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Women’s hockey to get preview of the Sioux

North Dakota’s women’s hockey team won’t join the WCHA officially until next season.

This weekend, Minnesota’s top-ranked women’s hockey team plays host to North Dakota on Saturday and Sunday in the first-ever meetings between the two teams.

The two-game set has implications for this season, but next year is when things really count. North Dakota will join the women’s WCHA next season.

North Dakota’s women’s hockey team is in its second year of existence. Normally, WCHA bylaws require the team to play for two full years before applying for entrance into the league.

But the WCHA made an exception for North Dakota because the school has the support to meet the criteria necessary for admittance.

“They’re definitely committed to full scholarships, they hired a quality coach and are a program fully committed to winning and being a competitive women’s hockey program,” WCHA Commissioner Bruce McLeod said. “We’re looking forward to having them aboard.”

This season, North Dakota faces off against WCHA members Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth twice, and St. Cloud State and Bemidji State four times.

The Sioux hope to use the games to prepare for next season.

“It’s nice to see the type of team we will be competing against next year,” North Dakota coach Shantel Rivard said. “To be in the WCHA, the best league in the country, that’s outstanding – playing top teams in the country, that’s definitely a big bonus.”

The Minnesota and North Dakota men’s hockey teams have an intense rivalry, but the same attitude for the women’s programs will be put on ice until the teams actually get on the ice.

“Rivalries can develop pretty quickly depending on how the games go,” Minnesota women’s assistant coach Brad Frost said. “Over time, it will be a strong rivalry.”

The Gophers still look forward to the new face on the WCHA scene.

“It’s a natural addition because of the men’s program,” Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson said. “Grand Forks is a big hockey town and they have a tremendous facility in Engelstad Arena. It will be good to have them in the league.”

Buckeyes bolt WCHA

Ohio State’s women’s hockey team has officially accepted an offer to join College Hockey America. The Buckeyes will begin league play next season, ending a five-year affiliation with the WCHA.

The CHA is in its second year, and consists of Findlay, Mercyhurst, Niagara and Wayne State. Along with Ohio State, Quinnipiac will join the conference next season.

With North Dakota’s women’s team’s entry into the WCHA next season, the league will remain at seven teams.

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