WCHA Week 15: Key League Series And Nonconference Tests On Tap
Race for playoff home ice heats up when Minnesota Duluth hosts Bemidji State, including a Saturday showdown on FOX Sports North PLUS; elsewhere, No. 1 Wisconsin returns to the ice against Minnesota State, No. 8 Ohio State hosts No. 9 Robert Morris in a top-10 series and No. 5 Minnesota welcomes Vermont
Minnesota Duluth hosts Bemidji State, including a Saturday showdown on FOX Sports North PLUS

Opening Faceoff

- Here We Go: With Wisconsin returning to the ice this weekend, all seven teams in the Women's League of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) will have begun the 2018 portion of their schedule -- setting up a six-week sprint to the end of the regular season and the league postseason tournament.

- WCHA on FOX Sports North: As the race for WCHA playoff home ice heats up, Saturday's contest between fourth-place Bemidji State and fifth-place Minnesota Duluth from AMSOIL Arena will be televised live on FOX Sports North PLUS.

  • Beginning with Saturday's Beavers-Bulldogs showdown, five of the last six regular season weekends will feature at least one WCHA game on FOX Sports North, FOX Sports North PLUS and/or FOX Sports Wisconsin.

- Presence in the Polls: The WCHA has three teams in ranked in the first USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls of January, matching ECAC Hockey and Hockey East for most of any league.

  • Wisconsin, which leads the country with 21 wins and a .955 winning percentage (21-1-0), remains the unanimous top-ranked team. Minnesota is No. 5 and Ohio State is ranked eighth.

- Looking to "Three-Peat," Wisconsin Leads Entering Stretch Run: Two-time defending WCHA regular season champion Wisconsin is again atop the league standings. A third-consecutive title would, for the first time, give the Badgers a quarterfinal-round bye in the league postseason tournament and an automatic berth in the 2018 WCHA Final Faceoff.

  • UW is a perfect 12-0-0 in WCHA play and, with 36 points, has a four-point lead over second-place Minnesota (and four games in-hand on the Gophers), and a five-point advantage over third-place Ohio State (with two games in-hand).

- Beavers on a Roll: After opening the season 1-7-1, Bemidji State is 10-4-1 (.700) in its last 15 games -- tied for the sixth-best winning percentage among NCAA Division I programs since Oct. 28.

  • Included in that stretch is a BSU program-record six-game winning streak between Dec. 2 and Jan. 2.
  • Redshirt-freshman goaltender Lauren Bench is 5-1-0 with a 1.56 goals-against average and .935 save percentage during the Beavers' extended hot streak, while sophomore forward Haley Mack is tied for fourth in the WCHA with 13 points (5g-8a) since Oct. 28.

- Youth Movement: The WCHA has not had a freshman as its scoring champion (defined as the most points in league play) since Ohio State's Hokey Langan had 43 points (21g-22a) during the 2009-10 season. But, rookies have two of the top-three spots entering the weekend: Minnesota's Grace Zumwinkle leads with 20 points (8g-12a) in 16 WCHA games, while OSU's Emma Maltais is third with 16 points (6g-10a) in 14 contests.

  • Nationally, seven of the top-20 D-I rookie scorers are from the WCHA: Maltais is third with 1.25 points per game, Zumwinkle is fourth at 1.13, OSU's Tatum Skaggs (13g-8a=21pts) is tied for sixth at 0.95, St. Cloud State's Laura Kluge (5g-11a=16pts) is 10th at 0.84, Minnesota Duluth's Naomi Rogge (10g-6a=16pts) is 14th at 0.76, UMD's Ashton Bell (9g=6a=15pts) is tied for 15th at 0.71 and Minnesota State's Brittyn Fleming (4g-11a=15pts) is tied for 19th at 0.68.

By the Numbers

- 1: Just one goal has decided each of the first three meetings this season between Bemidji State and Minnesota Duluth, with BSU owning a 2-1-0 edge (including one nonconference win, at the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game).

- 3: Shutouts this season for St. Cloud State's Emma Polusny, the most by any NCAA freshman netminder and tied for the all-time Huskies single-season record. Since her start against Bemidji State on November 22, Polusny paces the WCHA with a 0.99 goals-against average, a .969 save percentage and all three shutouts in six starts.

- 22: Straight home games without a loss for Wisconsin, dating to Dec. 4, 2016 (21-0-1). The Badgers have outscored opponents 108-14 during the run.

The Weekend Ahead

- Two League Series: Top-ranked Wisconsin returns to action for the first time in 34 days by hosting Minnesota State, while fourth place in the WCHA standings is on the line when fifth-place Minnesota Duluth hosts fourth-place Bemidji State.

- Nonconference Tests: Eighth-ranked Ohio State and No. 9 Robert Morris meet for the second time this season, as the Buckeyes host the Colonials after the teams split in Pennsylvania back in November. Fifth-ranked Minnesota welcomes Vermont in the first-ever meeting between the schools.

- Exhibition: After playing three games in five days, St. Cloud State takes a break from NCAA play by hosting the WCHA-laden Minnesota Whitecaps on Saturday.