The women’s WCHA season kicks off ten days from today when the University of Wisconsin takes on the South Korea’s Olympic national team in an exhibition.
With the season so close at hand, it’s a good time to take a look at the newcomers for each team this year. This is a unique year, not only because it is an Olympic year and a handful of players will be off representing their respective countries, but also because North Dakota’s decision to drop their hockey program made free agents of a number of talented players.
Here’s a breakdown of the new names for each of the league’s seven teams this year.
This is a top-notch class, even by Minnesota’s lofty standards. The Gophers not only bring in some high quality players, but they really address some of the team’s biggest needs.
Minnesota got adequate play in goal last season from Sidney Peters, but many acknowledged that was just a one-year stopgap between Amanda Leveille and incoming freshman Alex Gulstene. Gulstene has backstopped the United States to two gold medals at the IIHF World U18 championships. It depends how quickly she can adjust to the collegiate level, but she gives Minnesota a truly elite #1 goalie.
Thanks to graduation and Olympic centralization, Minnesota will have to replace their top seven scorers from last season, who accounted for about two-thirds of their goals. So it helps that they will bring in the top forward recruit in the nation in Grace Zumwinkle. Zumwinkle is already one of the best shooters in the women’s game with a blistering shot, and is a strong, fluid skater capable of creating opportunities for herself. She should step in as a top line forward right away and contribute offensively.
The Gophers bring in another potential top line forward in Amy Potomak, though she most likely won’t contribute next season because she was selected for Team Canada’s centralization roster for the upcoming 2018 Olympics. The fact that she’s a potential Olympian for one of the Big 2 at age 18 is impressive in itself. She’s an elite skater, maybe the best in the world for her age, and will be an impact player.
Rounding out the freshman forwards is Maple Grove HS forward Taylor Wente. Like Gulstene and Zumwinkle, Wente won a pair of World U18 gold medals. She’s a hard worker and very smart player that should bring some grit and toughness to the Gopher forwards.
They’ll also add some depth up front in junior Jackie Pieper, who transferred back home after playing two years at Merrimack.
Minnesota will replace the graduating duo of Lee Stecklein and Megan Wolfe with Canadian defenseman Olivia Knowles and Blaine(MN) HS defenseman Emily Brown. Both are big, solid defenders with a bit of offensive upside that have experience playing internationally at the U18 level. Neither projects to be the same player Stecklein was for Minnesota, but both should be very good additions.
The Badgers’ recruiting class was dealt a blow when it was reported that top recruit Sophie Shirley would not be enrolling at Madison this year. Shirley will play this season with the professional Calgary Inferno of the CWHL, while only taking actual and necessary expenses in order to retain her collegiate eligibility with the hopes of playing for Wisconsin next season.
Wisconsin will add arguably the top defensive recruit in the WCHA in Edina(MN) HS defenseman Grace Bowlby. Bowlby was the top defender in Minnesota last season with an impressive combination of fluid skating and excellent hockey sense. Joining her is Shattuck-St. Mary’s defenseman Natalie Buchbinder, a US national U18 team veteran that should provide a solid, reliable presence.
The Badgers offense should also get a boost from senior transfer Claudia Kepler. Kepler played three seasons at Ohio State, leading the Buckeyes in scoring as a junior in 2015-2016 before sitting out last season as an intra-conference transfer at Wisconsin.
The top freshman forward is Delaney Drake. Drake is an elite skater that should make an instant impact for the Badgers. Brette Pettet is a hard-nosed forward that is a productive offensive player. Wisconsin natives Kyleigh Hanzlik and Maddie Posick should be effective in supporting roles.
The biggest challenge for Wisconsin this season will be replacing outgoing senior goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens. Joining returners Nikki Cece and Alyson Baldwin are Kristen Campbell, a sophomore that transferred from North Dakota after they dropped their program, and freshman Breanna Blesi, who played for Maple Grove(MN) HS last year.
Minnesota Duluth brings is a pretty big class that is solid, though next year’s recruiting class has more high-end talent.
The Bulldogs were the most immediate beneficiaries of North Dakota’s decision to drop their hockey program. They added North Dakota rising freshman Ryleigh Houston, who scored 26 points as a rookie for the Fighting Hawks, as well as what would have been North Dakota’s top recruit, Ashton Bell, who captained Team Canada at the 2017 World U18 championships and scored an overtime game-winning goal to defeat Team USA in the tournament’s preliminary round. UMD also got a commitment from former North Dakota commit Gabbie Hughes, a top 2018 prospect.
Bell is joined by a huge class of freshman forwards including Naomi Rogge, Mallory Iozzo, Monique Aanenson, Megan Pardy, Anna Klein, Lindsay Czech, and Alison Rodgers. Of that group, Rogge is probably the most likely to make an instant impact in the Bulldogs line-up.
Former Mercyhurst goalie Jessica Convery transferred to UMD over the summer for her senior season. Convery has one year of eligibility remaining, and should be an excellent stopgap for this season, while regular starting goalie Maddie Rooney is centralized with the US Olympic team. Colorado goalie Hannah Markel also joins the team as a freshman.
Finally, the Bulldogs only bring in one new defensman this year in Alexandria(MN) HS D McKenzie Revering. Revering was a top prospect before injuring her ACL playing soccer last fall, and losing most of her senior season of high school, and should be a strong player once she adjusts to game speed again.
The Beavers have a small incoming class this year, needing to replace just four players from last year’s team. But their class is highlighted by one of the biggest recruits in school history in forward Claire DeGeorge. DeGeorge is a 5’10” power forward that is an excellent skater for her size. She played on the top line of the gold medal-winning US women’s U18 team, and was one of three high school players invited to USA Hockey’s 42-player national team selection camp earlier this year. She didn’t make the team this year, but will definitely be in the mix for the national team in coming years, and should make an instant impact offensively for a Bemidji State team that averaged less than two goals per game last season.
They’ll also add another player with US U18 national team experience in defenseman Mak Langei, who won gold at the 2016 tournament.
The most important recruit for the Beavers, however, will likely be in goal, where they will need to replace four-year starter Brittni Mowat. Freshman Kerigan Dowhy was a top goalie in her home province of Manitoba and should compete with senior Erin Deters and redshirt freshman Lauren Bench for the starting job.
Aside from DeGeorge and Dowhy, Bemidji State’s seven other freshmen all hail from Minnesota. Joining Langei on the blue line are Kara Werth(originally a member of North Dakota’s recruiting class), Abby Ecker, and Tina Kampa, a smaller defenseman with excellent play-making ability. Up front, DeGeorge will be complemented by Paige Beebe and Lindsey Featherstone, a pair of two-way forwards with excellent speed.
The Buckeyes’ recruiting has been hurt a bit by coaching turnover, which has caused a few committed recruits to end up elsewhere, but overall, they still bring in a solid class.
They’ll add two junior forwards via transfer this year. Charly Dahlquist had eight goals and 15 points as a sophomore at North Dakota last season. She’ll be re-united with high school teammate Lauren Boyle in Columbus this year. They’ll also add a promising forward in Harvard transfer Grace Zarzecki. Zarzecki is a two-time U18 national team player that scored 10 goals for Harvard as a rookie. She played just seven games for the Crimson last season before suffering an season-ending injury.
They’ll be joined by four other freshman forwards. The top forward in the class appears to be Emma Maltais. Maltais is a two-time member of Canada’s U18 team, and was invited to Canada’s Olympic strength and conditioning camp this summer. Liz Schepers was a Ms. Hockey semifinalist in the state of Minnesota last year. McKenna Wesloh didn’t draw the same attention playing Tier I AAA hockey, rather than the more publicized high school hockey in her home state of Minnesota, but is a tough, strong player with tremendous skill. Tatum Skaggs was one of the top forwards with the Chicago Mission program that finished as U19 national runner-up this past season. Overall, this appears to be a pretty strong group.
Ontario D Lisa Bruno is the only defenseman in the Buckeyes freshman class.
The Buckeyes will also have two rookie goalies, Maggie Cory and Amanda Zeglen, that will serve as back-ups behind returning junior goalie Kassidy Sauve.
St. Cloud State
The Huskies were another team that picked up some players after North Dakota cut their hockey program. Forward Hallie Theodosopoulos and defenseman Abby Thiessen both join the Huskies after spending their rookie seasons with the Fighting Hawks. North Dakota’s top defensive recruit, big defenseman Taylor Wemple also joined the Huskies after the announcement cutting North Dakota’s program.
St. Cloud State has one other transfer in Dana Rasmussen, a redshirt-sophomore that sat out last year after transferring to St. Cloud from Ohio State.
As for the true freshmen, the Huskies cast a wide net in terms of recruiting. They bring in two players from the California Wave AAA program—forward Aubrey Pritchett and defenseman Tatum Coats—two players from Detroit’s Belle Tire program—power forward Megan Roe and defenseman Hannah Bates—two players from the metro Twin Cities—forward Emma Bigham and defenseman Kenzie Wylie—and German national team player Laura Kluge, who played a big role in Germany’s surprise run to the semifinals at this year’s World Championships.
In goal, Emma Polusny was a top goalie in the Minnesota high school ranks last season. She’ll likely start as a back-up to sophomore goalie Janine Alder.
This isn’t quite the first full recruiting class for head coach John Harrington, though the majority of the class was recruited by him. The Mavericks have been an extremely young team the past two years, leaving them needing to replace only two regulars from last year’s team, and thus, bringing in a very small class.
Rebekah Kolstad returns to her hometown of Mankato as a junior after spending her first two years with the now-defunct North Dakota program. She’ll provide some experience and physicality to the MSU line-up, along with some scoring touch.
Kolstad is joined by a trio of incoming freshman forwards. Madison Capitols forward Brittyn Fleming is an strong puck-handler that excels in one-on-one situations. Warroad(MN) HS’s Mariah Gardner, who was a top scorer in the Minnesota high school ranks, will join her older sister Demi on the Mavericks’ roster. Shakopee(MN) HS forward Tristan Truax has played both forward and defense but will play up front with the Mavericks, where she should be able to use her abilities distributing the puck.
The one new defenseman is Jessica Kondas, from Alberta, who projects as more of a defensive defenseman.