The Beaver Radio Network

2016-17 WCHA Women’s Hockey Preview

Tonight, the Western Collegiate Hockey Conference opens up the 2016-17 campaign coming off its 16th national championship in 17 years of Division I women’s hockey. The 2015-16 national title was the seventh in program history for the University of Minnesota.

A week ago, the WCHA hosted the preseason women’s coaches’ media teleconference where they announced the preseason player of the year and rookie of the year honors along with the coaches’ poll. Each of the eight member schools were represented by their coaches, including the newly hired assistant coach for Ohio State Jessica Koizumi who spoke in place of first-year head coach Nadine Muzerall.

First year Women’s League Commissioner and WCHA Vice President Katie Million welcomed everyone to the call.

WCHA Women’s League Commissioner Katie Million Audio

Greg Shepherd, Supervisor of Officials, spoke about rule changes and points of emphasis for the 2016-17 women’s hockey season. Players will now be required to wear their helmets on the ice at all times, including pregame skate with the exception of when they remove them for the National Anthem. It was also announced that players will not be penalized for not wearing a mouth guard, it will be optional.

WCHA Supervisor of Officials Greg Shepherd Audio


In the WCHA preseason coaches’ poll, the University of Wisconsin claims the top spot after winning the 2015-16 conference title. League coaches feel that Mark Johnson’s Badgers could repeat this season considering they return one of the nation’s top goaltenders, Ann-Renée Desbiens who was last season’s WCHA Player of the Year and this season’s Preseason Player of the Year. Desbiens broke NCAA single-season records in 2015-16 for shutouts (21), save percentage (.960) and goals-against average (0.76). Despite graduating eight players, the Badgers only lost three of their top ten scorers. UW returns All-WCHA First Team member Annie Pankowski who was the first Badger to tally over 50 points in a season since 2012-13 (21g-34a=55pts). Plus, the Badgers boast five current players who were drafted in the 2016 NWHL Draft: Desbiens, Sarah Nuse, Jenny Ryan, Mellissa Channell and Sydney McKibbon.

Wisconsin Head Coach Mark Johnson Audio

– 2015-2016 Record: Overall 35-4-1 (1st Place, WCHA 24-3-1-1)
– Players to Watch 2016: Ann-Renée Desbiens (NCAA all-time single-season record holder with 18 shutouts, 2015-16 WCHA Player of the Year, Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award top-3 finalist, NWHL Boston Pride 1st Round – 4th Pick Overall, CCM All-American First Team), Annie Pankowski (USA Hockey U22, U18, 2015 Women’s Winter Training Camp, CCM All-American Second Team), Sarah Nurse (Team leading 25 goals last year, NWHL Boston Pride 2nd Round – 8th Pick Overall), Emily Clark (Canadian National Team – 2016 WWC), Sophia Shaver (USA Hockey U22)
– Key Departures: Graduated 8 including Courtney Burke (NWHL New York Riveters).
– Notable Incoming Freshmen: 7 freshman including two who were in a three-way tie for WCHA Preseason Rookies of the Year: Presley Norby (Represented Team USA at the 2015 Four Nations Cup, helping the team win gold as the youngest player on its roster at 17 years old, Ms. Hockey Minnesota) and Abby Roque (Team USA U18, won silver at the 2014 IIHF World Championships and gold at the 2015 IIHF World Championships)

Entering at #2 is the University of Minnesota, who just won its fourth national championship in the past five years. Unfortunately for the Gophers, they have some big holes to fill with the graduation of stellar goaltender Amanda Leveille, along with one of the country’s top forwards and Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award top-10 finalist Hannah Brandt. Minnesota returns last year’s WCHA & National Rookie of the Year, Sarah Potomak, who led all NCAA rookies with 37 assists and 49 points. The Gophers also welcome back WCHA scoring champion and All-WCHA First Team member Dani Cameranesi who recorded 67 overall points (32g-35a) along with repeat First Team member Lee Stecklein who boasted a +31 rating. Stecklein and Cameranesi were both taken in the NWHL Draft this year.

Minnesota Head Coach Brad Frost Audio

– 2015-2016 Record: Overall 35-4-1 (2nd Place, WCHA 24-3-1-0)
– Players to Watch 2016: Sarah Potomak (2015-16 Women’s National Rookie of the Year and WCHA Rookie of the Year), Lee Stecklein (CCM All-American Second Team 2015 and 2016, Buffalo Beauts 1st Round – 2nd overall pick, Dani Cameranesi (CCM All-American Second Team 2015 and 2016, Connecticut Whale 1st Round – 3rd overall pick)
– Key Departures: Graduated 5 including goaltender Amanda Leveille (NWHL Buffalo Beauts), Hannah Brandt (All-WCHA First Team, Minnesota Whitecaps, Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award top-10 finalist), Milica McMillen (NWHL New York Riveters), and Amanda Kessel (NWHL New York Riveters)
– Notable Incoming Freshmen: Lindsay Agnew (Forward, WCHA Preseason Rookie of the Year, Canada U18)

North Dakota comes in third place in the preseason poll. UND graduated eight, but return a pair of recent NWHL draftees Halli Krzyzaniak and Amy Menke, the All-WCHA Second Team player who paced the Fighting Hawks with 40 points last season (19g-21a). Krzyzaniak, an All-WCHA Third Team defender and member of the U22 Canadian National Team, added 17 points for UND a season ago. The biggest loss for UND comes in net with the graduation of Shelby Amsley-Benzie, a two-time, top-10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, a 2015 All-American and WCHA Goaltending Champion who posted a 67-33-10 career record. The Fighting Hawks also welcome 7 freshmen including Ryleigh Houston who played for the Canadian Women’s Under-18 team during the IIHF Women’s U-18 World Championships in 2015 and 2016.

North Dakota Head Coach Brian Idalski Audio

– 2015-2016 Record: Overall 18-12-5 (4th Place, WCHA 13-10-5-3)
– Players to Watch 2016: Amy Menke (NWHL New York Riveters 5th Round – 17th overall pick), Halli Krzyzaniak (NWHL Boston Pride 4th Round – 16th overall pick)
– Key Departures: Shelby Amsley-Benzie (2015-16 All-WCHA Third Team, a two-time, top-10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, a 2015 All-American and 2015 WCHA Goaltending Champion), Meghan Dufault (2nd in scoring with 12g-23a=35pts), Becca Kohler (3rd in scoring with 16g-15a=31pts)
– Notable Incoming Freshmen: 10 incoming freshmen including Ryleigh Huston (Forward, Canada U18 2015 and 2016 IIHF WWC)

Minnesota Duluth enters the season ranked fourth under second year head coach Maura Crowell. The Bulldogs only graduated three players and return seniors Ashleigh Brykaliuk and Lara Stalder, both drafted by the Boston Pride in the 2016 NWHL Draft. Brykaliuk led the Bulldogs in scoring last season with 47 points (18g-29a). They also will look for solid backstopping by WCHA All-Rookie Team goaltender Maddie Rooney who made 483 saves. UMD also gained some respect by upsetting nationally ranked Bemidji State in the first round of the 2015-16 WCHA playoffs. The Bulldogs welcome five freshman to their roster this season.

Minnesota Duluth Head Coach Maura Crowell Audio

– 2015-2016 Record: Overall 15-21-1 (6th Place, WCHA 10-17-1-0)
– Players to Watch 2016: Ashleigh Brykaliuk (NWHL Boston Pride, 3rd Round – 12th overall pick), Lara Stalder (NWHL Boston Pride, 5th Round – 20th overall pick)
– Key Departures: Graduated 3 players including Michela Cava (led the Bulldogs with 19 goals in 2015-16, CWHL Toronto Furies 3rd Round – 12th overall pick), Kayla Black (Goaltender, split the season)
– Notable Incoming Freshmen: Jalyn Elmes (Defense, Canada U18), Sydney Brodt (Forward, USA U18)

Bemidji State, which set a program record with 22 wins and finished 3rd in the league standings last season, was surprisingly selected to finish in fifth place in the preseason coaches’ poll. The Beavers graduated eight last season, including five of their top seven scorers, four of which are playing professional hockey. BSU may have some big holes to fill on offense, but will have the cool and calm Brittni Mowat between the pipes again for her senior season, along with a couple of veteran defenders in junior Alexis Joyce, senior captain Madison Hutchinson and All-WCHA Rookie Team member Melissa Hunt. Mowat has a history of success, coming up clutch in big games and has earned the respect of her peers and has received league honors each of her three previous seasons. Another position that will need to be filled is the one left by defender Ivana Bilic, one of the nation’s leading shot blockers who is now playing in the NWHL with the Connecticut Whale. BSU Head Coach Jim Scanlan is excited to see his veterans rise to the occasion when the puck drops on September 30th.

Bemidji State Head Coach Jim Scanlan Audio

– 2015-2016 Record: Overall 22-11-3 (2nd Place, WCHA 17-9-2-1)
– Players to Watch 2016: Senior goaltender Brittni Mowat (2015-16 All-WCHA Second Team, 2014-15 All-WCHA First Team, 2013-14 All-WCHA Rookie Team), senior forward Lauren Miller (8G-8a=16pts), junior defender Alexis Joyce (8g-12a=20pts), sophomore defender Melissa Hunt (2015-16 All-WCHA Rookie Team)
– Key Departures: Kaitlyn Tougas (led the Beavers with 21 assists & 29 points, CWHL Brampton 4th Round – 18th overall pick), Stephanie Anderson (USA Hockey, 2015 WWC, Minnesota Whitecaps), Ivana Bilic (2016 WCHA Defensive Player of the Year, NWHL Connecticut Whale, Canadian National Development Program), Hannah Moher (Playing Pro Hockey in Sweden for HV71)
– Notable Incoming Freshmen: Kiki Radke (Forward, USA National Hockey Development Camp for three years), Jacqueline Kaasa (Forward, USA National Hockey Team Development Camp in 2012 and 2013)

St. Cloud has improved each year since three year head coach Eric Rud stepped onto the ice at the National Hockey Center. The 2015-16 Huskies came off its best campaign since 2009-10 and was tabbed for sixth in the 2016-17 preseason WCHA poll. Unfortunately for the Huskies, they graduated two of their top five scorers, Molly Illikainen and Lexi Slattery, along with goaltender Katie Fitzgerald who had a standout year between the pipes. SCSU returns WCHA All-Rookie Team’s Julia Tylke who was second in scoring for the Huskies recording 19 points (8g-11a). They will also look for some help from their seven freshmen, including Janine Alder and Kayla Friesen.

St. Cloud Head Coach Eric Rud Audio

– 2015-2016 Record: Overall 13-18-4 (5th Place, WCHA 9-15-4-3)
– Players to Watch 2016: Julia Tylke (9-15=24), Brittney Anderson (4-16=20), Alyssa Erickson (5-8=13)
– Key Departures: Vanessa Spatarro (CWHL Toronto 8th Round – 37th overall pick), goaltender Katie Fitzgerald, leading point scorer Molly Illikainen.
– Notable Incoming Freshmen: Janine Alder (Goaltender, 2014 Olympic Bronze Medalist with Switzerland), Kayla Friesen (Forward, Team Canada U18 Silver Medalist at the 2016 IIHF WWC)

Coming in at #6 is Ohio State who will look to rebound from a couple years of adversity and recent coaching changes in this past off-season. The good news for the Buckeyes is that they will be coached by two women with strong hockey pedigrees. Nadine Muzerall comes from a successful career as an assistant coach at Minnesota, while her Buckeye assistant coach will be Jessica Koizumi who recently retired from the Connecticut Whale of the NWHL. OSU will look for big things out of Lauren Boyle, WCHA All-Rookie Team blue liner. Boyle was the top point-scorer among WCHA freshmen defensemen with 3 goals and 14 assists for 17 points. The Buckeyes will have some big shoes to fill after losing senior Claudia Kepler, their leading scorer, who chose to transfer to her home state school Wisconsin. Kepler will have to sit out her 2016-17 season with the Badgers.

Ohio State Assistant Coach Jessica Koizumi Audio

– 2015-2016 Record: 10-25-1 (7th Place, WCHA 6-21-1-1)
– Players to Watch 2016: Lauren Boyle (Defender, 2016 WCHA All-Rookie Team), Dani Sadek (Defender, 3rd in team scoring with 22 points), Maddy Field (Forward, 3rd in team goals with 10 and 5th in scoring)
– Key Departures: Both forward Julia McKinnon and defender Cara Zubko signed pro contracts with EHV Sabres Vienna of the EWHL after their senior season. Last season’s leading scorer Claudia Kepler transferred to Wisconsin and will sit out this year.
– Notable Incoming Freshmen: Jincy Dunn (Forward, Team USA gold medalist at the 2012 4 Nations Cup, silver medalist at the 2014 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship, scored the game winner in overtime to win gold at the 2015 IIHF U18 WWC, took a medical red-shirt her freshman year at OSU)

Minnesota State rounds out the poll in the 8th spot. The Mavericks only graduated one, Katie Johnson who led them in assists and points during her senior year (5g-16a=21pts). Under second year head coach John Harrington, MSU is now a veteran team and will look for big things this year from senior defender Anna-Marie Fiegert, senior forward Savannah Quandt and senior goaltender Brianna Quade.

Minnesota State Head Coach John Harrington Audio

– 2015-2016 Record: Overall 3-29-4 (8th Place, WCHA 0-25-3-0)
– Players to Watch 2016: Hannah Davidson (2nd in scoring with 17 points), Emily Antony (6 goals, 10 assists in her freshman year), Brianna Quade (3rd Nationally, 1st WCHA with 1,031 saves in 35 games)
– Key Departures: Katie Johnson, only senior on Mavericks last season.
– Notable Incoming Freshmen: Demi Gardner (Forward, Warroad, MN), McKenzie Sederberg (Defense, Andover, MN), Sofia Poinar (Forward, Chaska, MN)

Also announced during the teleconference was the WCHA Preseason Player of the Year, Ann-Renee Desbiens of Wisconsin, as mentioned above, along with a three-way tie for preseason WCHA Rookie of the Year: Minnesota forward Lindsay Agnew, and two Wisconsin forwards Presley Norby and Abby Roque.

The 2016-17 WCHA season opens up Sept. 23-24 when Wisconsin visits St. Cloud State in a weekend series while Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth each host an exhibition game against the Minnesota Whitecaps on Friday and Saturday nights, respectively. The remaining six teams drop the puck with non-conference contests the weekend of Sept. 30-Oct. 1. The first full weekend of conference play is slated for Oct. 7-8.