If you can believe it, its time to talk about hockey already. It feels way too early, but the Minnesota Women’s Hockey Team will begin practice next week and have an exhibition game Sunday September 24th against the Korean National Team. Even with the Gophers missing their top two returning scorers and a top incoming freshman due to them trying to make the US and Canadian Olympic Teams for the 2018 Olympics, the WCHA coaches still feel confident about the Gophers. In the preseason coaches poll that came out earlier this week, the coaches predict the Gophers will win the conference, with the Wisconsin badgers right on their heels.
Minnesota received 34 points in the preseason coaches poll, one more than second place Wisconsin. The Gophers received four first place votes compared to the three for Wisconsin. Minnesota Duluth and Ohio State tied for third in the poll with 23 points each while Bemidji State -14 points, St. Cloud State -11 points, and Minnesota State -9 points rounded out the poll. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team.
Gopher freshman Grace Zumwinkle was selected as the preseason WCHA Freshman of the Year. Zumwinkle is from Excelsior and went to Breck School was one of the captains of the US Under-18 Team that has won the last three World Championships. After her senior season she was named she was named the 2017 All-USA Girls Hockey Player of the Year and 2017 Minnesota Ms. Hockey award recipient.
The WCHA also awarded the preseason Player of the Year honor to Ohio State junior goaltender Kassidy Sauve who was a second team All-American last season.
The WCHA will be missing several stars who are competing for spots on Olympic Rosters. Minnesota will miss the nation’s leading scorer in Kelly Pannek who is trying out for the US squad, and second leading scorer Sarah Potomak who along with her sister Amy who would have been an incoming freshman for Brad Frost’s squad this season will try and make the Canadian Olympic Roster. UMD will miss goalie Maddie Rooney, and Wisconsin will miss forwards Annie Pankowski and Emily Clark. It should be an open season for any team who wants to make a run at a title, but by far MInnesota and Wisconsin have the most talent and will compete for the top spot.
The Gophers will kick off the regular season when they host Merrimack at Ridder Arena on Friday September 29th. We will have a full season preview as that date nears.