WCHA Week 22: 2017 WCHA Final Face-Off
Wisconsin, Minnesota, Minnesota Duluth And North Dakota Compete For League's Playoff Championship
Wisconsin, Minnesota, Minnesota Duluth And North Dakota Compete For League's Playoff Championship

Opening Face-Off

- 2017 WCHA Final Face-Off: The nation's premier conference tournament is set, as the women's Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) will host the 2017 WCHA Final Face-Off this weekend at Ridder Arena. The championship field, which mirrors the 2016 quartet, features three of the country's top-five teams, as top-ranked Wisconsin will face perennial power North Dakota in Saturday's first semifinal, while No. 5/4 Minnesota skates against No. 2 Minnesota Duluth in the second semifinal contest.

  • The top-seeded Badgers (seeds determined by finish the final 2016-17 regular season standings) are playing in their seventh-straight WCHA Final Face-Off following a quarterfinal-round sweep of Minnesota State, while the second-seeded Gophers are making their 18th-consecutive appearance in the semifinals after outlasting Bemidji State in three games. Watch Semifinal #1 Online
  • The Bulldogs, who are the Final Face-Off's third seed, swept St. Cloud State to return to the WCHA playoff championship for the second-straight year and 17th time overall. The Fighting Hawks are back for the seventh-straight year after winning the final two games of their series with Ohio State, including an overtime thriller in the decisive Game 3. Watch Semifinal #2 Online

- On the Airwaves: Saturday's semifinal games will be streamed, for free, live on WCHA.com (Watch Semifinal #1 Online - Watch Semifinal #2 Online). Sunday's championship game will air live on FOX Sports North, FOX Sports Wisconsin and FOX College Sports-Central, and will also be available on FOX Sports Go.

  • Jack Swanson returns to handle play-by-play duties for all three games, alongside three-time Olympian Natalie Darwitz.

- Championship Hardware: Wisconsin is the two-time defending WCHA Final Face-Off champion, having defeated Bemidji State (4-0) in 2015 at Ralph Engelstad Arena and Minnesota (1-0) at Ridder Arena in 2016. The Badgers have won six WCHA postseason crowns overall, matching Minnesota for most in league history. Minnesota Duluth has captured the other five WCHA playoff titles, while North Dakota is searching for its first.

- Topping the Polls: As noted, the WCHA has three of the top-four 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. 2 Minnesota Duluth and No. 5/4 Minnesota.

  • The Badgers, Bulldogs and Gophers are also Nos. 1, 3 and 5, respectively, in the current PairWise rankings.

- 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.

- Back-to-Back for the Badgers: Top-ranked Wisconsin won the 2016-17 WCHA regular season championship, its second-straight league title and sixth in program history (all under head coach Mark Johnson, the most by any bench boss in WCHA history).

- Every Game, Every Rink: Between a challenging nonconference slate and the gauntlet of arguably the nation's premier conference, WCHA teams are playing some of D-I's toughest schedules, per the RPI Strength-of-Schedule ledger.

  • As of March 3, the country's top-six toughest schedules belong to WCHA teams, while the entire membership is in the top-15.
  • St. Cloud State concluded its season by playing D-I's toughest schedule to date, while Wisconsin ranks second, Minnesota Duluth is third, Bemidji State is fourth, Minnesota is fifth, North Dakota is sixth, Minnesota State is 10th and Ohio State is 12th.

- Sensational Sauve: Ohio State redshirt-sophomore goaltender Kassidy Sauve finished the season with 1,135 saves -- a program single-season record, the second-most in WCHA history and the sixth-highest total in NCAA annals.

By the Numbers – 2017 Final Face-Off Edition

- 5: Categories in which Wisconsin senior goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens -- the Women's Hockey Commissioners' Division I Player of the Month for February -- leads the country: wins (25), winning percentage (.900, 25-1-4), goals-against average (0.69), save percentage (.963) and shutouts (15).

- 7: Straight shutouts for Wisconsin in WCHA postseason games, dating back to March 7, 2015 (Final Face-Off championship game), part of the Badgers' 10-game winning streak in the league tournament.

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

- 16: Wisconsin's active unbeaten streak, the longest in the country. The Badgers are 15-0-3, having outscored their opponents 85-12 during the stretch.

- 27: Points for Minnesota Duluth junior forward Lara Stalder during her current 13-game scoring streak. The Swiss Olympian has tallied 14 goals and 13 assists over the stretch.

- 60: NCAA-leading points total by Minnesota junior forward Kelly Pannek, on 19 goals and 41 assists. The junior also leads the country in points-per-game (1.67), assists, assists-per-game (1.14), power-play points (18) and face-offs won (530). She has tallied a point in 30 of the Gophers' 36 contests thus far.

- 80: WCHA-leading points total -- and second-most in the NCAA -- by North Dakota's freshmen class. All eight rookie UND skaters have scored, led by Ryleigh Houston (8g-18a--26pts) and Emma Nuutinen (10g-9a--19pts).

2017 WCHA Final Face-Off

- Semifinal #1, (1) Wisconsin vs. (4) North Dakota: The Badgers and Fighting Hawks meet in Saturday's first semifinal contest. UW is 43-14 all-time in the WCHA tournament, with six titles - including back-to-back crowns. In fact, UW's last loss in WCHA tournament play came to North Dakota on March 7, 2014. This will be the fifth time North Dakota and Wisconsin have met in the semifinals of the WCHA Final Face-Off. UND won the meetings in 2013 and 2014, while Wisconsin won the games in 2011 and 2015.

  • Wisconsin took all four games against North Dakota this regular season, winning the two games in Grand Forks by scores of 2-0 and 5-2 back in October. In January, the Badgers won a pair of one-goal contests (3-2 and 2-1) in Madison.
  • Watch Semifinal #1 Online

- Semifinal #2, (2) Minnesota vs. (3) Minnesota Duluth: The Gophers and Bulldogs renew acquaintances in Saturday's second semifinal. Minnesota owns a 44-13-0 all-time mark in the WCHA postseason, with six championships. UMD is 35-16 overall in the league tournament, with five titles. The Gophers have won each of the four previous Final Face-Off semifinals, with victories in 2006, 2007 (OT), 2011 and 2014.

  • The Gophers had a 21-game unbeaten streak (20-0-1) against the Bulldogs from Jan. 2012 to Oct. 2016, until UMD earned a series sweep over Minnesota in the teams' most recent meeting (Jan 13-14). The teams are 2-2-0 this season, with each team earning a sweep on its home ice.
  • Watch Semifinal #2 Online