Every weekday from June 12-27, we will be looking back at the "Top Shelf Moments" from the thrilling 2016-17 WCHA Women's League season. Up next on our countdown is…
Moment 7: Sauve's Sensational Season
Rewind, for a moment, to February 28, 2015. Although Ohio State's season came to an end with a 2-1, triple-OT loss at North Dakota in the WCHA Quarterfinals, Buckeyes goaltender Kassidy Sauve made 40 saves in the 20th start of her freshman season. That effort was part of a debut campaign that included six shutouts, a .925 save percentage and a sparkling 1.98 goals-against average. Honored with a spot on the All-WCHA Rookie Team, Sauve appeared poised to join the ranks of the league's top goaltenders.
Now, fast forward to February 26, 2017. Ironically, Ohio State's season once again finished with a 2-1, WCHA Quarterfinal loss at North Dakota, this time in the first overtime. Sauve again was fantastic, making 31 saves, the final ones of a 1,135-stop campaign that rewrote the OSU record books. However, to fully understand the magnitude of that least sentence, you must have an appreciation for what happened in-between those two February afternoons at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.
You see, Sauve missed the entire 2015-16 season due to injury. And, not just any injury: The young woman underwent double hip surgery – an excruciating development for any hockey player, much less a goaltender. Given that, you would be excused for worrying and wondering if she would return at anywhere near the same level she showed as a freshman.
Kassidy Sauve, however, showed her major injury was just a detour on the path to stardom.
She came back with an extraordinary 2016-17 season, earning second-team All-America honors and proving that she's not just one of the best in the WCHA, but is among the country's truly elite netminders. Sauve led the country with an Ohio State-record 1,135 saves (second-most in WCHA history and the sixth-most in NCAA annals), while she was fifth nationally with an all-time Buckeyes-best .942 save percentage, tied for seventh with six shutouts and 16 with a 2.00 goals-against average. Further demonstrating her complete recovery, she started 36 of OSU's 37 games, ranking sixth in the country with 2098:20 in net.
Sauve's saves total, which bettered Lisa Steffes' 2010-11 Ohio State mark by 50, was just three shy of the WCHA standard of 1,138, set by Minnesota Duluth's Jennifer Harss (a 2014 Olympian with Germany) during the Bulldogs' 2010-11 NCAA tournament campaign.
Perhaps even more impressively, Sauve compiled these historic numbers in a league that featured three of the nation's top-five ranked teams. In fact, among the top-eight goaltenders by save percentage this past season, Sauve is the only one from a team not ranked in the final opinion polls. She faced an NCAA-high 1,205 shots, 108 more than the second-highest (RPI's Lovisa Selander) and was 130 more than the next-highest WCHA netminder (Minnesota Duluth's Maddie Rooney). Sauve's saves total was 122 more than Rooney, who ranked second nationally.
"I'm saying All-American and I'll keep saying that all year," first-year OSU coach Nadine Muzerall told The Hockey Writers' Dustin Nelson following a 2-1 shootout win over then No. 2-ranked Minnesota in January. Muzerall proved to prophetic, as Sauve became the only underclassman to earn a spot on the 2016-17 All-America teams, the first OSU goaltender ever and the first Buckeye at any position since Olympian Natalie Spooner in 2012.
"She's phenomenal," Muzerall continued to THW back in January. "She's a kid that had double hip surgery last year and you wouldn't even know it. She's been our quarterback and that's how you play the game, from the back up. She makes a great save and it just gives us a little more energy. I don't know what else to say about her. She's just been awesome."
Phenomenal. Awesome. And, luckily for Ohio State and WCHA fans, back for more in 2017-18!
"Top Shelf Moments" from the 2016-17 WCHA Season