WCHA Week 14: 2016 League Schedule Kicks Off With Three WCHA Series; League Enters Second Half With Four Nationally Ranked Teams
Minnesota hosts a WCHA series against Ohio State at Ridder Arena this weekend

Opening Face-Off

- WCHA Leading at the Polls: As the second half of the 2015-16 campaign gets underway in earnest this week and weekend, the WCHA continues to set this season's NCAA standard in the national polls. The league has matched ECAC Hockey with four ranked teams, including an NCAA-best three in the top five of the USA Today / USA Hockey Magazine rankings (No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 3 Minnesota and No. 5 Bemidji State). The Badgers and Gophers are the same in the USCHO.com poll (the Beavers are sixth), while North Dakota is seventh in both rankings. A fifth WCHA team, Minnesota Duluth, is receiving votes in both polls.

- Halfway Home: At the midpoint of the season, three WCHA teams (No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 3 Minnesota and No. 6-tied Bemidji State) are in the top eight slots of the PairWise rankings, while a fourth (No. 9 North Dakota) is knocking at the door.

- Winning Hockey: Not surprisingly, five of the NCAA's top-15 winning percentages also belong to WCHA teams: Wisconsin (second at .925, 18-1-1), Minnesota (fourth at .833, 15-3-0), Bemidji State (eighth at .700, 13-5-2), North Dakota (13th at .625, 11-6-3) and St. Cloud State (t-15th at .500, 8-8-2).

- Midseason Rewind: Befitting the nation's top conference, 2015-16 WCHA season has been filled with terrific hockey in every rink, every night. In fact, of the eight weekends thus far in which at least two league series have been played, six featured a series pitting two nationally-ranked WCHA teams. Here is a quick look at some of the many highlights to date:

  • Badgers' Historic Start: Wisconsin set a program record by winning its first 18 games of the season, a run that had the Badgers atop the national rankings for six-straight weeks. UW's streak, fueled by the nation's top defense and anchored by sensational junior goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens, also included an incredible nine-straight shutouts and an NCAA-record (men or women) scoreless streak of 624 minutes and 18 seconds (between Oct. 3 and Nov. 14).

  • Gopher Playmakers: As the Gophers take the ice for the first time in 2016, Minnesota's Dani Cameranesi (18g-21a, 2.17ppg), Sarah Potomak (8g-26a, 2.12ppg) and Hannah Brandt (19g-19a, 2.11ppg) are among the nation's top-five leading scorers, ranking third, fourth and fifth, respectively, for points per game. Minnesota's offense leads the NCAA at 5.56 goals per game.

  • Beavers Reach New Heights: After setting a program record for wins in a season last year, Bemidji State has ascended to No. 5 in the national polls – the highest ranking ever for the Beavers. Junior goaltender Brittni Mowat ranks fourth nationally with a .949 save percentage, while senior F Stephanie Anderson won gold for Team USA at the 2015 Four Nations Cup.

  • No. 1s Beware the Ralph: North Dakota's first half featured 11 victories – including two home wins over top-ranked opponents at Ralph Engelstad Arena. UND upset No. 1 Minnesota by a 4-3 score Oct. 30, and then ended Wisconsin's perfect start with a 3-0 triumph Dec. 11.

  • Bulldog Strong: First-year head coach Maura Crowell guided Minnesota Duluth through the nation's toughest first-half schedule by RPI. The Bulldogs ended the first half on a 5-1-1 streak, including consecutive wins over ranked opponents (UND and Harvard). UMD's .786 winning percentage since Nov. 21 is tied for the fifth-best in the country.

  • Husky Pride: Under the leadership of second-year head coach Eric Rud, St. Cloud State put together a program-record six-game winning streak to finish November with a perfect 6-0-0 record. The Huskies were led during the run by seniors Molly Illikainen (eight goals - including three game-winners - and five assists for 13 points during the run) and WCHA Defensive Player of the Month Katie Fitzgerald (1.33 goals-against average and .950 save percentage).

  • Potter Takes the Reigns: Four-time Olympic medalist and two-time WCHA Player of the Year Jenny Potter returned to the league this year for her D-I head coaching debut with Ohio State. Rookie defenseman Lauren Boyle is tied for the NCAA lead among freshmen blue liners with 12 assists - including one in the Buckeyes' Jan. 2 victory over Penn State.

  • Maverick Youngsters: Minnesota State's talented corps of freshmen and sophomores has scored 23 of the team's 29 goals this season and has accounted for 54 of the Mavs' 76 points (good for fourth among all WCHA underclassmen groups). Sophomore Hannah Davidson scored the game-winner in the Mavericks' Jan. 3 victory over Lindenwood.

By the Numbers

- 23: Current and former WCHA student-athletes participating this week at the 2016 Nations Cup for Canada (6 players), Finland (6), Germany (2), Sweden (8) and Switzerland (1). The tournament is held between Jan. 4-7 in Füssen, Germany.

The Week Ahead

- Nonconference and Exhibitions: Bemidji State kicks off the week with a Wednesday-Thursday series against visiting Lindenwood. The Minnesota Whitecaps play three exhibition games against WCHA teams (Wednesday at Minnesota and Saturday-Sunday at North Dakota).

- WCHA Play Resumes: The weekend brings the return of league play with three WCHA series: St. Cloud State at Minnesota State (Friday-Saturday), Minnesota Duluth at No. 2 Wisconsin (Friday-Sunday) and Ohio State at Minnesota (Saturday-Sunday).