The WCHA released their preseason coaches’ poll on Tuesday, and if the poll is any indication, this should be an extremely tight race for the league title this year.
Minnesota officially took the top spot in the poll, but the margin was razor thin. The Golden Gophers received the same number of first place votes and second place Ohio State, but received one more point in the poll. Third place Wisconsin received two first place votes and was only two points behind the top spot.
After the Big 3, there is a bit of a gap to last year’s national runner-up Minnesota Duluth, followed by Minnesota State, Bemidji State, St. Cloud State, and St. Thomas.
Here’s the full poll:
2022-23 WCHA COACHES POLL
Coaches could not vote for their own team. First place votes are in parentheses.
- Minnesota (3) 44 points
- Ohio State (3) 43
- Wisconsin (2) 42
- Minnesota Duluth 31
- Minnesota State 25
- Bemidji State 16
- St. Cloud State 15
- St. Thomas 8
In addition to being league favorites, the league’s three Big 10 schools also claimed the top three spots in USCHO’s first national poll of the season. Ohio State garnered the top spot there ahead of second-place Minnesota, though the first USCHO national poll of the year has a notorious bias towards the defending national champion, despite the fact that it is a different team.
Normally, preseason chatter focuses on how teams will replace big holes in their lineup left by graduation. But this year, coming off an Olympic year and some players using their Covid bonus year, the story is all about which team added the most to their arsenal with major additions.
Minnesota returns star forwards Grace Zumwinkle and Abbey Murphy from the US Olympic team and added Finnish Olympian Nelli Laitinen and Swedish Olympian Josefin Bouveng, two older freshman that should be immediate impact players for the Gophers. Add in defender Gracie Ostertag, who should be returning from an injury last season, and Minnesota should have a really talented team.
After loading up in the transfer portal last summer, it was a quieter year for the defending national champs Ohio State. They lost Clair DeGeorge, a huge part of last year’s team, to graduation, but get Emma Maltais back after she won gold at the Olympics last year with Canada, and add an impact in scorer in Wisconsin transfer Makenna Webster. It’s pretty rare for a team to win a national championship and then come back with a more talented team the next season, but that may be the case with the Buckeyes.
Wisconsin was picked third in both the national and WCHA poll after a bit of a down year compared to their usual high standard and losing arguably one of the greatest scorers in women’s hockey history in Daryl Watts to graduation. But the Badgers added a lot to this year’s roster, and could easily be the class of the league. Britta Curl and Lacey Eden return to the Badgers after being among the final cuts for the US Olympic team. Eden in particular seems destined for a breakout after a strong performance at this year’s World Championships. Freshman defender Caroline Harvey will also finally begin her collegiate career after getting some experience with the Olympic team last year. The Badgers added another Olympian through the transfer portal in BU transfer Jesse Compher, and add the biggest impact freshman forwards in the country in Kirsten Simms and Laila Edwards. In a normal year, they’d be far and away the most talented team in the country.
Minnesota Duluth might not be as strong this year with the loss of grad transfer Elizabeth Giguere, but returns the entirety of a large fifth-year group that has carried the program for years, including Patty Kaz finalist Gabbie Hughes and star goalie Emma Soderberg. They also bring back Canadian Olympian Ashton Bell, who will give them an impact player on the blue line. They may not have the high-end talent of the top three teams in the league, but there is so much experience in this line-up that they will be tough to play against.
Even in the bottom half of the league, Minnesota State is adding some pieces that may make them competitive. They return a very solid defender in Anna Wilgren, who centralized with the US Olympic team last season, and will hopefully return top playmaker Jamie Nelson, who was excellent in her freshman season, but missed all of last year due to injury. They don’t have the depth to compete with the top half of the league, but should be more than capable of giving any one of them a good scare and maybe stealing some points on any given night.
The competition should be incredible this year with so many good teams and so many good players.
Here were the league’s preseason awards:
Preseason WCHA Player of the Year: Taylor Heise, 5Yr., F, Minnesota (7 votes).
Others receiving votes: Emma Maltais, Grad., Fr., Ohio State (1).
Preseason WCHA Rookie of the Year: Caroline Harvey, Fr., D, Wisconsin (6).
Others receiving votes: Kirsten Simms, Fr., F, Wisconsin (2).
Preseason All-WCHA Team
Forward - Gabbie Hughes, Grad., Minnesota Duluth
Forward - Taylor Heise, 5Yr., Minnesota
Forward - Emma Maltais, Grad., Ohio State
Defense - Sophie Jaques, Grad., Ohio State
Defense - Ashton Bell, 5Yr., Minnesota Duluth
Goaltender - Amanda Thiele, Jr., Ohio State
Others receiving votes (listed alphabetically by position):
Forwards – Jesse Compher, Sr., Wisconsin; Britta Curl, RSr., Wisconsin; Lacey Eden, RSo., Wisconsin; Grace Zumwinkle, 5Yr., Minnesota.
Defense – Caroline Harvey, Fr., Wisconsin; Nicole LaMantia, Grad., Wisconsin; Anna Wilgren, Sr., Minnesota State.
Goaltender: Emma Soderberg, Grad., Minnesota Duluth.