2019-20 NCAA Preview: WCHA

A look at the WCHA head of the 2019-20 season

The common question in most hockey communities as the summer draws to a close is “Is it October yet?” The great thing about collegiate hockey is that there’s no need to wait for October to immerse yourself in the action — in fact, the WCHA starts in this week! With exhibition and out-of-conference games rapidly approaching, let’s take a look at how your favorite teams are shaping up ahead of the 2019-20 season.

How Last Season Went

First, let’s take a step back and examine last season’s outcomes to even begin to predict how this season will turn out. As many anticipated, Badgers captain Annie Pankowski led Wisconsin to their fifth national title over the Minnesota Golden Gophers in a 2-0 shutout that earned goaltender Kristen Campbell Most Outstanding Player honors. The Frozen Four was rounded out by the Northeastern Huskies and the Clarkson Golden Knights, who came in third and fourth place in the tournament, respectively.

Top Team Predictions

Minnesota is the most recent WCHA school to win repeat championship titles in 2015 and 2016. Wisconsin has done so only once, in 2006 and 2007, but the coaches of the WCHA are confident that they have what it takes to do so again. In the WCHA Coaches’ Preseason Poll, the vote for #1 was unanimous; Wisconsin topped the rankings once more. With the addition of several talented newcomers like Grace Shirley and Daryl Watts (who transferred this year from Boston College), as well as the return of veterans like redshirt senior goaltender Kristen Campbell and Preseason Co-Player of the Year Abby Roque, Wisconsin is sure to be a formidable opponent both in and out of the WCHA this season.

As for the other teams, Minnesota dealt with a gut-wrenching Final defeat last season by adding several talented rookies to their roster, including freshmen Madeline Wethington and Makayla Pahl. Ohio State sits comfortably in the third place position, with Preseason Co-Player of the Year Emma Maltais coming in hot with a couple of Hockey Canada Development camps under her belt. Close behind Ohio State — only one point out, according to the WCHA Preseason Coaches’ Poll — is Minnesota-Duluth, looking to make the most of their season with several of their top talent having graduated last spring or red-shirting this season.

The rest of the standings are pretty much up for grabs. Bemidji State, Minnesota State, and St. Cloud State have struggled more this past season, but that only means they’ll be hungrier in 2019-20, and with the additions each has made to their rosters...let’s just say this season in the WCHA is going to be interesting.

5 players to watch

Claire DeGeorge: Bemidji State’s Claire DeGeorge is a force to be reckoned with, and will predictably continue to be as she enters her junior season with the team. In her sophomore season, she played in all 36 games and was ranked first on the team in points (22) and tied for first in game-winning goals (3) and assists (13), second in goals scored (9), and fourth in shots (83). That being said, statistics aren’t everything -- fans, teammates, and coaches alike will testify to DeGeorge being both a great skater and an excellent team player. This past summer, DeGeorge was selected to the USA Hockey U-22 Select Team alongside WCHA competitors like Emma Polusny, Grace Zumwinkle, and Madeline Wethington.

Klara Hymlarova: Klara Hymlarova is a 5’3” forward coming into her freshman season at St. Cloud State University. In her senior season with the Ontario Hockey Academy, she tallied 61 goals and 59 assists over 80 games played. In 2015, she earned first place honors with the Czech National Team during the IIHF Women’s World Championship Division I tournament. She’s played for the Czech National Team at both World Juniors, the Olympic Games Qualifiers, and the World Championship ever since. Though not many statistics are available for Hymlarova at this point in the season, she’s a player you’ll want to keep your eye on as St. Cloud State fights for a spot in the playoffs.

Emma Maltais: Ohio State’s Emma Maltais is a name you might have heard over the last two seasons, but she’s just getting started. A member of Team Canada’s National Development Team, Maltais has competed alongside teammates and WCHA competitors alike, including former Buckeye Natalie Spooner. The past two seasons, Maltais has led the team in points and earned herself a number of honors, including 4x Rookie of the Month and 3x Rookie of the Week in her freshman season. Maltais is a force to be reckoned with on the ice, and you’re sure to hear a lot more about her both on the collegiate and international stages.

Abby Roque: Abby Roque, a 5’7” forward at the University of Wisconsin, has been a powerhouse for the Badgers since her freshman season. She has a myriad of honors to her name -- including several WCHA rookie honors (2016-2017 Rookie of the Year, 2016-2017 All-Rookie Team, 3x Rookie of the Week) and several WCHA offensive honors (Offensive Player of the Month for September and October, 2017; Offensive Player of the Year, 2017-2018) -- and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down after last season’s championship.

Madeline Wethington: The 2019 recipient of Minnesota’s Ms. Hockey Award, Madeline Wethington is a talented multi-sport athlete who’s bringing her hockey prowess to the University of  Minnesota this season. In 28 games played as a senior, she tallied21 goals and 32 assists for just over a point-per-game record. Between 2016 and 2018, she won three straight gold medals at the IIHF U-18 World Junior Championships with the rest of Team USA, and comes onto Minnesota ice with a plethora of USA Hockey Women’s National Festivals and Development Camps under her belt. Her’s is a name you’ll want to remember this season, and for the next seasons to come.

5 series to watch

Sept. 28, 2019: Minnesota Whitecaps @ Minnesota Duluth: The second of two exhibition games on the Minnesota Whitecaps’ slate this season is sure to be a great match-up against the UMD Bulldogs. With several Minnesota natives on the Whitecaps roster, the game will be a reunion of sorts for the the myriad of WCHA graduates. Recent Minnesota alumnae Nicole Schammel and Nina Rodgers will return to their old stomping grounds to square off against former competitors alongside rivals-turned-teammates.

Oct. 18-19, 2019: Wisconsin @ Long Island University: In mid-October, Wisconsin takes on the Long Island University Sharks in one of the first out-of-conference series in the Sharks’ inaugural season. Players on both rosters will have something to prove as they take each other one; Long Island has to prove that they’re a contender, while Wisconsin’s defense has to avoid getting smothered by an up and coming underdog.

Nov. 29-30, 2019: Country Classic in Nashville, TN: The inaugural women’s hockey Country Classic features two East Coast teams and two Midwest teams -- match-ups you’d typically only see once or twice a season. While the four games between Harvard, Boston College, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are sure to be a battle whoever is playing, the Boston College-Wisconsin game is going to be the one to watch, as former Eagle-turned-Badger Daryl Watts faces off against her old squad.

Dec. 14-15: Princeton vs. Ohio State in Las Vegas, NV: Ohio State and Princeton meet outside of their usual stomping grounds, in a place that up until recently was not considered a hockey homeland. Now, however, it’s sure to be a packed crowd in Vegas as Ohio State takes on Princeton the weekend following the men’s hockey Fortress Invitational.

Feb. 15-16, 2020: Ohio State @ Wisconsin: This February series sees two of the top-seeded powerhouses in the WCHA meet for the last time in the 2019-2020 season. It’ll be a battle for first through third places as Emma Maltais and the rest of Ohio State’s top lines look to take on the solid Wisconsin back end.

The aforementioned games are just a few reasons to keep your eye on the calendar this season, but the rest of the games are sure to be a hit as well. Make sure you’re keeping up with the entire WCHA schedule, available on the WCHA’s website here, for more fast-paced, live-action hockey. After all — seven of the last ten NCAA women’s hockey championship teams have come from the WCHA (the only exception being the ECAC’s Clarkson Golden Knights’ three titles), so you’re watching champions in the making with every game.

You can catch all these players, series, and more with a subscription to the WCHA’s streaming service on FloHockey.tv, available here.