Minnesota Duluth senior defenseman and captain Ashton Bell of Deloraine, Manitoba, is one of 28 players that well spend the 2021-22 season in Calgary, Alberta, centralized with the Canadian National Women’s Hockey Team in the leadup to the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, China.

Former Bulldogs All-American defenseman Jocelyne Larocque will also be centralized with Bell in Calgary. They are two of the nine defensemen selected, along with 16 forwards and three goaltenders. Canada will take only 23 players to Beijing for the Olympics, which are scheduled to take place February 4-20, 2022. The final roster is tentatively scheduled to be announced in late December.

Because the NCAA granted all 2020-21 student athletes an extra season of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bell was eligible to return to the Bulldogs for a fifth season in 2021-22. She will be eligible to play that fifth season now in 2022-23, when UMD and Amsoil Arena are scheduled to host the Frozen Four.

Originally a forward for the Bulldogs and in Hockey Canada’s development system, Bell transitioned to defenseman prior to the start of the 2019-20 season. After posting 11 goals and 21 assists in 36 games in her first season on the blue line for the Bulldogs, Bell tallied four goals and 10 assists in 19 games during the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season while leading UMD to the NCAA tournament and Frozen Four.

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A second-team All-American as a senior, Bell was also an All-WCHA first-team selection this past season and the league’s defenseman of the year. She is one of just four current college players selected to centralize with Team Canada and one of two from the WCHA along with Ohio State’s Emma Maltais.

The 28-player centralization roster announced Wednesday includes 14 members of the 2018 Olympic team that won silver in PyeongChang, South Korea. That includes Larocque, who was also with Team Canada in 2014 when it won gold in Sochi, Russia.

Bell spent last month with Hockey Canada in Halifax, Nova Scotia, preparing for the IIHF Women’s World Championship. The tournament, scheduled to take place this month, was originally canceled before being rescheduled for Aug. 20-31. She has since returned to Duluth, but will relocate to Calgary at the end of July to prepare for the rescheduled World Championship — location still to be determined — and then begin training for the Olympics.

Team Canada’s 2021-22 schedule is tentatively set to include games against the United States Women’s National Team, potentially Finland and teams from the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

WCHA announces conference schedule

The WCHA announced its 2021-22 conference schedule on Wednesday, which is back to being a 28-game slate thanks to the addition of St. Thomas as the eighth member. The Minnesota Cup will not be played in 2021-22, but the playoff format will return to one with eight teams and three rounds.

The Bulldogs will meet St. Thomas for the first time on Oct. 22-23 in Mendota Heights at St. Thomas Ice Arena. The Tommies don’t visit Duluth until February.

The Bulldogs open the season on Oct. 1-2 in Mankato against Minnesota State. The home opener is Oct. 8-9 against Minnesota. Wisconsin is supposed to visit Duluth the following weekend, however, that series needs to be rescheduled due to the UMD men’s hockey program hosting the Ice Breaker Tournament that weekend.

UMD 2021-22 WCHA schedule

Oct. 1-2: at Minnesota State-Mankato

Oct. 8-9: Minnesota

Oct. 22-23: at St. Thomas

Nov. 19-20: at Bemidji State

Dec. 3-4: Ohio State

Dec. 10-11: at Minnesota

Jan. 7-8: at St. Cloud State

Jan. 14-15: Bemidji State

Jan. 21-22: at Ohio State

Jan. 28-29: Minnesota State

Feb. 4-5: at Wisconsin

Feb. 11-12: St. Thomas

Feb. 18-19: St. Cloud State

Feb. 25-27: WCHA Quarterfinals

March 5-6: WCHA Final Faceoff

TBD: Wisconsin

The WCHA schedule for the women and NCHC schedule for the men set up at least three doubleheader weekends at Amsoil Arena in 2021-22. The first is Jan. 14-15 when the women host the Beavers and the men host Miami. The next is Jan. 28-29 when the women host the Mavericks and the men host Western Michigan and the last will be Feb. 18-19 when the St. Cloud State women and North Dakota men both visit Amsoil Arena.

In another scheduling quirk, both the UMD men and women will be at Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud on Jan. 7-8 to play the Huskies.