WCHA possibly in midst of the most competitive season since its inception

Six points separate the fifth- and first-place squads as no team has pulled away.

by Nick Heronimus

Two months into the Western Collegiate Hockey Association season, parity is becoming apparent between the teams as they face each other in conference play.

There are five teams separated by six points that are fighting for the coveted WCHA crown. Minnesota-Duluth is at the head of the pack with 18 points, followed closely by Minnesota (15), Wisconsin (14), Ohio State (12) and St. Cloud State (12).

“This is the tightest our conference has been since its existence,” head coach Brad Frost said. “There are no more easy games and showing up and winning 10-0.”

As these teams face each other week-to-week, it’s been common to see a split of the weekend series. There have been a total of five series splits between the top five teams in the WCHA, which has prevented anyone from pulling away from the pack.

The Gophers have the most series splits as they went 1-1 with the Buckeyes, the Badgers and UMD.

Combine that with dark horses like Minnesota State and Bemidji State now competing consistently with the top teams, and it makes things interesting from week-to-week in the WCHA.

The last-place Beavers recently made some noise by tying Wisconsin, and the Mavericks did some damage as well, sweeping Ohio State and taking one of two from St. Cloud State to prevent any team from really pulling away and putting a conference crown in the bag.

The tight race is very different from the normal conference breakdown as typically Minnesota, the Badgers and UMD fight it out at the top.

The rest of the teams usually fill in the middle of the conference with a solid margin between the top three and average squads.

Not having such a top-heavy conference makes every weekend that much more exciting, senior defender Anya Miller said.

“Any team can beat any team right now so every weekend is a huge weekend,” Miller said.

Assistant coach Laura Slominski, who has been an assistant coach for two seasons and was a Gophers player from 1998 to 2002, agrees that not having a top-heavy conference is better for the WCHA as a whole.

“It just makes the whole league more competitive, and the country more competitive,” Slominski said.

Reasoning for this season’s close race is simple when talking to the Minnesota coaching staff.

Since the inception of the conference, the talent level in high school for women’s hockey has improved immensely, allowing there to be a much larger talent pool for each school to select from.

The improved parity in the WCHA makes conference action that much more interesting, but its real value may lie in preparing teams for postseason play.

“To be able to face top competition week-in and week-out and to face each of our league opponents four times a year absolutely prepares us better for the postseason and national tournament,” Frost said.

Even as jumbled as the top of the conference is this season, a key series will take place this weekend as Wisconsin takes on UMD at the Kohl Center, which could shake some things up at the top of the conference.