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2021-22 NCAA Preview: WCHA, part 1

Previewing the season outlook for Minnesota State, Bemidji State, St. Cloud State, and new addition St. Thomas

Beaver Athletics

The 2021-22 WCHA season gets under way in just under two weeks — here’s how the league’s bottom three finishers from last year, plus the newest D-I addition to the conference, are projected to fare.

Minnesota State

Key Losses

  • Tristan Truax, D — Led the Mavericks in blocks (41) and power play goals (2)

Key Returners

  • Calla Frank, Jr., G — Started 17 games for the Mavericks in 2020-21, finished the season with a .910 SV% and 2.62 GAA
  • Jamie Nelson, So., F — Finished first on Minnesota State in points (8-7—15)
  • Brittyn Fleming, 5th Yr., F — Key component of the team’s powerplay, with 4 PPA

Season Outlook

Minnesota State is on the brink of a breakout season, and the return of a handful of last season’s seniors make the Mavericks even stronger. Think players like Brittyn Fleming and Jessica Kondas, both of whom are known to come in clutch when the pressure mounts — Fleming on the power play, and Kondas with her team-leading two game winners in 2020-21.

While the Mavericks have traditionally finished in the middle of the league, their narrow exclusion from the playoffs during last year’s abbreviated season means they’re coming back with a vengeance.

Bemidji State

Key Losses

  • Clair DeGeorge, F — Led the Beavers with five goals and 12 points in 20 GP
  • Mak Langei, D — Finished first on the team and in the WCHA in blocked shots (73)
  • Tina Kampa, D — Finished second on the team in blocked shots (57)

Key Returners

  • Reece Hunt, Jr., F — Led the team in assists (8) and shots on goal (59) despite never lighting the lamp herself in 19 GP
  • Kerigan Dowhy, 5th Yr., G — Started 18 games for the Beavers in 2020-21, made 510 saves on 564 shots (both conference highs)

Season Outlook

Bemidji State did not have a great season during the 2021-22 school year, finishing at the very bottom of the WCHA standings with just two wins and sixteen losses. Not only did the squad score the fewest goals of any team in the conference (24 over the course of the entire season, a rate of about 1.20/GP), but they also allowed the most goals in the conference (72, nearly 4/GP).

Reece Hunt is poised to step into an even larger offensive role on the Beavers after the departure of Clair DeGeorge to Ohio State, so make sure to look out for the junior in the other team’s zones. Kerigan Dowhy is also going to be heavily relied upon to post solid numbers in net after the departure of two of the team’s generational defensive talents in Mak Langei and Tina Kampa.

St. Cloud State

Key Losses

  • Hannah Bates, D — Finished first in offensive production among the team’s defenders with one goal and four assists
  • Emma Bigham, F — Recorded 6 points (4-2—6) over 33 games and registered 51 SOG

Key Returners

  • Emma Polusny, 5th Yr., G — Finished the season fourth in the conference in SV% (.419)
  • Jenniina Nylund, Sr., F — Registered seven goals and give assists for a team-high 12 points
  • Klára Hymlárová, Jr., F — Finished fourth on the Huskies in blocks (35) and fourth in points (1-5—6) during 2020-21

Season Outlook

St. Cloud State has struggled over the course of the past couple seasons, finishing last or second to last in league standings each of the past three years. Despite exceptionally strong goaltending in Emma Polusny and Sanni Ahola, the Huskies allowed 62 goals during the 2021-22 season — second most in the conference — and only lit the lamp 32 times, an average of fewer than two goals per game.

There are some bright spots for St. Cloud State, though, including the return of Hymlárová and Nylund, both of whom show a lot of promise on offense. Additionally, Polusny is returning for a fifth season as a graduate student, which means that the squad’s goaltending won’t suffer too much overhaul this year.

St. Thomas

Key Players

  • Saskia Maurer, Fr., G — Represented Switzerland at the 2021 World Championship where she posted a 1.96 GAA and .942 SV%
  • Jenna Hartung, So., F — Finished first on the Tommies with three goals and two assists during their D-III tenure
  • Nicole Vallario, Fr., D — Has been a staple of the SWHL A’s Ladies Team Lugano, with whom she’s registered 32 points since the 2015-26 season. Also competed for Team Switzerland alongside teammate Maurer
Finland v Switzerland: Bronze Medal Game - 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

Season Outlook

St. Thomas makes the transition from Division III to Division I this year, and will have a tough opening weekend as they match up against the league runners-up in Ohio State. While they have the opportunity to make some waves, I don’t think fans should enter the season with the hope of contending with the conference’s big dogs straight out of the gate.

That being said, the additions of Saskia Maurer and Nicole Vallario, both staples of Team Switzerland’s youth movement, along with the return of team scoring leader Jenna Hartung, mean that the Tommies have the chance to be a solid competitor in the bottom half of the conference during their inaugural season.

All data courtesy of the WCHA, EliteProspects, and respective program sites