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 6: National Award Winners
The nation's premier conference had no shortage of sensational team and individual performances in 2016-17, with WCHA players from every position on the ice earning national accolades.
Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award
A moment later in our series will focus on the sensational season and remarkable career of Wisconsin senior goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens, who capped her record-setting stay in Madison with the 2017 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award.
Desbiens emerged from a WCHA-led field. Lara Stalder, the stellar senior forward from Minnesota Duluth, joined UW's goaltender among the top-three finalists. The WCHA made up half of the top-10 finalists, with an NCAA-high five league standouts (representing three schools) among those honored.
Joining Desbiens and Stalder in the top-10 were Minnesota teammates Kelly Pannek and Sarah Potomak, along with Wisconsin forward Annie Pankowski. Potomak, a sophomore, and Desbiens were the field's lone underclassman and goaltender, respectively.
Coach of the Year
After leading Minnesota Duluth to a 25-win campaign, its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011 and a final No. 5 national ranking, second-year Bulldogs bench boss Maura Crowell was named the national Coach of the Year by both CCM/AHCA and USCHO.
The WCHA boasted an NCAA-best eight representatives on the 2017 CCM Hockey All-America teams, earning four spots on both the first and second teams.
Desbiens was named the first-team goaltender after leading the country with a .963 save percentage, a 0.71 goals-against average, 29 wins, an .886 winning percentage (29-2-4) and 17 shutouts. Pannek, who tied for the national lead with 62 points and paced the country with 43 assists in her junior season, joined Stalder and her NCAA-best 1.60 points per game average (23 goals, 33 assists for 56 points in 35 contests) among first-team forwards. Minnesota senior defenseman Lee Stecklein garnered blue-line accolades after anchoring a Gophers defense that yielded just 1.77 goals per game, while chipping in 24 points (4g-20a) offensively.
Ohio State redshirt-sophomore Kassidy Sauve returned from double hip surgery to lead the country with a Buckeyes-record 1,135 saves and earn second-team All-America status. She was joined by a trio of Wisconsin teammates: Senior forward Sarah Nurse, with her 25 goals (tied for second nationally) and 53 points (tied for seventh); Pankowski, who led the nation with 0.69 goals per game (25 in 36 contests) and was sixth with 55 points as a junior; and, senior defenseman Jenny Ryan, the backbone of the NCAA's stingiest defense and the country's fourth-highest scoring defenseman (25 points on seven goals and 18 assists).
The WCHA was also well-represented on the All-USCHO teams, with nine players earning recognition. Stalder, Pannek and Desbiens all earned first-team accolades; Pankowski and Stecklein were on the second team; and, Nurse, Potomak and Ryan garnered third-team nods. Minnesota Duluth senior defenseman Sidney Morin was also a third-team selection after tying for seventh nationally among blue-liners with 24 points (8g-16a), while helping the Bulldogs allow just 1.68 goals per game (good for sixth in the NCAA).
National Players of the Month
January 2017 proved to be one to remember, with the Women's Hockey Commissioners' Association introducing national Player and Rookie of the Month awards for the first time.
Stalder became the inaugural National Division I Player of the Month, earning the historic honor after producing an NCAA-best 2.67 points-per-game and +16 rating in January. She ranked among the WCHA and NCAA leaders in several offensive categories, helping Minnesota Duluth to an undefeated, 5-0-1 mark.
Desbiens took home the February award after leading the country with a 0.61 goals-against average, a .973 save percentage and four shutouts, guiding Wisconsin to a 5-0-3 record.
"Top Shelf Moments" from the 2016-17 WCHA Season
12: Muzerall's Debut Sparks Ohio State Turnaround
11: Coaching Milestones
10: The Next Level
9: WCHA Partners with FOX Sports North
8: 'Fill the Bowl' Sets U.S. Attendance Record
7: Sauve's Sensational Season