WCHA Press Releases

Looking back on a sensational beginning of the 2018-19 WCHA men's and women's seasons - and the thrilling months ahead
First Half WCHA Storylines
Looking back on a sensational beginning of the 2018-19 WCHA men's and women's seasons - and the thrilling months ahead

By Andrew Vitalis, Special to WCHA.com

'Tis the season to give thanks and reflect. With yet another action-packed WCHA season underway we have decided to highlight 12 headlines and talking points that have dominated the conversation through the first half of the season. There is no doubt, while 2018 has been good- 2019 looks to be even better.


On the 12 days of Christmas the WCHA gave to me…

12 Cooper catching ...

As in catching fire. Through 18 games, Ferris State freshman phenom Cooper Zech has lived up to the hype. The South Lyon, Mich. native was billed as a star even before he played his first college game after being named the preseason WCHA Rookie of the Year. It took him just three games to net his first goal, and since that point he hasn't looked back. Now with 15 points on the season (3G, 12A) Zech has registered a point in nine games and has racked up five multi-point contests already. The rookie defenseman has recorded eight points in his last six games and is currently first in the conference in scoring among freshman, first in defenseman scoring, tied for seventh in assists and is tied for 10th in overall scoring. At the national level, Zech is tied for sixth in scoring among freshmen (by points).


11 Gophers scoring ...

How do you lead the WCHA and NCAA Division I programs in goals per game? How about having 11 players with double-digit points through 20 games including two at, or near, the 25-point mark. The University of Minnesota women's hockey team has been putting on a scoring clinic this season, having scored five or more goals in a game 10 times this year. In addition, the Gophers have scored five or more times in six of their last seven games; outscoring their opponents 42-9 during that most recent stretch. Leading the barrage has been senior Nicole Schammel and sophomore Grace Zumwinkle. Both with 20 plus points on the year (Schammel- 6G-19A--25 pts, Zumwinkle- 13G-11A--24 pts), in their last seven games, the dynamic duo has accounted for 23 points. 2018 Olympic gold medalist Kelly Pannek (11G-8A) has chipped in with 19 points, while sophomore Emily Brown (4G-12A), freshman winger Taylor Heise (7G-9A) and rookie Amy Potomak (4G-12A) have all added 16 points apiece. Furthermore, Schammel and Zumwinkle are second in the league in points and goals, respectively. The numbers go on and on. Schammel leads the WCHA in assists, Pannek is first in shorthanded points and shorthanded goals and Heise and Potomak are both ranked second in rookie scoring. Should we continue? Thanks to their ability to light the lamp, the Gophers are first in the WCHA with 28 points- one point ahead of Wisconsin heading into January. Minnesota is also ranked second in the nation, behind only- ironically enough- the Badgers.


10 Johnson jewels ...

Michael Bitzer who? Okay…okay…let's not go that far, but there is no doubt that Bemidji State goaltender Henry Johnson's performance during the first half of the season has helped talk calm some nerves among the Beavers faithful. After losing Bitzer- the best goaltender in the history of the program to graduation- Bemidji State had a hole the size of Minnesota to fill this year in net. Enter sophomore Henry Johnson. Now with 10 starts under his belt, Johnson has picked up two shutouts, and in the process, has registered a goals-against average of 1.70 and a save percentage of nearly 93 percent. He and his fellow goalie Zach Driscoll have helped the Beavers to an overall record of 8-8-2 and a 6-5-1 mark in the WCHA. Johnson's GAA and save percentage numbers rank him first in the conference among his fellow goaltenders (third and 14th, respectively, in the NCAA). The Beavers, who are tied for fifth in the conference heading into the second half of the year, play their next four games on the road against Air Force and Bowling Green, before returning home for four against Alaska and Michigan Tech.


9 Falcons flying ...

When you look at the conference offensive statistics at the holiday break, you will see Bowling Green's influence early and often. As a matter of fact, there is a Falcon leading in nine different conference statistical categories including points (Brandon Kruse- 25), goals (Lukas Craggs- 12), assists (Kruse- 19), power-play points (Max Johnson- 14), power-play goals (Johnson- 6), shorthanded points (John Schilling and Stephen Baylis- 3), shorthanded goals (Baylis- 2), game-winning goals (Craggs- 5) and plus/minus (Craggs- +17). The Falcons have been dominating on the offensive side of the puck through 19 games; averaging 3.68 goals per game. Truth be told, they have been even better on defense- and opportunistic as well. Bowling Green not only leads the entire country in team defense (1.74 goals allowed per game), but their penalty kill success rate of 87 percent is also tops in the WCHA (and seventh-best nationally). Those numbers equate to second place in the WCHA standings, just one point behind league-leading Michigan Tech. At 13-3-3 overall (8-2-2- in the WCHA), the Falcons are currently on a seven-game unbeaten streak (6-0-1, the second-longest active stretch in the country) and during that stretch have outscored their opponents 28-11. Two of their most recent wins, and arguably their two most dominating victories of the season thus far, happened the last time they took the ice when Bowling Green swept Minnesota State at home (4-1, 4-1). It was the first time the Falcons have swept the Mavericks since joining the WCHA, while the two wins lifted BGSU to No. 9 in the latest USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine rankings.


8 Mavericks winning ...

Eight wins and counting for the Minnesota State women's hockey team. Why is that number so important? Last season the Mavericks mustered just five wins. The year before (2016-17), they finished 7-26-4. During the 2015-16 season…three wins (3-29-4). The season before that? Three wins (3-32-1 in 2014-15). You have to go all the way back to the Mavericks' 2013-14 campaign to find a season when Minnesota State has registered more wins in a season than what they have right now (13-23-1 in 13-14). Currently at 8-7-3 overall and 3-7-2 in the WCHA (the Mavericks' first winning record at the holiday break since the 2005-06 season), MSU has picked up a handful of marquee wins and have done it all with a roster filled with top-end veterans and impact newcomers. Leading the pack is freshman goaltender Abigail Levy. Levy, a rookie netminder from New York, has brought her talents to Mankato and the Mavericks couldn't be happier. Levy has played in all 18 games for the Mavericks, registering a goals-against average of 1.42 and an eye-popping save percentage of .953. More on her later….

As for the rest, seniors Corbin Boyd, Rebekah Kolstad and Jordan McLaughlin lead the team in scoring; each with 10 or more points on the year. The Mavericks go back to work in early January, playing in the Minnesota Cup against St. Cloud State on January 5th, 2019. The winner of that game will advance to play either Minnesota Duluth or Minnesota the following day.


7 Nonconference games a-playing ...

When Northern Michigan head coach Grant Potulny talked about his squad's nonconference schedule before the season- much like a four-year old being told not to touch a hot stove by their parents; many heard it, but the full magnitude of the statement didn't really sink at the time. Now midway through the season, and with the Wildcats hellacious nonconference stretch now behind them, the reality has started to sink in. St. Cloud State- number one overall seed heading into the NCAA tournament last year and current number one team in the nation. Notre Dame- the 2017-18 national runner-ups and currently the sixth-ranked team in the country. Cornell- the number 20th ranked team in the land today, but when Northern Michigan faced them in early November, the Big Red were ranked 17th. Oh yes, also throw Big Ten power Michigan State into the mix. In total, the aggressive-minded coach packed seven nonconference games into Northern Michigan's schedule, with the overall goal of preparing his squad for the rough and sometimes rocky stretch run every team in the country is about to embark on. While the Wildcats went 1-6 during that seven-game nonconference obstacle course, the lessons learned are invaluable. Aside from their weekend series against the Huskies, Northern Michigan was a bounce away from winning the rest, including a tough 2-1 overtime loss to the Fighting Irish on the road on November 27th, 2018. Since that game, the Wildcats seemed to have found theirs. NMU has won three of four, including a win over WCHA leader Michigan Tech. Now with a full head of stream skating into the second half of the year, the Wildcats hope to make some noise in the conference race. Currently fourth with 24 points, Northern Michigan is three points behind Minnesota State. The Wildcats and Mavericks will see each other at the end of January in Mankato.


6 Badgers defending ...

Sometimes when you look at certain stat lines, you have to do a double-take just to make sure you saw what you thought you saw. For example, over the span of 20 games this season the Wisconsin Badgers women's hockey team has given up two or more goals just six times this season. Six times! We're not talking about four or five goals- two goals! No wonder the Badgers have only lost once (19-1 overall) and are currently the top-ranked team in the nation. To go along with the defensive numbers already highlighted, Bucky Badger has also pitched five shutouts, including a three-game stretch earlier this season where Wisconsin outscored their opponents 10-0. Even when they lose, Wisconsin is stellar on defense. That one loss came on October 27th, 2018. It was a 1-0 defeat to Minnesota; yes, that same Gopher team who scores at will against everyone else (see #11 above). UW has only allowed 23 goals all season in 20 games, have outshot their opponents 803-321 (allows just 16 shots per contest) and feature a goaltender in junior Kristen Campbell who ranks at the top, or near the top, in about every goaltender category that exists. Campbell's goals-against average of 1.10 puts her first in the WCHA and second in the nation.


5 Levy leading ...

Already highlighted briefly when recognizing the Mavericks' strong start to the season, Minnesota State goaltender Abigail Levy's name has been discussed almost every week at the WCHA league offices when trying to figure out which players receive the coveted "Player of the Week" honors that are handed out throughout the season. After the dust settled and the decision was made, Levy's name has stood alone five times (three Goalie of the Week honors, two Rookie of the Week honors). You simply can't overstate how strong of a season the rookie netminder has had for the Mavericks. Currently first in the conference in save percentage (.953) and third in the nation, Levy has been standing on her head so much that Maverick fans have begun to wonder where her legs are. In addition to the numbers already stated, she has also skated away with five shutouts (tied for most in the nation and Minnesota State's single-season record) and, to date, has registered four 40+ save performances. In a game earlier this season against Ohio State, the former Shattuck St. Mary's prep star stopped all 41 shots she faced, helping the Mavericks to a 3-0 win.


4 National nuggets ...

It's one thing to dominate your own conference, but the WCHA is also well represented at the national level as well; both in terms of individual and team statistics. In the scoring department, Bowling Green's Brandon Kruse heads into the second half of the season tied for fourth in the nation with 25 points (6G-19A). Speaking of scoring, Minnesota State's Marc Michaelis is tied for fifth in goals scored with 11. The junior has three two-goal games this season already and is scoring at a clip of over a point-per-game. Not surprisingly, Michaelis' scoring touch usually translates into Maverick wins. When the Mannheim, Germany product scores a goal this season, MSU is 7-1. On the other side of the puck, Bowling Green's Ryan Bednard has been spectacular this year and is one of the primary reasons why the Falcons are ranked nationally, have the NCAA's top defense and are one of the teams seated in the WCHA driver's seat as squads fight for postseason home ice. Bednard's season goals against average of 1.71 puts him fourth nationally (just behind Bemidji State's Henry Johnson, who is third at 1.70, and slightly above Minnesota State's Mathias Israelsson, who is fifth at 1.74). As a team, the Minnesota State Mavericks are fourth nationally in scoring offense (3.83 goals per game, while BGSU is seventh) and seventh in scoring defense. And, in the all-important category of wins, Minnesota State is one of four teams with an NCAA-best 14 wins, while Bowling Green is next with 13 victories, Michigan Tech (10) is tied for ninth, while Lake Superior State and Northern Michigan are tied for 12th with nine apiece. Furthermore, the WCHA has five teams at .500 or better (the Mavericks, Falcons, Lakers, Huskies and Bemidji State), matching Hockey East for the second-most among NCAA conferences.


3 Buckeyes streaking ...

For the third time this season, the Ohio State women's hockey team is on a three-game winning streak. Most recently, the Buckeyes dispatched Minnesota State to go along with a sweep over Mercyhurst, giving OSU a program-record 14 wins before the holiday break (14-6-0). Once again leading the way for the Buckeyes are a slew of snipers, including sophomores Emma Maltais and Tatum Skaggs. Maltais leads the WCHA in scoring with 28 points (9G-19A). Skaggs is third in goals with 12 tallies. Now the eighth-ranked team in the nation, Ohio State skates into the new year with Wisconsin, Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota on the horizon. The Buckeyes are currently third in the WCHA; just three points behind the Badgers. Helping to ease the pain that goes along with their brutal upcoming schedule, the January match-ups against Wisconsin and Minnesota will be in Columbus. This season, Ohio State is 9-1-0 overall at home and a perfect 6-0 against WCHA teams at the OSU Ice Rink.


2 Maverick mishaps (only) ...

Okay, the total number of losses is now at four for the Minnesota State men's hockey team, but be that as it may, you can't ignore what Mike Hastings and his team have done this season. Up until their most recent setback against Bowling Green (Falcons swept the Mavericks 4-1, 4-1 on December 14th and 15th), the Mavericks had lost just twice all year, had won 14 of their previous 16 games and were 9-1 in the WCHA- good enough for a number three No. 3 ranking in the country. In those 14 wins, MSU outscored their opponents 62-21 and scored five-or-more goals in a game six times. In addition, on the defensive side of the puck, Minnesota State held their opponents to one goal or less in those games eight times. No matter how you explain it, the Mavericks showed why they were, and are, one of the best college hockey teams in the country. Currently two points out of first in the WCHA standings, MSU jumps back into action next weekend, playing in the Desert Hockey Classic. Then in January, Minnesota State faces off with conference-leading Michigan Tech January 4th and 5th in Mankato.


1 Badger ranking ...

There can only be one team atop the national polls and so far this season, that honor lands in Madison. Not only are the Badgers one point shy of the WCHA penthouse (second place to Minnesota; but, the Gophers have played two more games), but UW is the top-ranked team in the country with an overall record of 19-1-0. Their only loss came against Minnesota on October 27th. Since that point, Wisconsin has been suffocating on both ends of the rink; outscoring their opponents 47-10. Now winners of 11-straight games, the Badgers are third nationally in goals per game (second among Division I programs and first in goals allowed). Individually, nine players have scored 10 or more points, including sophomore Abby Roque, who is tied for second in the WCHA with 25 points, freshman Sophie Shirley, who leads league rookies with 19 points, and senior Annie Pankowski, who has lit the lamp a WCHA-best 14 times, including three game-winning goals (and goals in seven-straight games). Remember, last year UW started the season 16-0 before they suffered their first loss in late November against Northeastern. After that loss, Wisconsin rattled off 12-striaght games without a defeat. What's the point? Much like last year, this season's Badgers have shown the uncanny ability to play hockey at the highest level for an extended period of time without slowing down, so don't expect the 2018-19 version of UW hockey to take a break anytime soon. With that said, Wisconsin begins its January schedule with back-to-back road trips to Ohio State and Minnesota, which will put that streak to the test.

Happy Holidays and best wishes for a wonderful New Year, WCHA fans!!!