NCAA Women’s Hockey: 2013-2014 WCHA Preview

Bemidji State

The Beavers weren’t able to totally adjust to some big losses in goal and on defense after 2011-2012, as they finished eighth in the WCHA last season. They’re now losing four of their top five scorers from 2012-2013 as well. Sophomore forward Kaitlyn Tougas is going to have to step into a primary scoring role if there’s any hope for Bemidji’s offense. Incoming freshman forward Lauren Miller may be able to slot into the top-six, but beyond that, not much is certain for the Beavers offensively.

On the back-end, freshman defenseman Madison Hutchinson will likely be looked at to step in and play some important minutes. But there are as many questions on the blue line as there are up front. This is a pretty depleted roster, so the biggest issue for Bemidji State is going to be getting contributions from enough players to be able to compete. They play a gritty game, and will probably take on that identity again this season; if their defense can find a way to limit opponents and win battles, it’ll help negate some problems scoring. In goal, one of Abby Ryplanski or Jessica Havel is really going to have to cement themselves as the go-to starter for the Beavers.

Key Player: Kaitlyn Tougas

She’s the only player on the roster who showed a genuine ability to produce last season, and she’ll need to build on that for Bemidji State this year.

Outlook

There’s a big lack of true talent on this team that I can’t see the Beavers being able to execute at either end of the rink. They won’t be able to measure up to any other team in the conference over a full season, so I expect them to finish in eighth again.

Minnesota

Despite losing three-points-per-game forward and 2013 Patty Kazmaier Award winner Amanda Kessel for the year, Minnesota should still be a good offensive team. They will be led up front by sophomore Hannah Brandt, a top-notch power forward and preseason Patty Kazmaier favorite; Rachael Bona, Maryanne Menefee, Kelly Terry, and Sarah Davis should also assist in the scoring. Add incoming freshmen and U.S. Under-18 team alumni Dani Cameranesi, Kate Flug, Megan Wolfe, and Kate Schipper to that group and the Gophers should have some significant scoring depth.

Noora Räty leaves a huge hole in goal but there should be a good competition for minutes between sophomore netminder Amanda Leveille and freshman Sidney Peters, who was Team USA’s starting goalie at the 2013 IIHF Under-18 World Championships. The real issues for the Gophers are going to be on defense. They should still be able to put together a competent top-four with Rachel Ramsey, Baylee Gillanders, Milica McMillen, and incoming freshmen Kelsey Cline and Paige Haley. But they won’t be able to match the defensive prowess of last year’s squad, with the losses of Megan Bozek, Mira Jalosuo, and Lee Stecklein.

Key Player: Rachel Ramsey

One of the biggest questions for the Gophers heading into the year will be whether or not she can solidify herself as a number one, top-pairing defenseman and lead the blue line at both ends of the ice.

Outlook

Expectations will be sky-high for Minnesota after a perfect season last year, but realistically, their defense is going to suffer from its own losses and a downgrade in goaltending. But their offense should still flourish, and they proved last year that they’ve got plenty of players who can make an impact when needed, so I expect another first-place finish for the Gophers.

Minnesota-Duluth

With junior Jenna McParland leading the way, the Bulldogs should boast a productive top-six. The loss of Pernilla Winberg and Katie Wilson hurt, but both put up under 20 points each last year, so it won’t be so much to adjust to. Junior forward Zoe Hickel should take another step forward and become even more productive this season, and Jamie Kenyon’s a good secondary scorer. The addition of freshmen Demi Crossman and Ashleigh Brykaliuk, as well as transfer Meghan Huertas, will also be a big plus.

Things are much less clear for UMD’s defense. They’re losing star defensemen Brigette Lacquette to the Canadian national team and Jessica Wong to graduation, which leaves two gaping holes on the blue line. But although things might be a bit rocky, they should still be able to put together a serviceable defensive corps. Jordan Krause and Tea Villila have experience, and incoming freshmen Sidney Morin and Lara Stalder are both talented. The Bulldogs need a big year out of sophomore goaltender Kayla Black, who was a bit inconsistent last season but was able to solidify herself as the go-to starter.

Key Player: Jenna McParland

She’s got great potential and needs to return to the 20-goal-scoring form she was in her freshman year to help make Minnesota-Duluth’s offense threatening.

Outlook

The Bulldogs should have a very competitive squad this year but I think there are certain aspects where they can’t quite match up with the WCHA’s top teams. I see them finishing fourth in the standings, with a chance to climb higher depending on how the team executes over the course of the year.

Minnesota State

The Mavericks’ offense will suffer from the loss of leading scorer Lauren Smith. Senior Tracy McCann will be able to produce, having scored 15 goals and 26 points in 36 games last year, and junior Kathleen Rogan should be a reasonably effective player. But besides those two and Lauren Barnes, there really aren’t any scorers on the roster. Putting together a competent top-six is going to be difficult for them.

With the graduation of Emilia Andersson, there’s not too much skill on the back-end, either. Freshman Anna-Maria Fiegert, a member of the German national team, adds talent to the defense, and fellow rookies Sara Bustad and Carina Randazzo also have some potential, but for the most part there are going to be issues defensively. Goaltender Danielle Butters will hopefully limit some problems, though, with above-average play.

Key Player: Tracy McCann

Minnesota State needs to find a way to score goals, and the responsibility of doing so is going to be placed largely on her shoulders.

Outlook

They’ve at least got multiple threats up front, which is more than Bemidji and St. Cloud State can really say as of right now, so I see the Mavericks coming in sixth in the conference, with not much of a chance to finish any higher.

North Dakota
Michelle Karvinen (Eric Classen/UNDsports.com)
Michelle Karvinen (Eric Classen/UNDsports.com)

North Dakota is going to have a hard time dealing with the loss of Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux, both all-world talents and two of the best players in college hockey history.  It’s going to take some adjusting, but UND does have plenty of talent up front to put together a good offense. Michelle Karvinen is an elite player, and Josefine Jakobsen and Meghan Dufault are very productive forwards. Andrea Dalen, Becca Kohler, and incoming freshmen Amy Menke and Susanna Tapani will also contribute scoring-wise.

They’re going to have to replace big minutes from Monique Lamoureux on defense, but North Dakota’s rostering a really skilled defensive corps, albeit a young one. Veteran Kayla Berg, sophomores Tanja Eisenschmid and Sam LaShomb, and freshmen Johanna Fallman, Halli Krzyzaniak, and Gracen Hirschy could all be vying for top-four spots. Shelby Amsley-Benzie stepped up in a big way as the go-to netminder in the second half of last season, but incoming freshman Lexie Shaw will push her for minutes, leading to improved goaltending overall.

Key Player: Shelby Amsley-Benzie

Amsley-Benzie will need to provide consisent quality goaltending this season even when the team hits some bumps in the road as they deal with the loss of the Lamoureuxs.

Outlook

UND is losing a lot of production and important minutes from the Lamoureuxs, but even without them I can’t see Wisconsin or Minnesota-Duluth stacking up against their offensive talent. As long as they can count on good performances in net, I expect North Dakota to finish second in the WCHA.

Ohio State

The Buckeyes are losing three important players up front in Hokey Langan, Paige Semenza, and Tina Hollowell. But Ally Tarr and Taylor Kuehl are well-established scorers, and Julia McKinnon is ready to take the next step after a very good freshman season. Between those three, Ohio State will have three dangerous forwards, and rookie Katie Matheny should also be able to help this year.

Even with the graduation of Minttu Tuominen, the Buckeyes’ defense looks pretty good. They’ve got two great puck-movers in Sara and Kari Schmitt, younger sisters of Olympic gold medal-winning  swimmer Allison Schmitt, and another mobile defenseman in Annie Svedin. Incoming freshmen Breanne Grant and Alexa Ranahan should also be able to help out right away on the blue line. They also have a reliable starting goaltender in Chelsea Knapp, who will be captaining the team this year.

Key Player: Taylor Kuehl

She’s performed well in her first two years and Ohio State will be counting on her to continue tracking upwards and put up points.

Outlook

Though I think there’s a considerable talent gap between the Buckeyes and the teams at the bottom of the WCHA standings, I also feel that having to adjust to those losses up front will hinder them from being able to break into the top four. I expect a fifth-place finish for them, with a chance to challenge Minnesota-Duluth for fourth.

St. Cloud State

The Huskies are going to be in trouble offensively this year. Last season, production dropped off steeply after the top four scorers. This year, two of those players, Alex Nelson and Haylea Schmid, are gone. Molli Mott is the only proven top-six forward, but there’s almost no support around her and she won’t be able to do it all.

On defense, St. Cloud has a really good blue-liner in Audrey Hanmer, but unfortunately not many pieces around her. She will be counted on every game to try and silence opposing top players. Junior goaltender Julie Friend will also have to do the same to try and keep games close for her team.

Key Player: Abby Ness

She had a bit of a disappointing sophomore year as she regressed statistics-wise, and needs to get back on track to help share some of the offensive load.

Outlook

Hanmer and Friend could potentially give the Huskies a shot at jumping over Minnesota State, but for the most part I’d expect this St. Cloud State to be about on par with where they were last year, and finish seventh in the WCHA standings.

Wisconsin

The Badgers’ offense takes a huge hit with the loss of 2012 Patty Kazmaier Award winner Brianna Decker, who was basically carrying the offense on her back as a senior last year. They’ll also have to do without highly-touted recruit Anne Pankowski for another year, as she’ll be with the U.S. national team this season instead. Goal-scoring is going to be down for the team this season, but it’s important not to overlook their forwards. Madison Packer and Brittany Ammerman are top-line talents, and Karley Sylvester emerged as a true top-six player last year. I’d also expect junior forward Blayre Turnbull to play a more productive role this season.

Madison Packer, Wisconsin Badgers (Dale Steenberg/Wisconsin Athletics)
Madison Packer, Wisconsin Badgers (Dale Steenberg/Wisconsin Athletics)

With Alex Rigsby in net Wisconsin is going to have a chance to win every night, no matter how many defensive mistakes or miscues occur. And there are sure to be at least some breakdowns, as this isn’t a particularly strong blue line. Unfortunately for the Badgers, Stefanie McKeough will sit out for a second straight year due to concussions. Sophomore Courtney Burke and freshman Jenny Ryan are both highly-skilled players, and Kelly Jaminski and Katarina Zgraja are both solid defenders, but I think the Badgers are really going to have to buckle down defensively this year to have success.

Key Player: Courtney Burke

She’ll be instrumental in leading the attack from the back-end and if she continues to improve, she’ll add a totally different dynamic to Wisconsin’s defensive corps.

Outlook

I can’t see them being able to stack up offensively with Minnesota and North Dakota, but they do have one huge difference-maker with Alex Rigsby in goal. I think she gives them an edge over Minnesota-Duluth and, if the team can buy into a defensive philosophy and just play to their strengths, they should be able to finish third in the conference.

Predicted Standings
  1. Minnesota
  2. North Dakota
  3. Wisconsin
  4. Minnesota-Duluth
  5. Ohio State
  6. Minnesota State
  7. St. Cloud State
  8. Bemidji State
Preseason All-WCHA First Team

Hannah Brandt, Sophomore, Forward, Minnesota

Michelle Karvinen, Senior, Forward, North Dakota

Jenna McParland, Junior, Forward, Minnesota-Duluth

Rachel Ramsey, Junior, Defense, Minnesota

Courtney Burke, Sophomore, Defense, Wisconsin

Alex Rigsby, Senior, Goaltender, Wisconsin

Preseason All-WCHA Second Team

Maryanne Menefee, Sophomore, Forward, Minnesota

Meghan Dufault, Sophomore, Forward, North Dakota

Madison Packer, Senior, Forward, Wisconsin

Sam LaShomb, Sophomore, Defense, North Dakota

Kari Schmitt, Junior, Defense, Ohio State

Sidney Peters, Freshman, Goaltender, Minnesota

Preseason Awards

Player of the Year: Hannah Brandt, Minnesota

Defenseman of the Year: Rachel Ramsey, Minnesota

Goaltender of the Year: Alex Rigsby, Wisconsin

Rookie of the Year: Sidney Peters, Minnesota