The WCHA Coaches’ Poll is out, and it looks like this:
Bear in mind that coaches could not vote for their own team. It makes sense that UMN and UW were close on points but not particularly so on first-place votes since a team can garner a lot of sixes but still get everyone’s second-place nod.
When I said that UMN went with a quantity system on recruits, this is true in terms of numbers, but I should also note that there is a tier of those recruits that includes what many believe is the best current Canadian U-18 player plus last year’s Minnesota Ms. Hockey. Add that to presumption Kaz winner Brandt and other returnees from a championship squad such as Pannek and this team will be difficult to challenge within the conference. Wisconsin is formidable with the assumption that Pankowski (I am working on a nickname for her; suggestions welcome) will start to really come into her own as a sophomore and their small but elite class of first-years. However UW also lost a larger percentage of its scoring (Turnbull-Sylvester-Ammerman) than the Gophers. It will also need to significantly improve on its power play if it wants to challenge for the top spot.
North Dakota, meanwhile, held second place in combined special teams ranking last season and will be led by Amsley-Benzie in her senior season. UND’s recruiting strategy for the past several years has been ‘do what UMD did, but more effectively’ which means sweep up all the available international talent plus what seems like all of Minnesota’s public high graduates (fine, a slight exaggeration). It’s really a coin toss whether their program or now-upperclass goalie Mowat plus the surprising seniors of BSU will take third. Mowat faced a mad number of shots last year and still returned among the conference’s best goaltending stats. There’s always a chance she is ground down by the continued demands placed upon her, but let’s be wild and wacky and go with BSU for that third place.
Ohio State brings in an excellent first-year class anchored by ‘hey I’ve finally made it to college might be a slight let-down after all my national team duty’ Dunne which seems unwieldy as a nickname. I don’t pretend to know how Coach WTF managed that, but it’s a gift to his successor. On the other hand, the Buckeyes also lose among the highest percentage of offense from last season. Given big program change plus some intimations that there may not be strong institutional support for women’s hockey this will be a rebuilding year. I cannot count how many times I have said that over the past five seasons, coupled with the occasional ‘hey, this could be the year they break through a bit…nope.’
Likewise, we have seen the ‘rebirth’ of SCSU on countless occasions, but they are the object lesson in the fact that one recruit that seems great on paper cannot change a programmatic culture by herself. This year’s candidate is of course transfer Taylor Crosby. Mankato needs to take fewer penalties.
This is where we start in the most competitive of D-I conferences.