With so many changes across the WCHA landscape in recent years, there remains a hint of familiarity at the top.
Frequent Frozen Four attendees Minnesota and Wisconsin once again top the WCHA women's coaches poll released Tuesday (September 15). University of Minnesota senior forward Hannah Brandt, meanwhile, is the preseason choice to win her third straight WCHA Player of the Year award. The team, which returns the bulk of its core which won the 2015 national championship, swept the player awards in an eight-team league featuring three new head coaches.
The Gophers (48 total points) received 6 of the 8 first-place votes. Wisconsin (44), winners of the 2015 WCHA Final Face-Off and reaching the Frozen Four semifinals each of the past two seasons, received the other two.
Coaches were unable to vote for their own team or players.
It's the second straight year that WCHA regular season champion Minnesota and second-place Wisconsin have split the first-place vote 6-2. In fact, the coaches poll follows the 2014-15 WCHA regular season standings with one exception. Bemidji State (31), which finished fifth last season, is ahead of fourth-place Minnesota Duluth (26) and nearly topped third-place North Dakota (35). The Beavers did, however. defeat UMD in the WCHA playoffs en route to the WCHA Final Face-Off final.
Ohio State (20) finished sixth followed by St. Cloud State (13) and Minnesota State (7).
Brandt was named the WCHA Preseason Player of the Year for a third straight season, receiving seven of the eight votes. The Vandais Heights, MN native fulfilled preseason expectations each of the last two seasons, winning the end of the season POTY award. Brandt finished second in the nation behind BC's Alex Carpenter with 74 points (34G-40A). A top-three Patty Kazmaier finalist for the second season in a row, Brandt was a part of Team USA's gold-medal winning team at April's World Championships.
Wisconsin junior forward Sarah Nurse received the other POTY vote. Nurse, a native of Hamilton, Ontario, is one of four Badger forwards returning with more than 25 points. She was named the Most Outstanding Player at the WCHA Final Face-Off after a six point (4G-2A) weekend.
In a battle between two of the top freshmen in women's college hockey, Minnesota forward Sarah Potomak (Aldergrove, BC) edged out Ohio State defenseman Jincy Dunne (O'Fallon, MO) to be named the WCHA Rookie of the Year. Potomak received four votes. Dunne received two. A pair of Wisconsin players - defenseman Mikaela Gardner (Plainfield, IL) and forward Sophia Shaver (Wayzata, MN) - each received a single vote.
Despite the familiar names at top, there is plenty of newness permeating throughout the WCHA as the conference, which has won 14 of 15 NCAA national titles, continues to be the deepest from top to bottom. Minnesota Duluth (Maura Crowell), Minnesota State (John Harrington), and Ohio State (Jenny Potter) each feature new head coaches.
The trio join second year coaches Jim Scanlan (Bemidji State) and Eric Rud (St. Cloud State) in trying to challenge Minnesota, winners of three of the last four national championships and the past three regular season titles, Wisconsin, which only loses three seniors, and North Dakota, which has just missed the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons, for the WCHA title.
Bemidji State and Minnesota State begin regular season play Friday September 25. The Beavers host Robert Morris while the Mavericks host Union. Minnesota Duluth goes on the road the next night, facing Missouri-based Lindenwold. The other five teams begin the following week (October 1/2) with non-conference series, including St. Cloud State welcoming Merrimack to Division 1 women's hockey.
WCHA Coaches Poll:
1) Minnesota (6 first place votes) (48 total)
2) Wisconsin (2 first place votes) (44 total)
3) North Dakota (35 total)
4) Bemidji State (31 total)
5) Minnesota Duluth (26 total)
6) Ohio State (20 total)
7) St. Cloud State (13 total)
8) Minnesota State (7 total)
Points were awarded 7 for first, 6 for second, etc. Coaches could not vote for their own team.
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate