Each week WCHA.com will offer an update on the former Western Collegiate Hockey Association players playing pro hockey.
They may be the new kids on the block, but the Minnesota Whitecaps have shown they are not an expansion team to be taken lightly. Just ask the Metropolitan Riveters, the defending champions in the National Women's Hockey League (NWHL).
The Whitecaps were the party crashers Saturday when the Riveters raised the championship banner to celebrate last year's Isobel Cup win, as Minnesota secured a 5-3 victory behind a goal and an assist by Hannah Brandt and 24 saves by Brandt's former Minnesota Gopher teammate Amanda Leveille. Former North Dakota star Amy Menke and ex-St. Cloud State player Meghan Pezon also had a goal apiece, while ex-Minnesota Duluth forward Katie McGovern and former Gopher all-American Lee Stecklein had assists in the Whitecaps' third straight victory over the Riveters. Madison Packer, a former Wisconsin star, had a goal and Amanda Kessel, an ex-Gopher, had an assist for the Riveters.
The Whitecaps made it four wins in a row Sunday with a 6-2 decision in which McGovern had two goals and an assist and Brandt scored a goal in a third-straight game. Chelsey Brodt Rosenthal chipped in two assists and Stecklein and Kate Schipper, all ex-Gophers, each had an assist. Leveille made 24 saves in running her record to 9-4 against the Riveters in the last two seasons and outdueling NWHL All-Star goalie Katie Fitzgerald, a St. Cloud State alumna, who made 18 saves in the series finale and 35 stops in the series.
In the other NWHL game last weekend, former Minnesota and Olympic player Gigi Marvin scored a goal in Boston's 4-2 victory over Connecticut. Katerina Mrázová, who played at Minnesota Duluth, had a goal for the winless Whale.
After three weeks of NWHL play, the expansion Whitecaps are in first place with a 4-0 record and eight points; Buffalo and Boston are 2-0 with four points each, while Connecticut is 0-3 and the Metropolitan Riveters 0-5 and without a point.
McGovern, Brandt and Packer lead the league in goals with three, Stecklein leads in assists with six, one more than Buffalo's Dani Cameranesi, the former Gophers' all-American. Brandt and Stecklein are the league's top scorers with six points and Leveille is 4-0 with a 1.50 goals against and .938 save percentage, all among the top goaltending marks.
There are 55 Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) alumnae on the opening rosters of the two North American professional hockey leagues – with 34 former WCHA stars in the five-team NWHL.
Minnesota has 11 former WCHA players competing in the NWHL, including six on the Whitecaps, while St. Cloud State has seven alums in the league and Wisconsin six, five of whom play for the Riveters. There are four former UMD players in the NWHL, while North Dakota and Ohio State have two players apiece and Minnesota State one.
The Whitecaps feature 17 former WCHA players, while the Riveters have eight ex-WCHA players.
The six-team Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL) has six teams in three countries – the U.S., Canada and China – and features 21 former WCHA players.
Wisconsin has eight former players in the CWHL, while UMD has seven. Minnesota and North Dakota each have two players in the league, while Ohio State and Bemidji State have one player in the league.
There are more WCHA alumnae playing in these two pro leagues than any other season
Last week the CWHL season heated up with seven games. Toronto won three of them, beating Shenzen KRS Vanke Rays 3-1 last Wednesday, behind goals by former Wisconsin stars Sarah Nurse and Carolyne Prevost, and sweeping Worcester 2-1 and 2-0 on the weekend. Natalie Spooner, an Ohio State alumna, had two goals in the series opener and former Wisconsin defenseman Mellissa Channell had an assist.
Montreal and Calgary moved into a first place tie with Toronto by recording series sweeps. Les Canadiennes got a goal from Hilary Knight in a 5-1 victory and the former Wisconsin all-American added an assist in the 7-1 series opener. Jenna McParland, who played at UMD, had the lone goal for Markham Sunday.
Calgary beat Shenzen KRS Vanke Rays twice, romping 6-1 Saturday and then winning a defensive battle 2-0 Sunday behind Alex Rigsby's 26 saves and a pair of assists by former Duluth standout Zoe Hickel. Brianna Decker, who won the Patty Kazmaier Award at Wisconsin, had a goal in each game and ex-North Dakota defenseman Halli Krzyzaniak had a goal and an assist in the series finale. Hickel also added an assist and Blayre Turnbull had two assists for the Inferno in the series opener. Rigsby, a former Wisconsin star, made 19 saves in Saturday's game, outdueling former Minnesota all-American Noora Räty, who stopped 32 shots. Räty had 30 saves in the series finale.
An early look at the standings show Calgary (3-1), Montreal (3-1) and Toronto (3-2) with 6 points. Markham (2-2) and Shenzen KRS Vanke Rays (2-3) have four and Worcester is winless and pointless in four games.
Among individual leaders, Decker and Spooner are second in the league in goals (3) and Hickel is tied for second in assists with four. Rigsby is among goaltending leaders with a 3-1 record, 1.01 goals against and .955 save percentage.
Here are the WCHA alumni on NWHL and CWHL season-opening team rosters:
Boston (1): Gigi Marvin, Minnesota.
Buffalo (4): Jordyn Burns, Minnesota; Dani Cameranesi, Minnesota; Lisa Chesson, Ohio State; Julianna Iafallo, Ohio State.
Connecticut (4): Jordan Brickner, Wisconsin; Michelle Löwenhielm, Minnesota Duluth; Katerina Mrázová, Minnesota Duluth; Nina Rodgers, Minnesota.
Metropolitan (8): Courtney Burke, Wisconsin; Katie Fitzgerald, St. Cloud State; Amanda Kessel, Minnesota; Erika Lawler, Wisconsin; Kelly Nash, Wisconsin; Madison Packer, Wisconsin; Jenny Ryan, Wisconsin; Lexi Slattery, St. Cloud State.
Minnesota (17): Lauren Barnes, Minnesota State; Hannah Brandt, Minnesota; Winny Brodt Brown, Minnesota; Chelsey Brodt Rosenthal, Minnesota; Tanja Eischenschmid, North Dakota; Julie Friend, St. Cloud State; Kalli Funk, St. Cloud State; Amanda Leveille, Minnesota; Sadie Lundquist, Bemidji State; Lisa Martinson, St. Cloud State; Katie McGovern, Minnesota Duluth; Amy Menke, North Dakota; Meaghan Pezon, St. Cloud State; Kate Schipper, Minnesota; Haylea Schmid, St. Cloud State; Emma Stauber, Minnesota Duluth; Lee Stecklein, Minnesota.
Calgary (6): Coached by Shannon Miller (Minnesota Duluth); Brianna Decker, Wisconsin; Zoe Hickel, Minnesota Duluth; Halli Krzyzaniak, North Dakota; Brigette Lacquette, Minnesota Duluth; Alex Rigsby, Wisconsin; Blayre Turnbull, Wisconsin.
Montréal (2): Catherine Daoust, Minnesota Duluth; Hilary Knight, Wisconsin.
Markham (3): Megan Bozek, Minnesota; Jocelyne Larocque, Minnesota Duluth; Jenna McParland, Minnesota Duluth.
Shenzen (China) KRS Vanke Rays (3): Stephanie Anderson, Bemidji State; Noora Räty, Minnesota; Jessica Wong, Minnesota Duluth.
Toronto (5): Mellissa Channell, Wisconsin; Jordan Hampton, North Dakota; Sarah Nurse, Wisconsin; Carolyne Prevost, Wisconsin; Natalie Spooner, Ohio State.
Worcester (2): Jessica Convery, Minnesota Duluth; Lauren Williams, Wisconsin.