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2021-22 NCAA Preview: WCHA, part 2

Previewing the season outlook for Wisconsin, Ohio State, Minnesota Duluth, and Minnesota

NCAA HOCKEY: MAR 18 Div I Women’s Frozen Four - Ohio St. v Wisconsin Photo by Michael Longo/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Less than two weeks to go until the start of the 2021-22 WCHA season and we’re here to prepare you with the year’s outlook for last season’s top finishers: Wisconsin, Ohio State, Minnesota Duluth, and Minnesota.

Wisconsin

Key Losses

  • Natalie Buchbinder, D — Centralizing with Team USA ahead of the 2022 Beijing Olympics, recorded 1.40 SOG/GP and 25 blocks in 2020-21
  • Lacey Eden, F — Centralizing with Team USA ahead of the 2022 Beijing Olympics, transfer from Princeton who scored at a P/GP pace with Wisconsin

Key Returners

  • Daryl Watts, 5th yr., F — 2020-21 NCAA scoring leader with a stat line of 19-17—36 in just 21 GP
  • Kennedy Blair, 5th yr., G — Topped the conference in win percentage (.833), and finished second in GAA (1.59) and SV% (.935)
  • Sophie Shirley, Sr., F — Second in the league in scoring, with 12 goals and 13 assists

Season Outlook

The reigning Final Faceoff and national champions are poised to have another exceptional season — between their exciting crop of freshmen, like Marianne Picard and Sarah Wozniewicz, and their slew of returning fifth years, including Grace Bowlby, Daryl Watts, and Kennedy Blair, the Badgers are definitely pushing for a three-peat(ish).

In 2020-21, Wisconsin finished with the best offense (averaging nearly four goals per game) and defense (allowing just above 1.5 goals per game), and their special teams were nothing to scoff at either. During the abbreviated season, the Badgers’ powerplay was on fire, converting on nearly 20% of their opportunities.

Suffice to say: the rest of the WCHA had better watch out for a red hot Wisconsin.

Ohio State

Key Losses

  • Emma Maltais, F — Centralizing with Team Canada ahead of the 2022 Beijing Olympics, meaning the Buckeyes are going to have to look deeper for their offense
  • Tatum Skaggs, F — Led the Buckeyes in points (8-11—19) in 2020-21

Key Returners

  • Liz Schepers, 5th yr., F — The only returner from Ohio State’s top line, she recorded six goals and nine assists, good for fifth on the team last season
  • Andrea Brändli, Sr., G — Finished third in the league with a 1.99 GAA and .611 win percentage
  • Sophie Jaques, Sr., D — Played in all 20 games for the Buckeyes, recording 33 blocks for the team lead

Season Outlook

Last season, the Buckeyes had one of the most dominant penalty kills in the nation, allowing just two goals on nearly fifty opportunities. Their defense, which many thought might be shaky after the graduation of generational Ohio State defender and Team USA recruit Jincy Dunne, has proved to be in extremely good shape.

The loss of two-thirds of the program’s top (and most productive) line in Emma Maltais and Tatum Skaggs will be a tough blow to recover from, but there’s no doubt that the combination of fifth year Liz Schepers and transfers Lexi Templeman, McKenzie Hauswirth, and Clair DeGeorge will more than make up for that gap. Add in the raw offensive talent of Jenna Buglioni, Jenn Gardiner, and Gabby Rosenthal, and...well, you know what they say in Ohio:

Don’t let the Bucks get hot.

Minnesota Duluth

Key Losses

  • Ashton Bell, D — Centralizing with Team Canada ahead of the 2022 Beijing Olympics, finished second in scoring among all WCHA defenders (4-10—14)

Key Returners/Additions

  • Gabbie Hughes, Sr., F — Led the WCHA in faceoff wins with 298 in 2020-21, also scored 10 goals and 11 assists in 19 GP
  • Élizabeth Giguère, 5th yr., F — Transfer from Clarkson, finished the 2020-21 season with a stat line of 9-14—23, good for first on the Golden Knights
  • Emma Söderberg, Sr., G — Topped the WCHA in SV% (.944) and GAA (1.56) while playing over 1100 minutes for the Bulldogs

Season Outlook

Minnesota Duluth performed better than many expected last season, and expectations are sure to rise for the coming year what with the addition of 2020 Patty Kazmaier Award winner Élizabeth Giguère, who accumulated over 200 points during her four years at Clarkson.

Combine the offensive prowess of Giguère with that of Gabbie Hughes, Anna Klein, and Naomi Rogge, and you’ve got a red hot forward corps that can cause some serious damage in one of the most competitive conferences in the country. Couple that with the phenom that is Emma Söderberg in net, and the limits of what the Bulldogs can accomplish are virtually nonexistent.

Minnesota

Key Losses

  • Grace Zumwinkle, F — Centralizing with Team USA ahead of the 2022 Beijing Olympics, 2021 Patty Kazmaier Award Top Three finalist, finished third in the WCHA and first on the Gophers in scoring (17-7—24)
United States v Canada: Group A - 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

Key Returners/Additions

  • Olivia Knowles, 5th yr., D — Top-pairing defender for the Gophers, finished 2020-21 with one goal and eight assists
  • Savannah Norcross, Sr., F — Transfer from Boston College, finished fifth in scoring in Hockey East and first on the Eagles with a stat line of 12-9—21
  • Lauren Bench, 5th yr., G — Finished the season third in SV% (.920) and fourth in GAA (2.26) in WCHA

Season Outlook

After missing out on the NCAA tournament in 2020-21, Minnesota is going to be coming into this season with something to prove. Their 65 goals through 20 games played last year was good for second in the WCHA, while the rest of their performances trended more towards the middle of the pack.

The loss of 2021 Patty Kazmaier Award finalist Grace Zumwinkle to Olympic centralization will be a big blow to recover from, but there’s no reason to believe that this won’t be a bounce-back year for the Gophers. They have Olivia Knowles, Emily Brown, and Lauren Bench all returning for a fifth year, and a really exciting group of rookies — namely, Peyton Hemp, Skylar Vetter, and Ella Huber — coming in to bolster their already strong squad.

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