WCHA Weekend Preview: Feb. 5 - 6, 2016
News and notes for the upcoming weekend of WCHA hockey
St. Cloud State hosts Bemidji State this weekend at Herb Brooks National Hockey Center

Opening Face-Off

- WCHA Leading at the Polls: The nation's top women's college hockey conference continues to set this season's standard in the opinion polls, with the WCHA matching ECAC Hockey with four ranked teams in both the USCHO.com and USA Today / USA Hockey Magazine rankings: No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 3 Minnesota, No. 7 Bemidji State and No. 8 North Dakota.

- Winning Hockey: Not surprisingly, four of the NCAA's top-12 winning percentages also belong to WCHA teams: Wisconsin (second at .946, 26-1-1), Minnesota (tied for third at .889, 24-3-0), Bemidji State (ninth at .643, 17-9-2) and North Dakota (11th at .615, 14-8-4).

- Playoff Home-Ice: The two teams atop the league standings, front-running Wisconsin and second-place Minnesota, have each clinched home-ice for the first round of the 2016 WCHA playoffs. Bemidji State, meanwhile, can clinch home-ice for the first time in program history with a sweep at St. Cloud State this weekend. Depending on results of its games at Minnesota and the BSU-SCSU series, North Dakota could also potentially clinch as soon as this weekend (the Fighting Hawks need to earn one more point in their two games than the Huskies do in theirs).

- Welcome Back, Amanda: Minnesota has announced that Amanda Kessel will officially return to the Gophers for the remainder of the 2015-16 season. Kessel, a two-time All-American and 2013 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner, has not played collegiately since the 2013 NCAA championship game. She took a redshirt for the 2013-14 season to represent the United States at the Sochi Olympics, before missing the 2014-15 campaign while recovering from a concussion. Kessel, the 2013 WCHA Player of the Year and a three-time All-WCHA performer, will make her debut this weekend when the Gophers host No. 8 North Dakota at Ridder Arena.

- Quickly Around the WCHA: BEMIDJI STATE senior D Ivana Bilic has helped the Beavers rank in the top-10 nationally for scoring defense with 71 blocked shots, the second-most in the country ... MINNESOTA linemates Hannah Brandt (21g-26a), Dani Cameranesi (25g-28a) and Sarah Potomak (11g-34a) are among the nation's top five leading scorers, ranked third, fourth, and sixth in points per game, respectively ... MINNESOTA DULUTH senior G Kayla Black, the program's all-time leader with 20 shutouts and 2,783 saves, picked up the 51st win of her career last Saturday ... 10 of MINNESOTA STATE'S last 11 games have been decided by two-goals-or-less, including eight one-goal decisions and three ties ... NORTH DAKOTA'S blue-liners, who have played a big role in the Fighting Hawks ranking ninth nationally for scoring defense (1.88gpg), have also contributed offensively, with six of seven recording points ... OHIO STATE senior F Julia McKinnon has 10 points in her last six games, tied for fifth nationally during that span (second WCHA) ... ST. CLOUD STATE is in the midst of potentially four-straight weekends against ranked opponents, welcoming No. 7 Bemidji State this week after traveling to No. 2 Wisconsin and hosting No. 3 Minnesota the previous two series (with a set at No. 8 North Dakota upcoming) ... WISCONSIN senior D Courtney Burke is two points shy of becoming the 19th player in program history to reach 100 career points (16g-82a).

All rankings listed by USCHO.com poll first, followed by USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll


No. 8 North Dakota (11-7-4-2, 39 pts. / 14-8-4) at No. 3 Minnesota (19-3-0-0, 57 pts. / 24-3-0)
Ridder Arena; Minneapolis, Minn. – Fri., Feb. 5 (6:07 p.m. CT) and Sat., Feb. 6 (4:07 p.m. CT)

- Amanda Kessel's return to the ice for Minnesota will take place when longtime rivals meet at Ridder Arena in a top-10 matchup, as the No. 3 Gophers host the No. 8 Fighting Hawks. UND defeated then-No. 1 Minnesota back on Oct. 30.

- The series pits two of the WCHA's best goaltenders in seniors Shelby Amsley-Benzie (UND) and Amanda Leveille (UMN). The duo, who have combined for 150 collegiate wins and 47 shutouts, currently rank 17th and 15th, respectively, in the country for save percentage.

- UND junior F Amy Menke, who recently cracked the program's all-time top-10 scoring list, is currently tied for 23rd in the NCAA with 29 points (ninth WCHA).

- North Dakota has the sixth-best penalty kill in the country, second best in the WCHA, averaging a .902 shorthanded efficiency.

- On the other side, Minnesota continues to lead the nation at .486 (36/74) on the power play. Junior F Dani Cameranesi leads the nation with 12 power-play goals, which is tied for fourth in Gopher all-time single-season records.

- Minnesota maintains its hold on the national attendance lead, averaging 1,397 fans per game. At home at Ridder Arena, the Gophers rank second with 1,944 fans per game.

- The Gophers are 47-8-0 all-time against North Dakota, including 9-1-0 at Ridder Arena. The teams have split the last two series, one this season and one last season (both in Grand Forks).

Minnesota Duluth (7-14-1-0, 22 pts. / 10-17-1) at Minnesota State (0-19-3-0, 3 pts. / 3-21-44)
Verizon Wireless Center; Mankato, Minn. – Fri., Feb. 5 and Sat., Feb. 6 (2:07 p.m. CT both days)

- First-year WCHA coaches Maura Crowell (UMD) and John Harrington (MSU) square off for the second time. UMD got the upper hand back in October, skating to a pair of victories in Duluth.

- UMD junior F Ashleigh Bryklaiuk leads the Bulldogs in scoring with 34 points on 11 goals and 23 assists. She has notched points in 13 of the Bulldogs last 14 games (7g-15a=21pts).

- Senior F Lara Stalder ranks first with 14 Bulldog goals and second overall with 29 points. In her last 12 games, Stalder has recorded points all but twice (7g-12a=19pts).

- The Mavericks' talented group of underclassmen, including WCHA January Rookie of the Month Emily Antony, have recorded 93 of MSU's 125 points (74.4%) and 39 of 48 goals (81.3%).

- The Bulldogs have won 10-straight games against MSU, dating back to the 2012-13 season. All-time, UMD is 59-6-4 versus the Mavericks.

No. 2 Wisconsin (20-1-1-1, 62 pts. / 26-1-1) at Ohio State (15-16-1-1, 17 pts. / 9-18-1)
OSU Ice Rink; Columbus, Ohio – Fri., Feb. 5 (7:07 p.m. ET) and Sat., Feb. 6 (4:07 p.m. ET)

- The Buckeyes, who are fourth in the country with 22 goals in their last six games, will host the second-ranked Badgers and the NCAA's top defense. Wisconsin is traveling east for the first time this season.

- UW's top-ranked defense is backstopped by junior G Ann-Renée Desbiens, who leads the nation in save percentage (.966), goals-against average (0.62) wins (24) and shutouts (14).

- The 2015 National Rookie of the Year, UW sophomore F Annie Pankowski, has recorded a point in 25 of UW's 28 games this season and now has 44 points, one more than last year.

- Few skaters in the country have been as hot as OSU F Julia McKinnon. The senior has 10 points (4g-6a) in her last six games, tied for fifth nationally during that span. Only one other WCHA skater has more points during that timeframe, Wisconsin's Emily Clark (6g-5a=11pts).

- During their last six contests, the Buckeyes have scored 22 goals and have been converting power play opportunities at a .438 clip. Both marks are fourth in the country over that span.

- The Badgers lead the all-time series with the Buckeyes 58-10-3. In Columbus, UW leads the all-time series 24-4-2. The Badgers blanked the Buckeyes back on Oct. 10-11 at LaBahn Arena.

No. 7 Bemidji State (12-9-1-0, 37 pts. / 17-9-2) at St. Cloud State (7-12-3-3, 27 pts. / 11-13-3)
Herb Brooks National Hockey Center; St. Cloud, Minn. – Fri., Feb. 5 (7:07 p.m. CT) and Sat., Feb. 6 (3:07 p.m. CT)

- Huge WCHA points are on the line, as the No. 7 Beavers can clinch home-ice with a sweep of the Huskies (currently in fifth place). SCSU is 4-2-1 in its last seven home games.

- The Beavers are one of the top teams in the WCHA by staying out of the penalty box. BSU is 2nd in the league by averaging just 5.8 PIM/G.

- BSU junior Brittni Mowat now ranks 8th in the nation in save percentage (.942) and ninth in GAA (1.60). She is also 4th in minutes (1571:54) and 6th in wins (17).

- SCSU senior G Katie Fitzgerald had a pair of 40-save efforts last weekend and now has 749 on the season – tied for most in the WCHA and second-most nationally.

- Senior F Molly Illikainen leads the Huskies with 26 points this season and is 7 points away from getting her 100th career point, while freshman F Julia Tylke has become an offensive leader in her first season (18 points and 3 game-winning goals)/

- BSU swept St. Cloud State earlier this season at Sanford Center, earning a pair of 3-1 victories Oct. 30-31.