As unanimously as is possible, Western Collegiate Hockey Association coaches picked the University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team to finish first in the 2019-20 season.
The defending NCAA champions earned six of seven votes to finish atop a poll in which coaches couldn’t vote for their own team.
Badgers coach Mark Johnson’s vote, therefore, went to Minnesota, which was predicted to finish second after passing UW for the WCHA regular-season title on the final day last season.
The Badgers defeated Minnesota 2-0 to win their fifth NCAA championship last March, starting a celebration tour that continued well into the summer.
“They certainly enjoyed last spring and the early part of the summer, which they earned the right to do,” Johnson said. “Now, it’s back to work. I’ve only been on the ice a couple of times with them, but I’m impressed with their approach right now.”
The Badgers open the season with a non-conference series at Lindenwood on Sept. 27-28 and play their first home series against Penn State on Oct. 4-5. The Oct. 4 game will feature a ceremony to unveil the 2019 national championship banner at LaBahn Arena.
“It’s our job as coaches and with our captains to get everybody focused in in a couple weeks when we start the journey of trying to have a good season,” Johnson said. “I don’t look at it as trying to defend something. I look at it as another opportunity to have a good season, try to become better each weekend, prepare ourselves for our next opponent. Through that process, hopefully by the time we get to January or February, we’ve developed into a strong group and a team that’s difficult to play against.”
Badgers senior forward Abby Roque tied in the coaches’ voting for preseason player of the year. Ohio State junior forward Emma Maltais also got two votes.
UW sophomore forward Sophie Shirley, Ohio State senior defenseman Jincy Dunne and Minnesota junior forward Grace Zumwinkle got one vote each.
Roque finished second behind Annie Pankowski in scoring last year with 43 points and led the team in plus/minus at plus-41. She was a second-team All-WCHA pick last season.
Roque, Shirley, senior goaltender Kristen Campbell and junior defenseman Mekenzie Steffen represented UW on the preseason All-WCHA team.
Forward Grace Shirley got votes for the preseason rookie of the year, but Minnesota defenseman Madeline Wethington took the honor.
The Badgers lost senior forwards Pankowski, Emily Clark, Sam Cogan and Sophia Shaver and defensemen Maddie Rolfes and Mikaela Gardner after last season.
But a five-player incoming class was bolstered by the arrival via transfer of 2018 Patty Kazmaier Award winner Daryl Watts.
Watts, who scored 82 points as a freshman at Boston College and had 48 last season, has two seasons of eligibility remaining starting this fall.
“That situation may never be presented to anybody ever again, to get someone with two years of experience, winning the Patty Kazmaier her freshman year,” Johnson said. “I’m anxious to work with her. I’m anxious to try to help her develop.
“And, hopefully, she’ll be comfortable sooner than later. You’re into a new city, you’re into a new college, you’re into a new environment, you have a different routine. She seems to be doing well. She seems to be happy in her setting right now. So I’m anxious to get more opportunity to get on the ice and work with her and see her in competition.”
The rest of the WCHA team voting had Ohio State third, just ahead of Minnesota Duluth. Bemidji State took fifth, with Minnesota State sixth and St. Cloud State seventh.