MANKATO — The Minnesota State women’s hockey team played five WCHA games that officially finished in ties last season.
After each, a shootout took place to determine an extra point for the conference standings. The Mavericks won two of those shootouts.
This season, prior to going to a shootout, WCHA games will use a five-minute 3-on-3 overtime session to try to break a stalemate that can’t be broken in a regular overtime.
“Three years ago or four years ago, a tie, for us, would be a good thing,” MSU coach John Harrington said a preseason conference call with the other league coaches Wednesday. “But with the players we have on our team now, with their ability and skill level, it will be an exciting part of the game to get to overtime.”
The WCHA is the only Division I women’s league to add 3-on-3, following what the WCHA men, a few other DI men’s leagues and the NHL have done in recent years.
“I’m excited,” Harrington said. “It’s something new. We’ll have to put some work in and find players who can be successful. We’d definitely have to practice it and find people who have the confidence and ability to play 3-on-3 and find the right combinations.”
Minnesota State had no ties in conference play in 2017-18, but the extra points they earned in the ties and shootout wins they had in 2018-19 helped get them out of the WCHA basement for the first time in five years.
The Mavericks, who went 9-19-7 last season (3-16-5 in WCHA play) were picked to finish in sixth place again in the seven-team league by the coaches, whose preseason poll was released on Wednesday.
Wisconsin, the defending national champion, was picked first, getting six first-place votes (coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams) and 36 points, and Minnesota, which won the conference title last year, was picked second, getting one first-place vote and 31 points
Ohio State (24 points) was picked third, followed by Minnesota Duluth (23) and Bemidji State (15). Minnesota State (12) and St. Cloud State (6) were picked sixth and seventh.
Minnesota State will open the season Sept. 27-28 with a nonconference series against Rensselaer in Troy, N.Y. The Mavericks will host Minnesota the following weekend, Oct. 4-5, to open the conference schedule.
“We have a lot of parts we haven’t had in previous years,” said Harrington, whose team returns second-team All-WCHA goaltender Abbey Levy, as well as two all-conference rookie-team picks in Levy and defender Anna Wilgren, and two 20-point scorers in junior forward Brittyn Fleming and sophomore Brooke Bryant.
Both Levy and Wilgren participated in USA Hockey’s Women’s Festival last month in Lake Placid, New York, along with several other current WCHA players, Olympians and other top Americans.
“I think it was tremendous for them,” Harrington said. “I wouldn’t say it was eye-opening, but the quality of players they played with and against was the best they’ve been with.”
Wisconsin senior forward Abby Roque and Ohio State junior forward Emma Maltais tied in WCHA preseason player of the year voting. Minnesota freshman defender Madeline Wethington was picked for rookie of the year.
Preseason All-WCHA picks were Roque, Maltais, Minnesota’s Grace Zumwinkle and Wisconsin’s Sophie Shirley at forward; Ohio State’s Jincy Dunne and Wisconsin’s Mekenzie Steffen at defense and Wisconsin’s Kristen Campbell in goal.
The coaches were divided on the decision to try 3-on-3 overtime, voting 4-3 in favor of the tiebreaker. The coaches of the WCHA top two teams were split on the proposal.
Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson said he voted against it out of concern for teams’ depth and lengthening games. Minnesota’s Brad Frost was for it, saying that he league should follow current trends in the sport.
“It seems to be where hockey is going,” Frost said, “with men’s (college) hockey in the West and Midwest and in the NHL. I love the NHL and men’s (college) hockey when they get to 3-on-3.”
Also Wednesday, new WCHA women’s commissioner Jennifer Flowers said the conference is not in a hurry to expand and get an eighth team. However, she said, there have been informal discussions with both Northern Michigan and St. Thomas.
Northern Michigan currently does not have women’s hockey. St. Thomas has a Division III program but, with its athletic programs getting removed from the MIAC, could consider a move to DI.
“We want to make sure that we are expanding with institutions that have the same values we have,” Flowers said.