When the winningest coach in NCAA Division I women’s ice hockey was asked what he thought about 3-on-3 overtime periods coming to the WCHA in 2019-20, he didn’t hold back.
Right from the start Wisconsin’s Mark Johnson let everyone know where he stands on hockey’s latest solution to breaking ties.
“I personally voted against it, but I was outvoted,” said Johnson, who is six wins shy of 500 for his career. “So it’ll be an interesting year for us.”
When league play gets underway on Oct. 4, the WCHA will be the first in women’s college hockey to break ties via 3-on-3 overtime periods. It was approved in May during league meetings via a narrow 4-3 vote by the league coaches, but just announced Wednesday during the annual preseason conference call.
As the News Tribune first reported in May, the women’s WCHA — which was the only women's league breaking ties with shootouts — will use the same format the WCHA, NCHC and Big Ten men’s leagues used last season with the NCAA mandated five minutes of 5-on-5 OT, followed by five minutes of 3-on-3 and then a sudden-death shootout, if necessary. The 3-on-3 period and shootouts can only be used in conference play and the results will only count toward the league standings.
Minnesota Duluth’s Maura Crowell and Minnesota’s Brad Frost have been campaigning for 3-on-3 OT for a number of years now, while Johnson has been against it. Bemidji State’s Jim Scanlan admitted Wednesday to being the swing vote, switching from ‘No’ to ‘Yes’ this spring.
“Our league is going to be able to put out some really, really dynamic players in that situation,” Scanlan said. “It’s going to be exciting not just for players, but for fans in attendance. There are some tremendously skilled players in our league and to be able to showcase that in a 3-on-3 situation is great for our game.”
Johnson said he’s keeping an open mind. The 3-on-3 OTs will be challenging, fun and an opportunity to see more space, more ice and more scoring opportunities. On the downside, however, the coach of the reigning national champions worries about games getting longer, the quality of late-game ice and certain teams’ depth in certain areas.
Scanlan, whose teams have never been known to be the offensive juggernauts that the Gophers and Badgers are, isn’t worried about the WCHA's depth anymore.
“In the early years we were worried about some teams just puck chasing, but I think everybody’s gotten to the point where they have players they can put on the ice and they’re going to be able to create,” Scanlan said. “It’s just going to be an exciting time.”
Crowell admitted that her push for 3-on-3 OT may not have been in the Bulldogs' best interests. After all, her team did go 4-0 in shootouts last year and they have Maddie Rooney — who stonewalled Canada in a shootout to win Olympic gold in 2018 in PyeongChang — back between the pipes for one more season.
But sometimes you have to take one for the league, and for the players, as international women’s tournaments have already begun using 3-on-3 OT in the preliminary rounds. Crowell, also head coach of the U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team, said she wouldn’t be surprised if 3-on-3 comes to the medal rounds down the line.
“It's not just about UMD, it's about the league is being on the forefront of the women's game and trying something different,” Crowell said. “And again, preparing them for what will come.
“And I also I just think it's more exciting, personally, than a shootout. It's gonna be fast and wild and I'm sure there will be a lot of mistakes out there. But that's what that's what hockey is, whether it's 5-on-5 or 3-on-3. So I'm excited about it.”
UMD picked fourth in preseason poll
UMD was slotted fourth in the 2019-20 WCHA preseason coaches poll released Wednesday, the exact spot where the Bulldogs finished in the league at the conclusion of the 2018-19 season.
UMD is coming off a season in which it finished 9-11-4 in league play during the regular season. After sweeping Bemidji State at Amsoil Arena in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, the Bulldogs' 2018-19 season ended with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in the WCHA Final Faceoff semifinals.
The Bulldogs, who finished 15-16-4 overall last year, return their top three forward lines, top two defensive pairings and Rooney.
Wisconsin was picked to win the league, garnering six of seven first-place votes. Coaches could not vote for their own team, so defending regular-season league champion Minnesota received the seventh first-place vote to finish second. Ohio State was picked third.
Wisconsin's Abby Roque and Ohio State's Emma Maltais were named the WCHA Preseason Co-Players of the Year. Roque and Maltais were among four forwards named to the preseason team along with Minnesota's Grace Zumwinkle and Wisconsin's Sophie Shirley. Ohio State defenseman Jincy Dunne, Wisconsin defenseman Mekenzie Steffen and Badgers goaltender Kristen Campbell rounded out the team.
Minnesota defenseman Madeline Wethington is the WCHA Preseason Rookie of the Year.
Rooney and Bulldogs forward Gabbie Hughes both received votes for the preseason all-conference team.
2019-20 WCHA Preseason Coaches Poll
(First-place votes in parentheses)
1. Wisconsin (6)
2. Minnesota (1)
3. Ohio State
4. Minnesota Duluth
5. Bemidji State
6. Minnesota State
7. St. Cloud State