front, too. Dunne is the team’s driver on the blue line and I would expect her to play big minutes again, and Bizal and Savander are nice adds there, too. But totally limiting opponents probably won’t be Ohio State’s strong suit; they’ll have to rely on their skill and generating their own offense to repeat last season’s success.
Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs
Head Coach: Maura Crowell
2017-18 Record: 15-16-4 (10-11-3-2 WCHA)
Key Departures: F Kateřina Mrázová, F Michelle Löwenhielm, D Jessica Healey, D Catherine Daoust, G Jessica Convery
Key Returners: F Naomi Rogge, F Sydney Brodt, F Ashton Bell, F Ryleigh Houston, D Jalyn Elmes
Key Additions: F Gabbie Hughes, F Annike Linser, F Kylie Hanley, F Taylor Anderson, F McKenzie Hewett, D Maggie Flaherty, D Lizi Norton, D Kailee Skinner, G Maddie Rooney, G Emma Soderberg
Breakout Candidate: F Ashton Bell. After a 23-point freshman season, I’m excited to see where she takes her game this year.
3 Things to Know
- The Bulldogs are bringing in a really strong recruiting class. Hughes, Linser, Flaherty, and Norton were all members of the U.S. U18 Team, while Hanley was an alternate. Soderberg was a member of Sweden’s U18 Team, and Hewett and Skinner both represented their provinces at the Canadian U18 Nationals.
- Convery is graduating after recording a .920 save percentage last year, but I think UMD will be happy to make the trade off and have Rooney back. The redshirt junior backstopped Team USA to a gold medal at the 2018 Olympics and posted a .942 save percentage as a sophomore for the Bulldogs.
- Last season, UMD had the best power play in the WCHA, with a 23.4% success rate. They were the only team that scored on more than 20% of their power-play chances.
The Bulldogs had their struggles last year, but I think they’ll see definite improvements this year. They should compete with the top three in the WCHA, especially with Rooney in goal; she adds another dimension to their team. I also think the offense will get better; UMD had a good power play last season, Rogge and Bell should only get better as sophomores, Brodt is sure to be a leader up front, and Houston could really start to grow into her own after a full season with the team. Their biggest weakness is their defense. Elmes was very good as a two-way D, but Healey and Daoust were big parts of the blue line, and the Bulldogs graduate two other defenders (Linnea Hedin and Lynn Astrup). Flaherty and Norton should see significant minutes right away; I’m not sold on their ability to handle prime roles just yet, but if they take it in stride, the Bulldogs will have a lot of potential.
Bemidji State Beavers
Head Coach: Jim Scanlan
2017-18 Record: 16-19-3 (9-13-2-1 WCHA)
Key Departures: F Emma Terres, F Reilly Fawcett, F Bailey Wright, D Alexis Joyce, G Erin Deters
Key Returners: F Claire DeGeorge, F Haley Mack, F Paige Beebe, F Jacqueline Kaasa, D Mak Langei, D Tina Kampa, D Kara Werth, G Lauren Bench, G Kerigan Dowhy
Key Additions: F Ellie Moser, F Graysen Myers, D Lexi Cheveldayoff
Breakout Candidate: F Claire DeGeorge. She had a really strong rookie season, finishing third on the team in scoring with 23 points, and has played her way into the bigger USA Hockey picture, earning an invite to the U.S. Evaluation Camp earlier this month.
3 Things to Know
- All three Bemidji State goaltenders split time last year, with Deters seeing the least amount of action. Bench was decidedly *not* benched, seeing the most time in net with 19 games played and an 8-9-0 record. Dowhy played in 9 games and posted a .936 save percentage, 1.82 GAA, and a 5-2-1 record.
- The Beavers had 12 players reach double digits in points last year, and eight of those players return.
- The Beavers also had three players score 11 goals last year: Terres, Bergland, and Mack. Mack along with DeGeorge is probably their best shot to get a 20-goal scorer this season; that will be key to improving the offense.
The Beavers have a couple of different options in goal, but I think they’ll need one of Bench or Dowhy to emerge as a bona fide #1 to help Bemidji State compete for a higher seed in the standings. They have some good players up front, notably DeGeorge and Mack, and Langei is a good defender; she’ll probably be spotted No. 1 minutes, though, with Joyce’s graduation, so we’ll see how she handles that load. The Beavers were very close to .500 last season, and if their key players can keep trending upwards, they have an outside chance at moving into the top four, though that’s shaping up to be a tough group to crack.
St. Cloud State Huskies
Head Coach: Eric Rud
2017-18 Record: 8-20-5 (6-14-4-1 WCHA)
Key Departures: F Alyssa Erickson, D Emma Turbyville, D Brittney Anderson
Key Returners: F Laura Kluge, F Julia Tylke, F Kayla Friesen, F/D Hallie Theodosopoulos, D Abby Thiessen, D Rachel Herzog, D Taylor Wemple, G Janine Alder, G Emma Polusny
Key Additions: F Jenniina Nylund, F Allie Cornelius, D Taytum Geier
Breakout Candidate: F/D Hallie Theodosopoulos. She doubled her goal-scoring output from her freshman year with 8 goals last year.
3 Things to Know
- The Huskies have had quite a few representatives on the international stage recently. Alder competed for Switzerland at the 2018 Olympics, Polusny attended USA Hockey’s Evaluation Camp earlier this month and U22 Camp this summer, and Thiessen attended Hockey Canada’s Development Team camp in August.
- St. Cloud has what could easily be the best goaltending tandem in the conference – and the country. Alder posted a .935 save percentage in 14 games played, while Polusny posted a .934 save percentage in 20 games played. Both are sophomores this season.
- Kluge ranked fifth in the WCHA in rookie scoring last year with 24 points (7 goals, 17 assists).
I think the Huskies have some really nice pieces on their roster, starting with Polusny and Alder in net. Thiessen is a good defender who moves the puck well, and she’ll likely have more responsibility this season with Turbyville and Anderson both graduated. Up front, Tylke, Kluge, and Friesen are all skilled forwards who can create chances. St. Cloud’s biggest issue is depth. I think they have a few upsets in them this season, but I’m not sure how much they’ll move up the standings.
Minnesota State Mavericks
Head Coach: John Harrington
2017-18 Record: 5-28-1 (3-21-0-0 WCHA)
Key Departures: F Lindsay Coleman, F Hannah Davidson, F Amanda Conway, D Anna Keys
Key Returners: F Brittyn Fleming, F Emily Antony, F Jordan McLaughlin, F Corbin Boyd, F Rebekah Kolstad, D Megan Hinze, D Jessica Kondas, G Chloe Crosby, G Katie Bidulka
Key Additions: F Brooke Bryant, F Madison Oelkers, F Claire Butorac, D Morgan Hatcher, D Anna Wilgren, G Abigail Levy
Breakout Candidate: F Brittyn Fleming. She led the team in scoring as a freshman with 19 points.
3 Things to Know
- Crosby and Bidulka both split time in goal last season, and we’ll likely see the same again this season, as the Mavericks’ goalies tend to see a lot of rubber. Last season, Minnesota State gave up 1,034 shots on goal.
- Along with leading the team in scoring, Fleming led Minnesota State in faceoff wins with 170.
- Senior Anna Keys is a big loss on the blue line, though her offensive totals might not pop out at you. She was second in the conference in blocked shots with 83, to go along with a goal and 8 assists.
The Mavericks haven’t reached double digits in wins since 2013-14, and it’ll be tough for them to get there this year, too, with the top of the WCHA expected to be strong again. Some of their freshmen could contribute right away, but they’re not really adding any immediate impact players. And unlike a team like St. Cloud, they don’t have above-average goaltending going for them, either. I think they’ll struggle against the rest of the WCHA field this year.
Preseason All-WCHA Awards
Offensive Player of the Year: Annie Pankowski, Wisconsin
Defensive Player of the Year: Jincy Dunne, Ohio State
Goaltender of the Year: Kristen Campbell, Wisconsin
Rookie of the Year: Amy Potomak, Minnesota
All-WCHA First Team
Forwards: Annie Pankowski (Wisconsin), Sarah Potomak (Minnesota), Emma Maltais (Ohio State)
Defense: Jincy Dunne (Ohio State), Mekenzie Steffen (Wisconsin)
Goaltender: Kristen Campbell
All-WCHA Second Team
Forwards: Emily Clark (Wisconsin), Kelly Pannek (Minnesota), Clair DeGeorge (Bemidji State)
Defense: Sophie Skarzynski (Minnesota), Jalyn Elmes (Minnesota Duluth)
Goaltender: Maddie Rooney
All-WCHA Third Team
Forwards: Ryleigh Houston (Minnesota Duluth), Grace Zumwinkle (Minnesota), Julia Tylke (St. Cloud State)
Defense: Mikaela Gardner (Wisconsin), Patti Marshall (Minnesota)
Goaltender: Janine Alder (St. Cloud State)