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Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson goes over some Xs and Os with his Badger team during practice Thursday at the Sanford Center. Wisconsin is seeded second in the WCHA Final Face-Off, which is being held in Bemidji for the first time. The Badgers take on North Dakota at 4:07 p.m. today while Minnesota faces off with Minnesota Duluth at 7:07 p.m. The championship game is Saturday night. Jack Hittinger | Bemidji Pioneer
Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson goes over some Xs and Os with his Badger team during practice Thursday at the Sanford Center. Wisconsin is seeded second in the WCHA Final Face-Off, which is being held in Bemidji for the first time. The Badgers take on North Dakota at 4:07 p.m. today while Minnesota faces off with Minnesota Duluth at 7:07 p.m. The championship game is Saturday night. Jack Hittinger | Bemidji Pioneer

WOMEN'S HOCKEY: WCHA tournament descends on Bemidji for first time

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Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

BEMIDJI — The top teams in women’s hockey already know the Sanford Center well.

After all, they share a conference with Bemidji State in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

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But never before have all of them converged on Bemidji at the same time.

The WCHA Final Faceoff begins today and for the first time, the Sanford Center and BSU take a starring role — even if the Beavers aren’t playing this time around.

Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Minnesota-Duluth will battle for the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament today and tomorrow. Wisconsin and UND face off at 4:07 p.m. while Minnesota and UMD play at 7:07 p.m.

The championship is set for 7:07 p.m. Saturday.

“We’re looking forward to being in a new facility in a new place,” WCHA commissioner Sarah Martin said. “We always knew that the Sanford Center was a great place for an event like this so it’s exciting for Bemidji to be able to host.”

Most recently the league has held its semifinals and finals at Minnesota’s Ridder Arena (in 2013) and Minnesota-Duluth’s AMSOIL Arena (in 2012).

But Martin said league officials suggested rotating the location. BSU showed some desire to host, people in the league voted and — voila — the Sanford Center is hosting this year.

“Bemidji jumped on board,” she said. “We knew it was a great new facility and I think coaches and other school officials saw that and liked the idea of coming here.”

Martin said North Dakota will host the 2015 edition of the Final Faceoff at Ralph Engelstad Arena and the tournament will move back to Ridder Arena in 2016 with opportunities for other schools to host the tournament in the future.

It’s a refreshing change for the teams involved.

Top-ranked and top-seeded Minnesota, which won the tournament last season en route to a perfect 41-0-0 national championship season, will be the favorites and head coach Brad Frost said the Gophers (34-1-1 overall) were looking forward to the trip.

“We’re excited to be coming up here,” Frost said. “Sometimes when you’re playing at home it doesn’t feel like a tournament. But it’s a nice place to play and we think it will be a good tournament.”

“It’s a great facility,” North Dakota head coach Brian Idalski said. “I know they’ll do a tremendous job with it. And we like it too because it’s an easy trip down the highway for us.”

North Dakota, which comes into the tournament as the No. 3 seed, is the only team to have beaten the Gophers this season. UND beat Bemidji State in their first-round games last weekend. Idalski said it was the first time all season his team has been at full strength due to injuries and the Olympics.

“We always felt like talent-wise we had the potential to be a good club,” he said. “We went through a little adversity down the stretch, but that was beneficial for us now that we have everyone back.”

UND had three Olympians, including Finland’s Michelle Karvinen, who was named the top forward in Sochi.

She’s one of five Olympians playing this weekend, along with Minnesota’s Hannah Brandt, who didn’t play in the Olympics but is the nation’s leading scorer and a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award.

While Minnesota and Wisconsin — the No. 1 and 2 teams in the country, respectively — are virtual locks for the NCAA tournament, UND (ranked No. 9) and Duluth likely need to win to make it in.

“But we’ve all seen UND and UMD play hockey,” Martin said. “Both of those teams could win it all. That’s why it’s such a great league.”

Martin is set to step down as the league’s commissioner after this season. She’s been at the helm since 1999. In that time a WCHA team has won every single NCAA tournament.

“I’d like to keep that streak alive,” she said with a laugh.

Will she see a Minnesota three-peat in Bemidji? Frost hopes so, but knows this year’s tournament will be a fight to the finish no matter who the Gophers play.

“We haven’t talked about a three-peat or anything,” Frost said. “But our goal is to try and win the tournament and I think they know if we do it will be our third straight.

“And when you get into a one-game playoff shot anything can happen, especially in our league.”

Mowat on All-Rookie Team

BSU goaltender Brittni Mowat was named to the league’s All-Rookie team during an awards banquet Thursday night.

Mowat, a freshman from Glenboro, Manitoba, broke multiple program records for freshman goaltenders including wins (10), games (33), minutes (1888:34), goals against average (2.45) and save percentage (.918).

Mowat is the fourth BSU player to land a spot on the All-WCHA Rookie squad and first since former goaltender Zuzana Tomcikova in 2008-09.

Other WCHA award winners included Minnesota’s Brandt, who was named the league’s player of the year and scoring champion, and Gophers coach Frost, who was coach of the year.

Minnesota players were also named outstanding student-athlete of the year (Kelly Terry), defensive player of the year (Rachel Ramsey) and rookie of the year (Dani Cameranesi).

Wisconsin’s Ann-Renee Desbiens was goaltending champion.

The All-WCHA first team consisted of Brandt, Terry, Ramsey, UND’s Michelle Karvinen, Minnesota’s Milica McMillen and Wisconsin’s Alex Rigsby.

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013-14 WCHA Women’s Award Winners

WCHA Player of the Year: Hanna Brandt, F, So., Minnesota

WCHA Outstanding Student-Athlete of the Year: Kelly Terry, F, Sr., Minnesota

WCHA Defensive Player of the Year: Rachel Ramsey, D, Jr., Minnesota

WCHA Rookie of the Year: Dani Cameranesi, F, Fr., Minnesota

WCHA Scoring Champion: Hanna Brandt, F, So., Minnesota

WCHA Goaltending Champion: Ann-Renee Desbiens, G, Fr., Wisconsin

WCHA Coach of the Year: Brad Frost, Minnesota

All-WCHA First Team: Hanna Brandt, F, So., Minnesota, Kelly Terry, F, Sr., Minnesota, Michelle Karvinen, F, Sr., North Dakota, Rachel Ramsey, D, Jr., Minnesota, Milica McMillen, D, So., Minnesota, Alex Rigsby, G, Sr., Wisconsin.

All-WCHA Second Team: Brittany Ammerman, F, Sr., Wisconsin, Sarah Davis, F, Sr., Minnesota, Rachael Bona, F, Jr., Minnesota, Courtney Burke, D, So., Wisconsin, Kari Schmitt, D, Jr., Ohio State, Amanda Leveille, G, So., Minnesota.

All-WCHA Third Team: Josefine Jakoben, F, Jr., North Dakota, Jenna McParland, F, Jr., Minnesota Duluth, Blayre Turnbull, F, Jr., Wisconsin, Sara Schmitt, D, Jr., Ohio State, Lara Stadler, D, Fr., Minnesota Duluth, Danielle Butters, G, Sr., Minnesota State Mankato.

All-WCHA Rookie Team: Dani Cameranesi, F, Fr., Minnesota, Sarah Nurse, F, Fr., Wisconsin, Susanna Tapani, F, Fr., North Dakota, Lara Stadler, D, Fr., Minnesota Duluth, Gracen Hirschy, D, Fr., North Dakota, Ann-Renee Desbiens, G, Fr., Wisconsin, Brittni Mowat, G, Fr., Bemidji State.

BSU WCHA All-Academic Winners: Alex Citrowske (F, Jr., Savage, Minn.), Allie Duellman (D, Sr., Maplewood, Minn.), Tess Dusik (F, Sr., Oak Bluff, Manitoba), Alex Ehlert (D, Sr., Portage, Wis.)Kristin Huber (F, Jr., Kelowna, British Columbia), Megan Lushanko (F, So., Chisago Lakes, Minn.), Emily McKnight (F, Sr., Carman, Manitoba), Hanna Moher (F, So., Milton, Ontario), Kaitlyn Tougas (F, So., Thunder Bay, Ontario), Danielle Williams (D, Sr., Waconia, Minn.), Whitney Wivoda (F, R-So., Fairbanks, Alaska).

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