The women’s college hockey is only about two weeks away from kicking off, and on Wednesday, the WCHA held their annual preseason conference call to kick off the season.
To start things off, here were the results of the league’s preseason coaches poll:
3. Ohio State
4. Minnesota Duluth
5. Bemidji State
6. Minnesota State
7. St. Cloud State
As a reminder, coaches can’t vote their own team first, so Wisconsin is essentially a unanimous selection for first in the league.
And here were the league’s preseason individual awards:
Player of the Year: Abby Roque, Wisconsin and Emma Maltais, Ohio State
Rookie of the Year: Madeline Wethington, Wisconsin
Preseason All-League Team: Emma Maltais, Ohio State, Grace Zumwinkle, Minnesota, Abby Roque, Wisconsin, Sophie Shirley, Wisconsin Jincy Dunne, Wisconsin(unanimous), Mekenzie Steffen, Wisconsin, Kristen Campbell, Wisconsin
The call proceeded with new commissioner Jennifer Flowers, director of officials Greg Shepherd, and each of the league’s seven head coaches getting some time to talk and take questions. Here were some of my notes of what stood out on the call:
-The league has a new commissioner in Jennifer Flowers, replacing Katie Million, who did strong work as commissioner before moving on to a job with USA Hockey this past summer.
Probably the most interesting part of Flowers’ time was when she was asked about expansion. She reiterated the league’s standard line that they don’t have to expand to get back to seven teams after losing North Dakota, but would be open to the possibility if the right fit presented itself. She said that there are conversations with schools such as Northern Michigan and St. Thomas, but not what she would call real movement towards either of those programs starting D-1 hockey teams.
-As for the rules portion, the biggest news is that the women’s league will be adopting a five-minute 3-on-3 overtime period following the traditional 5-on-5 five-minute overtime period to settle ties for league games. If the game remains tied after the 3-on-3 OT, teams will move on to a sudden death shootout. Again, this is for league play only, as NCAA rules prohibit it during non-conference play(a massive failure that I strongly expect to be changed back next summer during the rule change period).
Coaches were mixed on the prospect of 3-on-3 OT. It passed 4-3 among the league coaches. Maura Crowell, Brad Frost, and Jim Scanlon said they were yes votes. Mark Johnson and John Harrington said they were no votes. If the other two coaches said how they voted, I missed it.
-The only other rules thing to be aware of is that goal reviews for too many men on the ice and offsides can only be started via a coach’s challenge. Again, it wasn’t a rule change year, so there wasn’t much they could do to change a rule that was disaster, but the hope is that that will at least eliminate a couple reviews.
This change only applies to the regular season. Officials can hunt for any excuse to disallow a goal in the league and national postseason.
-Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson didn’t have much to say of substance about former Patty Kazmaier winner Daryl Watts, who transferred from Boston College to Wisconsin over the summer, since he hasn’t been on the ice with them much. But did say she seemed happy and comfortable being in Madison.
-St. Cloud State has a new head coach after former assistant Steve MacDonald took over for Eric Rud, who departed to become an assistant coach at Miami this past summer. MacDonald has been at St. Cloud State as an assistant for five years, and felt more like he was just trying to continue what their program has been building over his time there than a major change now that he is head coach.
-Ohio State head coach Nadine Muzzerall praised MacDonald for his hiring of Molly Engstrom as an assistant coach, adding another female coach to the league’s coaching ranks. Ohio State also added another female coach when they hired Emily West this summer. With West’s hiring, the Buckeyes now have three University of Minnesota alums behind the bench.
Former NHLer Andrew Cassels will also be helping out Ohio State’s women’s team as a volunteer assistant coach.
-Minnesota Duluth head coach Maura Crowell was asked about the future of the WCHA and women’s college hockey, and was the one head coach to mention the looming topic of the New England Women’s Hockey Alliance and those six programs making the move towards full Division I programs, and how that would be handled with respect to the format of the NCAA Tournament. Without taking a position that delved much into specifics, she said hoped there would a lot of good, forward-thinking conversations about how that would be handled.
-Minnesota head coach Brad Frost felt his team was ready to hit the ground running this season with an experienced team. While they bring in the preseason rookie of the year in Madeline Wethington, there is only one other freshman skater on the team
-Bemidji State is another junior and senior-laden team. There’s not a lot of room for upward mobility in the women’s WCHA with so many powerhouse programs, but head coach Jim Scanlon really likes his team’s depth at forward..