Gophers Host St. Cloud State in WCHA First Round

The Gophers are hoping for a third straight NCAA championship, but first come the Huskies. - Hannah Foslien

After sweeping UMD in its regular-season finale, top-ranked Minnesota will face off against the Huskies to open the first round of the WCHA playoffs. (Rankings are WCHA rankings, not national.)

Playoffs start this weekend in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, and the Gophers (32-1-1) are the heavy favorites. Coming off of a back-to-back sweep of Minnesota-Duluth, each game by a 6-0 score, they now look ahead to St. Cloud State, a No. 8 seed that, at 4-25-5 overall... well, will need all the luck it can get.

Historically, the Gophers have only lost three times against the Huskies, and this year doesn't look like St. Cloud State's year either. Minnesota has outscored its opponents 163-36 and averaged approximately 41 shots a game. Its offense is deep (eight double-digit goal scorers), its defense is on point, and when needed, sophomore goaltender Amanda Leveille has delivered. As it stands, the only team that's beaten them is North Dakota (No. 3), and that was early on in the season, by a 3-2 score Nov. 17. The Gophers have handled them since then, beating them 5-1 and 3-1 on Jan. 30 and Feb. 1, respectively.

St. Cloud's leading scorers, seniors Molli Mott and Julia Gilbert, have 22 and 20 points in 34 games. Sophomore Hannah Brandt has 55, and junior Rachael Bona, 52, for the Gophers. Minnesota's power play is the top in the nation, and freshman Dani Cameranesi leads the way with eight power-play goals.

Tonight's game is at 7:07 p.m. at Ridder Arena. Saturday's and Sunday's games will begin at 4:07 p.m. at Ridder. Follow @MNWomensHockey and @SCSUHUSKIES_WHK for updates.

No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth vs. No. 5 Ohio State

Minnesota-Duluth hasn't lost against OSU this year, going 2-0-2 all season against them. Ohio State has had some recent success against better teams, though, sweeping North Dakota in its final weekend of play -- and here's an interesting stat: UMD hasn't been able to close the deal at home against the Buckeyes in four games. Follow @UMDWHockey and @OhioState_WHKY to keep tabs on that game.

No. 6 Bemidji StateNo. 3 North Dakota

North Dakota struggled during the Olympics, going 1-6-1 without the players participating in the Sochi Games (they were 16-5-3 with them). It's at full strength now, though, and will depend on Michelle Karvinen and Josefine Jakobsen to carry the team offensively. Freshman Lexie Shaw has an excellent 1.92 GAA in 14 games played this year. As for BSU, its power play will have to get going, as it hasn't scored in its last 17 chances. Its playoff record against North Dakota is 1-4. Follow @BSUHockey and @UNDWHockey for updates.

No. 7 Minnesota StateNo. 2 Wisconsin

The Mavericks have just seen their four-game unbeaten streak snapped by the Badgers, but did tie them in their last game against each other and will have a chance at a win this weekend. Will it come, though? Considering they have a 1-60-3 all-time record against them... it's not likely. Alex Rigsby is a tough customer in net and the Badgers have an excellent offense up front. Follow @BadgerWHockey and @MSUWomensHockey for updates.

Stay tuned for the master post... I promise, it's coming. And it'll be huuuuuuge.

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