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STORRS, Conn. -- The 2014-15 UConn women's ice hockey season begins this weeekend with the five-time national champion and No. 10 Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs visiting the Freitas Ice Forum in Storrs. In the second year of the Chris MacKenzie era, the Huskies bring nearly all of their scoring back from a 2013-14 squad that tripled its win total from the year before. A strong returning core with a major influx of freshman talent has hopes high in Storrs. UConn and UMD will skate on Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m.
The Series: Minnesota Duluth
The Huskies and Bulldogs have skated six times in the past, playing two-game sets in 2010-11, 2011-12 and most recently last season. Minneosta Duluth is 6-0-0 in the all-time series, most recently downing UConn 7-0 and 6-1 in Duluth last season. Sarah MacDonnell scored UConn's lone goal in the two contests, connecting on the power play off assists from Cassandra Opela and Michela Cava. In goal, Elaine Chuli and Sarah Moses both recorded career-highs with 45 saves each in their respective starts.
A Look at the Bulldogs
Minnesota Dultuh comes to Storrs ranked No. 10 in the nation in the first USCHO.com Division 1 Women's Poll. UMD went 15-15-6 in 2013-14, advancing to the WCHA Final Face-Off before bowing out to eventual NCAA runner-up Minnesota. The Bulldogs return seven of their top eight scorers from a year ago, including leading scorer Jenna McParland, who tallied an 11-22-33 line last season. Zoe Hickel, one of two co-captains for '14-15, is the top returning goal-scorer for UMD after lighting the lamp 13 times last year and adding 14 assists for 27 points. Other top scorers back are Ashleigh Brykaliuk (11-12-23), Laura Stalder (4-18-22) and Meghan Huertas (8-9-17). Stalder missed a chunk of the season last year while playing with the Swiss National Team at the Sochi Olympic Games, where she teamed with UConn alum Jessica Lutz ('10) to earn a bronze medal. Duluth will also bring Brigette Lacquette, who missed the 2013-14 season while centralized with the Candian national team for the Olympics. In goal, Kayla Black returns to man the pipes after starting 34 games a year ago and notching a 2.31 GAA and a .919 save percentage with five shutouts. Overall, UMD has 13 skaters who have either U-18 or senior National Team experience.
For a full position-by-position season preview, see below:
FORWARDS (nine returning, four lost, six newcomers)
UConn's most experienced bunch, the centers and wingers figure for Connecticut are primed to have a big season in 2014-15. Leading the way is senior captain Sarah MacDonnell, who led all Huskies with 27 points via a team-high 12 goals and 15 asissts a year ago. Her 27-point output placed her in a tie for 10th most points in a single season in UConn history. Also back to spearhead the offense is senior Kayla Campero, who scored 10 goals last season and moved into the top-10 in program history with 26 career goals.
Four other seniors will also bolster the position, with Rebecca Fleming (2-8-10 scoring line in '13-14), Rachel Farrel (8-5-13), Emily Snodgrass (4-11-15) and Margaret Zimmer (1-5-6) all back in action after strong offensive seasons. Junior and assistant captain Leah Buress is one of UConn's most reliable two-way players and is extremely efficient in the face-off dot, while sophomore Kelly Harris became a key cog on the power play in her rookie season. Junior Brittany Berisoff, who battled injuries throughout her sophomore campaign, will look to return to the form that saw her notch 15 points as a freshman.
Joining the fray at the forward spot are freshmen Madison Badeau, Justine Fredette, Shannon Godin, Theresa Knutson, and Lindsay Roethke. Each bring a unique skill-set to Storrs after decorated prep careers and will have a chance to immediately crack the lineup during their rookie seasons.
DEFENSE (five returning, three lost, two newcomers)
A unit without a senior, the Husky defense still returns plenty of experience along the blue line. Redshirt junior and assistant captain Caitlin Hewes was limited to five games due to injury in an eventual redshirt season last year. Hewes was a Hockey East Honorable Mention All Star in 2012-13 and is a versatile, puck-moving defenseman with a career 6-10-16 scoring line.
Juniors Allie Hughes and Cassandra Opela have never missed a game between them in their first two seasons in Storrs. The duo combined for five assists last season and both finished among the top-10 in Hockey East in blocked shots. Sophomores Lexi Lersch and Jessica Stott both gained plenty of experience as freshmen last season. Lersch, a 2014 Hockey East Academic All Star off the ice, played in 29 games and led all UConn skaters with a -3 rating on the year. Stott played in 33 contests and notched a goal and an assist in her first season in National Flag Blue and White.
Joining the defensive corps are freshmen Cydnee Cook, Reese Maccario and Leah Lum. Both are veterans of the Canadian prep hockey ranks and Lum had a stint with the U-18 British Columbia Provincial team.
Junior Elaine Chuli will be back in goal for the Huskies in 2014-15 after a terrific sophomore season a year ago. Chuli was named a Hockey East Honorable Mention All Star after she turned in a 2.57 GAA with a .929 save percentage and two shutouts for UConn. The Ontario-native finished the season on a run of 16-consecutive contests in which she made at least 30 saves, and topped 40 stops on four separate occasions. She made a career-high 48 saves in a game at No. 7 Boston College, and later in the season turned away 45 shots against the Eagles in a win at Freitas Ice Forum. Chuli was a three-time Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week and was the Co-Goaltender of the Month in January.
Behind Chuli will be a tandem of senior Emily Walsh, who made six saves in her lone appearance back in 2012-13, and freshman Annie Belanger.