WCHA Week 23: 2017 NCAA Tournament
Wisconsin, Minnesota Duluth And Minnesota Vying To Win WCHA's 17th National Championship (16th NCAA Crown)
Wisconsin, Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota Duluth have advanced to the 2017 NCAA Tournament

Opening Face-Off

- Badgers, Bulldogs, Gophers and the Quest for 17: For the first time since 2012, the women's Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) has three representatives – Wisconsin, Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota – in the eight-team field that will compete for the NCAA championship. The top-seeded Badgers, the No. 3 seed Bulldogs and the Gophers will be vying to win the WCHA's 17th national title in 18 seasons (16th NCAA crown).

  • Wisconsin (31-2-4) will open the 2017 National Collegiate Women's Ice Hockey Championship with a quarterfinal-round game against College Hockey America (CHA) champion Robert Morris (24-4-6). The Badgers are set to host the Colonials at 2:00 p.m. Saturday in front of a sold-out crowd at LaBahn Arena. UW holds a 7-1-0 record against RMU, as the two teams haven't met since the 2010-11 season.
  • Minnesota Duluth (25-6-5) will host Minnesota (25-7-5) in a 2:30 p.m. contest Saturday at AMSOIL Arena. The Bulldogs and Gophers are meeting exactly one week after their epic, double-overtime Final Face-Off semifinal showdown, won by UMD after 91:29 on a goal by Lara Stalder. UMD has now won three-straight in the series, snapping a four-year, 21-game unbeaten run (20-0-1) for the Gophers.

- About Wisconsin: The Badgers, who have been No. 1 in the national polls since the preseason, are the NCAA tournament's top seed for the first time since 2012. UW earned the WCHA's automatic bid by capturing their third-straight Final Face-Off title, defeating Minnesota Duluth by a 4-1 score last Sunday.

  • Wisconsin enters the tournament with a 20-game unbeaten streak (17-0-3), the longest active stretch in the country. The Badgers have outscored their opponents 91-14 during the streak, which includes a trio of wins over ranked teams.
  • UW leads the nation in both scoring offense (4.03 goals per game) and scoring defense (0.86 goals allowed per game). Eighteen different Badgers have combined to score 149 goals this season, while senior Ann-Renée Desbiens leads NCAA goaltenders with a 0.71 goals-against average, .962 save percentage, 27 wins, a .906 winning percentage (27-1-4) and 15 shutouts.
  • The Badgers are 19-6 all-time in the NCAA tournament. Wisconsin is a four-time NCAA champion (2006, 2007, 2009 and 2011).

- About Minnesota Duluth: The Bulldogs are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011, while UMD is hosting a quarterfinal round game for the first time since beginning its 2010 championship run. On the strength of a 25-win season to date, UMD earned an at-large bid and No. 3 seed.

  • Minnesota Duluth is 12-2-2 since Jan. 1, with both losses coming to Wisconsin under less-than-ideal circumstances (Feb. 12 in Madison while missing five players, and in last Sunday's Final Face-Off championship game, which came 19 hours after a double-overtime semifinal victory).
  • UMD is 15-1-2 this season at AMSOIL Arena, including a 4-1-1 mark against 2017 NCAA tournament participants Boston College (1-0-1), Wisconsin (1-1-0) and Minnesota (2-0-0).
  • The Bulldogs are 15-5 all-time in the NCAA tournament, including a perfect 6-0 record in games played in the city of Duluth. A five-time NCAA champion, Minnesota Duluth won the first three NCAA crowns ever awarded (2001, 2002 and 2003), before adding two more in 2008 and 2010, respectively.

- About Minnesota: The two-time defending national champions, the Gophers return to the NCAA tournament as an unseeded, at-large participant. Minnesota will play its quarterfinal-round game on the road for the first time since 2011.

  • Minnesota's double-overtime, Final Face-Off semifinal loss to UMD snapped the Gophers' 9-1-3 stretch over their previous 13 games.
  • UMN junior forward Kelly Pannek enters the NCAA postseason as the nation's scoring leader with 60 points (19g-41a), having tallied a point in 30 of Minnesota's 37 games. She also leads the NCAA with 1.11 assists per game and 41 total assists.
  • The Gophers, who are making their 10th-straight and 15th overall appearance in the NCAA postseason, are 23-9-1 all-time in the NCAA tournament. Minnesota has won a record six NCAA championships, including four of the last five (2004, 2005, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016). The Gophers' seventh national title came with the 2000 American Women's College Hockey Alliance (AWCHA) crown.

- Topping the Polls: The WCHA enters the NCAA tournament with three of the top-five teams in the USCHO.com and USA Today / USA Hockey Magazine opinion polls. Wisconsin -- which has been atop the rankings since the preseason -- remains the unanimous No. 1 in both, followed by No. 3 Minnesota Duluth and No. 5 Minnesota.

- The WCHA and Patty Kaz: The WCHA has two of the top-three finalists for the 2017 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award in Wisconsin senior goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens and Minnesota Duluth senior forward Lara Stalder. Desbiens is a top-three finalist for the second-consecutive year, the last two seasons of her remarkable and record-setting career in the Badger net. Stalder is Minnesota Duluth's first top-three finalist since the 2007-08 season.

  • The WCHA also had an NCAA-best five of the top-10 finalists for the award, which honors the top player in women's college hockey. Joining Desbiens (the only goaltender in the top-10) and Stalder were Minnesota forwards Kelly Pannek and Sarah Potomak (as a sophomore, the lone underclassmen in the group), and Wisconsin forward Annie Pankowski.

By the Numbers

- 3: Consecutive WCHA Final Face-Off championships for Wisconsin (2014-16). The Badgers join Minnesota (2012-14) as the only teams to "three-peat" as league playoff champs.

- 7: WCHA playoff crowns for Wisconsin, a league record. The 2017 title broke a tie with Minnesota.

- 11: Points for Wisconsin junior Sarah Nurse (5g-6a) in four games over the last two weeks - most of any NCAA skater during conference tournaments.

- 12: Number of times the WCHA playoff champion has gone on to win the national title.

- 30: Points for Minnesota Duluth junior forward Lara Stalder during her current 15-game scoring streak. The Swiss Olympian has tallied 15 goals and 15 assists over the stretch, which includes nine multi-point performances. She is just the fourth player in UMD history to record a point streak of at least 15 games.

- 92:19: Length, in minutes, of the Minnesota Duluth vs. Minnesota "instant classic" in the 2017 WCHA Final Face-Off semifinals. UMD won the longest game in Final Face-Off / WCHA Playoff Championship history, earning a 2-1 victory on Stalder's double-OT goal.

- 112: Saves by Minnesota Duluth sophomore goaltender Maddie Rooney last weekend, a record for a WCHA Final Face-Off / Playoff Championship weekend. She became the first player from a non-winning team to earn Most Outstanding Player honors.

2017 WCHA Final Face-Off in Review

- The nation's premier conference tournament proved to be a thrilling championship weekend, as nationally-ranked Wisconsin, Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota, along with perennial power North Dakota, staged three memorable games.

- Wisconsin emerged with its third-straight Final Face-Off crown and league-record seventh WCHA playoff title overall, defeating North Dakota, 2-1, in the semifinals and Minnesota Duluth, 4-1, in the championship game.

- UMD prevailed over Minnesota, 2-1, in double overtime during the second semifinal game, which set a WCHA Final Face-Off / Playoff Championship record by lasting 91:29.

- Full recaps, box scores, photo galleries and select video highlights are available at wcha.com.

2017 WCHA Final Face-Off Semifinal #1
(1) Wisconsin 2, vs. (4) North Dakota 1
(March 4 at Ridder Arena; Minneapolis, Minn.)

The tone for a thrilling 2017 WCHA Final Face-Off was set in the first semifinal, as top-seeded Wisconsin used a late-game goal to hold off No. 4 seed North Dakota, 2-1.

After the teams remained scoreless through the first period, Wisconsin got on the power play at the seven-minute mark of the middle frame and took full advantage. UW captain Sydney McKibbon knocked in her 12th goal of the season on the 5-on-3 power play to give the Badgers a 1-0 lead. But the Fighting Hawks wouldn't stay down for long, as senior forward Amy Menke tied the game late in the period with her 11th goal of the season. After the teams traded chances throughout much of the third period with nothing to show, Wisconsin's Emily Clark scored the tie-breaking, game-winner - her NCAA-leading ninth of the season - to lift the Badgers into the championship game. UND senior goaltender Lexie Shaw finished with a career-high 47 saves in her final collegiate contest.

2017 WCHA Final Face-Off Semifinal #2
(3) Minnesota Duluth 2, vs. (2) Minnesota 1 - 2 OT
(March 4 at Ridder Arena; Minneapolis, Minn.)

The second semifinal contest was an instant classic, with No. 3 seed Minnesota Duluth prevailing over second-seeded Minnesota, 2-1 in double overtime. The game lasted 92:19, making it the longest ever in a WCHA Final Face-Off and/or WCHA Playoff Championship.

Just like the previous contest, the teams remained scoreless through the first period. With the Bulldogs on the power play past the halfway point of the second stanza, Katerina Mrazova put UMD ahead, 1-0, with her ninth goal of the season. But, just over a minute later, Minnesota's Sarah Potomak scored an unassisted goal to tie the game at 1-1. Behind stellar, highlight-reel caliber goaltending by the Gophers' Sidney Peters and the Bulldogs' Maddie Rooney, the teams remained tied through the rest of the second period, the entire third period, the first 20-minute overtime and past the halfway mark of the second extra stanza. Finally, at the 11:29 mark of the second OT, Patty Kaz top-3 finalist Lara Stalder hit a stray puck out of mid-air in front of the Gopher net and sent the Bulldogs to the Final Face-Off championship game with a 2-1 victory. Rooney finished the contest with a UMD-record 62 saves, while Peters made a career-high 39 stops for Minnesota.

2017 WCHA Final Face-Off Championship Game
(1) Wisconsin 4, vs. (3) Minnesota Duluth 1
(March 5 at Ridder Arena; Minneapolis, Minn.)

Wisconsin won its third-straight Final Face-Off championship and league-record seventh WCHA playoff title in program history, using a three-goal third-period to outlast Minnesota Duluth, 4-1.

The championship game was the third of the 2017 WCHA Final Face-Off to be tied at 1-1 heading into the final period, with seniors Sidney Morin (UMD) and Sydney McKibbon (UW) trading second-stanza goals. The third period, however, was all Badgers, beginning with Annie Pankowski's game-winning goal just 33 seconds in. Sarah Nurse followed with a short-handed, ESPN SportsCenter top-10 play-worthy goal at the 4:07 mark for a two-goal lead. Pankowski put the game away with her second marker of the period at 12:26, while Nurse factored in all three UW goals in the frame (1g-2a). Ann-Renée Desbiens made 22 saves to earn the win for the Badgers. UMD's Maddie Rooney turned in a 50-stop effort, bringing her weekend total to a WCHA Final Face-Off/Playoff Championship record of 112 saves.

2017 WCHA Final Face-Off All-Tournament Team
Forward – Emily Clark, Jr., Wisconsin
Forward – Sydney McKibbon, Jr., Wisconsin
Forward – Lara Stalder, Sr., Minnesota Duluth
Defense – Sidney Morin, Sr., Minnesota Duluth
Defense – Jenny Ryan, Sr., Wisconsin
Goaltender – Maddie Rooney, So., Minnesota Duluth

Most Outstanding Player – Maddie Rooney, So., G, Minnesota Duluth