Each week WCHA.com will offer an update on former Western Collegiate Hockey Association players playing professional hockey. The website will also offer periodic stories on former WCHA players.
As the National Women's Hockey League finalized its playoff pairings on the penultimate weekend of the regular season, on the other side of the world Brian Idalski was getting ready for a semifinal playoff series in the Russian Women's Hockey League.
It is the latest step in a unique hockey season for the former North Dakota coach who has several former Western Collegiate Hockey Association players on his Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays roster. His team started the season playing in Shenzhen Guangdong, China. But when concerns regarding the Coronavirus popped up, the team moved its headquarters to St. Petersburg, Russia.
Despite being uprooted, the team has experienced success. Its rosters includes former Minnesota all-American goalie Noora Raty, ex-Gopher defenseman Megan Bozek, former Wisconsin forward Claudia Kepler, ex-Minnesota Duluth defenseman Jessica Wong and two of Idalski's former North Dakota players, forwards, Amy Menke and Rebekah Kolstad, who played at Minnesota State last season.
The Rays play the Moscow Region Tornado in a best-of-three semifinal playoff series this week in the Dmitrov Arena in St. Petersburg where, technically, the Rays will be the home team for two of the games.
In the NWHL last weekend, Minnesota got its offense in gear and beat visiting Buffalo 6-1 and 9-3. Former St. Cloud State standout Meghan Pezon had two goals in the series opener for the Whitecaps. Minnesota alum Megan Lorence and another ex-Gopher Nina Rodgers each had a goal and an assist. Lauren Barnes, a former Minnesota State player, chipped in an assist for the Whitecaps. In the series finale, ex-St. Cloud State player Haylea Schmid, former Gopher Kelsey Cline and ex-Bemidji State star Stephanie Anderson each scored and Barnes registered two assists. Lorence and former St. Cloud player Lisa Martinson each had helpers in the one-sided game.
Packer, the second-leading scorer all-time in NWHL history, is in third place in scoring in the NWHL with 12 goals 20 assists (fourth best in the league), and 32 points. Former Minnesota standout Nicole Schammel, an all-WCHA player who plays for the Minnesota Whitecaps, is 13th in league scoring with 24 points (ten goals and 14 assists) while a trio of former WCHA players, ex-Gopher defenseman Sydney Baldwin of the Whitecaps (with eight goals, 10 assists and 18 points), Pezon (seven goals, 11 assists) and Lorence (nine goals, nine assists and 18 points,) are tied for 18th place. Lorence has two shorthanded goals which are tied for the most in the NWHL and Packer's five power play goals is also tied for the most. The list of league scoring leaders is here: https://www.nwhl.zone/stats#/100/leaders/table?division_id=8088&player_type=players
Former Minnesota goalie Amanda Leveille of the Whitecaps is second in the league in victories with 14, in save percentage at .933 and goals against average at 2.09.
In the other NWHL games last weekend, Boston recorded two shutouts, blanking Connecticut 3-0 and the Metropolitan Riveters 5-0. The Pride finished the regular season with a 23-1 record and gained the top seed for the Isobel Cup playoffs.
With one week left in the regular season, Boston has 46 points, 14 points ahead of the defending champions, the Minnesota Whitecaps, which has a 15-5-2 record and has clinched the No. 2 seed for the playoffs The Riveters are 9-10-3 with 21 points, six more than Buffalo which has a 7-14-1 mark and 15 points. Connecticut has a 2-18-2 record and six points.
NWHL play concludes this weekend when Connecticut visits Minnesota and the Riveters host Buffalo in a two-game series Feb. 29-March 1
The playoffs open March 6 when Connecticut plays at Buffalo with the winner advancing to play Boston March 8 in one semifinal while Minnesota hosts the Riveters in the other semifinal.
There are 20 WCHA alums playing in the five-team, U.S.-based NWHL, about half as many as a year ago, after an off-season when the women's professional leagues underwent a re-shuffling. Every member of the Canadian and U.S. teams who played in the Rivalry Series earlier this month are members of the PWHPA Dream Gap Tour that was organized by the women's players' union last summer The PWHPA have scheduled another set of games for February in Philadelphia Feb. 29-March 1.
The Whitecaps feature 15 former WCHA players. There are four former St. Cloud State players and one each from Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State and Bemidji State on the Whitecaps roster.
Wisconsin has three former players in the NWHL – one in Connecticut and two with the Riveters. Buffalo's roster includes one former Minnesota State player and the Riveters also have one Minnesota State alum. Former Minnesota State goalie Laura Brennan is an assistant coach with the Whale.
Here are the WCHA alums on NWHL rosters as of Feb. 15:
Buffalo: Sara Bustad, Minnesota State
Connecticut: Jordan Brickner, Wisconsin. Laura Brennan, Minnesota State (Assistant coach)
Metropolitan: Madison Packer, Wisconsin; Anna Keys, Minnesota State; Kelly Nash, Wisconsin
Minnesota: Stephanie Anderson, Bemidji State; Sydney Baldwin, Minnesota; Chelsey Brodt Rosenthal, Minnesota; Haylea Schmid, St. Cloud State; Lisa Martinson, St. Cloud State; Meaghan Pezon, St. Cloud State; Kalli Funk, St. Cloud State; Lauren Barnes, Minnesota State; Emma Stauber, Minnesota Duluth; Winny Brodt Brown, Minnesota; Amanda Leveille, Minnesota; Nicole Schammel, Minnesota; Nina Rodgers, Minnesota, Meghan Lorence, Minnesota and Kelsey Cline, Minnesota.