The Wisconsin women's hockey team is ranked third in the first USCHO.com poll of the season. They were picked to finish second in the WCHA in the coaches' preseason poll, behind rival and defending-national champion Minnesota.
It's a familiar position for the Badgers - one of their main objectives this season has to be beating the Gophers. Wisconsin lost 5-3 to Minnesota in the semi-finals of the Frozen Four in March. It was the Gophers' 16th consecutive win.
The National Championships is always the goal for Wisconsin, but they'll likely need to get through Minnesota to get there. Unlike in recent seasons, the Badgers won't face the Gophers until two months into the season. They will also end the regular season with a series at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis. They'll likely return to the Twin Cities two weeks later for the WCHA Final Faceoff.
The Badgers start their season with a trip to San Jose, where they'll face the Providence Friars. Coach Mark Johnson has made a point to take his teams to face non-conference opponents in areas of the country that do not feature women's college hockey. Most recently, the team traveled to Vail, CO in 2013 to play Northeastern and Boston University. The series is in conjunction with the San Jose Sharks and will feature clinics for local youth girls.
Wisconsin last played Providence in 2009. The Badgers won that meeting 4-1 and own a 4-1-1 overall record against the Friars.
Wisconsin will have to find it's footing this season - graduating seniors accounted for more than a third of the Badgers' scoring. Returning national Rookie of the Year Annie Pankowski and the rest of the sophomore class proved prolific last year and will need to step into a bigger role. They will certainly be targeted by opposing defenses.
Senior Courtney Burke anchors the defense and will serve as team captain, but the Badgers will need to have the junior class that features Sarah Nurse - who received a vote for pre-season WCHA Player of the Year - step into leadership roles. Juniors Sydney McKibbon and Jenny Ryan were chosen as assistant captains.
The Badgers will be relying on junior Ann-Renée Desbiens in goal. She is the defending WCHA goaltending champ and her solid presence anchors the team. She recorded 14 shutouts last season on her way to a 1.15 goals against average and a 94.1% save percentage.
Wisconsin recently announced their finalized schedule and it features just two Friday afternoon games at LaBahn - the rest of the home schedule should be much more accessible for fans. The final game of the home opening series against Ohio State will be show on Big Ten Network. Puck drop is scheduled for 2 pm on Sunday, October 11.