Roughly one-quarter of the Wisconsin women’s hockey season is in the books.
While the Badgers have been perfect and ranked No. 1, they haven’t been great. They’ve swept four mediocre-at-best teams: Lindenwood, Mercyhurst, Syracuse, and Minnesota State. They are leading the WCHA in scoring defense and have a lovely 28–7 goal differential.
Certainly, the Badgers have taken care of business during the weakest part of their schedule. With them ranked No. 1 in the country and Minnesota flailing, one might think this regular season would be a formality. However, with Ohio State surging and Wisconsin’s youth, we are in for an entertaining season. Just don’t forget to take your blood-pressure medication! (Consult your doctor—I’m a math teacher, not a physician)
1. No team is safe in the WCHA
As predicted, the WCHA is the most competitive one-through-six as it’s ever been (St. Cloud State is the only team left out of the party). Every game is exciting; gone are the days of a guaranteed win by UMD or Minnesota. Take a look at the craziness that has gone on in the first month of the season:
2. Wellhausen comes back from injury
The Badgers cannot afford to lose playing time from any of their senior leaders, so when Baylee Wellhausen missed 3.5 games to injury, it was a great sign to see her return last weekend at Mankato. The Badgers have not only escaped the first eight games undefeated, but also are completely healthy.
3. Cupcake time is over for the Badgers
The Badgers’ first four opponents have not been good. Out of 28 teams ranked in the RPI (seven teams have yet to play), the Badgers have beaten No. 20 (Mankato), No. 22 (Syracuse), No. 23 (Lindenwood), and No. 24 (Mercyhurst). They haven’t played a team that’s anywhere near the top half of the NCAA. To be clear, part of the reason those teams are ranked poorly in the RPI is because the Badgers swept them. But these teams, if you remove the losses to Wisconsin, have a combined record of 4–8–4.
To contrast, the upcoming games are much more difficult for the Badgers. They will take on a challenging Bemidji State team, Minnesota, and Ohio State all in the next few weeks. We are going to see what this team is made of—but more on the upcoming schedule later.
4. The Badgers are flawed, inexperienced, at times sloppy
On the eye test, the Badgers are inconsistent. At times, they are spectacular, but other times the passing is poor and the offensive pressure is not what we are accustomed to in Madison. Against Mankato on Oct. 13, Mikaela Gardner committed a terrible, unforced roughing penalty that almost caused Mankato to tie the game. Thanks to Kristen Campbell, they didn’t have to go to overtime.
Statistically, they haven’t been great in special teams: WCHA ranks of fourth in penalty kill (87.1%) and barely second in power play (22.9%) against bad competition. They need to get much better here to ensure consistent performance in the WCHA and beyond.
5. New faces, same old Badgers
All told, the Badgers have had seasons where they started off with sloppy passing and then turned it on later. I expect this from Wisconsin once again. They are extraordinarily talented and are the best-conditioned team in the country. Their formula of depth, conditioning, defense, smart goaltending, and time of position is going to be executed again this year. Keep the train rolling—with all the craziness in the world, you can always count on Wisconsin women’s hockey to stay roughly the same.
WCHA Power Rankings
1. Ohio State
I don’t know how familiar you are with women’s hockey, but this is like Rutgers ranking first in a Big Ten football power ranking. It was unthinkable as little as a year ago, yet here we are. Last year, their coach was removed suddenly due to NCAA violations. The year before that, their coach was fired after sexual harassment of his players. This turmoil led to an exodus of players, including Claudia Kepler who transferred to Wisconsin and is second in points for Bucky this season.
Yet, last year, there was hope. A light in the darkness—Kassidy Sauve. Last season, she was an excellent goaltender on a bad team. This year, she’s even better, and Ohio State has added a few talented freshmen to provide some offensive power. Sure, they’re ranked fourth in the NCAA by USCHO as of October, but their recent sweep of No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth means they are serious customers. Watch out—the Nov. 4–5 series between Wisconsin and Ohio State is going to be epic!
Yes, the Badgers are undefeated, but they have yet to be truly tested by an aggressive offensive team. OSU has Duluth and Minnesota taken care of, so until Wisconsin takes out OSU, they’ll remain second in the WCHA from my perspective.
As it stands, Minnesota needs to improve a lot to make the NCAA tournament. You read that right—to make the tournament. Their defense and goaltending are porous, and the youth has not stepped up. However, the tides might be turning after a sweep of Bemidji, each game escaping by the skin of those silly gopher teeth. Somebody should remind Goldy that Minny probably has a dental policy that covers orthodontic work.
4. Minnesota – Duluth
Overall, UMD is sitting with a 2–4 record after a brutal schedule. They don’t look like a threat to win the WCHA as it stands, but they might have the best coaching staff (along with OSU) in the conference. Their upcoming series vs. Minnesota will settle who truly deserves to be third in the WCHA (and I can’t believe I just typed this sentence).
5. Bemidji State
They’ve only won one game so far, but they have played each team tight. They are only being outscored 14–13, so they’ve been hurt by the rub of the green. They almost won a few games in Minnesota, which seems to not be that exciting an accomplishment anymore, but is still impressive. Expect Bemidji to cause havoc going forward.
6. Minnesota State
They started off the season with a win and tie vs. Lindenwood, then got swept by an excellent Robert Morris team and the Badgers. They could wreck a few seasons, and if they can finish fifth or better, Mankato will be in position to sneak into the WCHA Final Faceoff with an NCAA automatic bid on the line.
7. St. Cloud State
Must be a hard season to be a St. Cloud State fan. The WCHA is wide open for any team to take, and St. Cloud State has been terrible. They’ve been outscored 11–3 on the season and are an amazing 0-for-10 on power-play conversions. They squeaked by the Korean national team (other WCHA teams crushed Korea) and squeaked by their other two exhibition games. Their legit NCAA games have been pretty bad. They won a game vs. UConn 3–2, but other than that have lost 1–0, 3–0, and 5–0. Up next is Ohio State; expect carnage. Going forward, I expect St. Cloud State to remain in the cellar.
MVP: Abby Roque
Really close here. Presley Norby has played extremely well this season, and without Campbell’s level of play, there’s no way the Badgers are undefeated. Transfer senior Claudia Kepler has met expectations, scoring five goals and adding three assists. However, Roque leads the NCAA in assists (eight) and the WCHA in points (11), and the eye test says she clearly makes everyone else better on the ice. However, it would be dubious to invite her to karaoke; proceed with caution:
We know that @bdangless21, @alexismauermann and @abby_roque are good at , but how good are they at signing? pic.twitter.com/xUssG3NXRT— Wisconsin Hockey (@BadgerWHockey) October 4, 2017
Most Improved: Presley Norby
Thanks to Olympic roster centralization, the Badgers needed someone to step up, and the sophomore certainly has done this. She’s scored eight points on the year with three absolutely sick goals.
What a goal for @PresleyNorby that gave the #Badgers a 2-0 lead! pic.twitter.com/okUNt0mWIa— Wisconsin Hockey (@BadgerWHockey) September 23, 2017
Freshman of the Year (so far): Brette Pettet
Seems like the freshmen have found ways to be impactful, but Brette seems to be a step ahead. She started the regular-season opener and gets a lot of quality time on the ice. Throw in the first hat trick by a freshman since Annie Pankowski’s in 2014, and you’ve got yourself the frontrunner for Freshman of the Year. I anticipate other freshmen will realize their talent in the cardinal and white after the semester ends, and I also hope Pettet continues to build on a great start to the season.
Thanks to @BrettePettet's hat trick, the #Badgers sailed past the Lakers on Friday night! pic.twitter.com/UU2E8F7LcX— Wisconsin Hockey (@BadgerWHockey) September 30, 2017
Previewing the Second Quarter (Oct. 28–Nov. 25)
The next quarter (arbitrarily the next 10 games—34 isn’t nicely divisible by four when games are played in pairs!) will be huge for the Badgers. They will face their toughest tests of the season three weekends in a row, ramping up the competition home against Bemidji St. (Oct. 20–21), then at Minnesota (Oct. 28–29), and home against Ohio State (Nov. 4–5). If the Badgers can find a way to be 4–2 or better during this stretch, that will be a huge victory.
After OSU, things lighten up a bit at Cornell and against Northeastern and Boston (both neutral cites in D.C.). A lot of traveling for this young Wisconsin squad.
Hopefully for Wisconsin, they can return to LaBahn Arena to start the third quarter of the season against Duluth on Dec. 1 with a record of 12–2 or better.