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 5: Wisconsin Repeats as WCHA Champions
Over the past two seasons (2015-16 and 2016-17), the WCHA has produced the following: Two of the Frozen Four participants and an NCAA-best four of the top-10 teams in final opinion polls (2015-16); and, once again, two Frozen Four teams, three NCAA Tournament squads and an NCAA-best three of the top-five ranked programs (2016-17). Additionally, six of the league's eight teams have, at one point during the past two seasons, been at least receiving votes in either the USCHO.com and/or USA Today / USA Hockey Magazine polls.
The WCHA remains the nation's premier conference, with its 28-game league slate a gauntlet through many of the country's top programs. Emerging after five months with the WCHA regular season crown is one of college hockey's great accomplishments. Outlasting the same field in the league tournament – surviving a best-of-three, quarterfinal round series and two, winner-take-all games at the Final Face-Off – is truly worthy of the "champions" label, regardless of regular season finish.
Indeed, winning either a WCHA regular season or playoff championship is a challenging task. Winning both in the same season is a sign of greatness. Winning both in back-to-back seasons is rarefied air – the space occupied right now by the Wisconsin Badgers.
Long among the nation's elite programs, Wisconsin has risen to the top of the WCHA over the last two campaigns. The Badgers' stellar 2016-17 season, which did not end until the national championship game, included an NCAA-best 33 wins, the program's second-consecutive WCHA regular season title and its third-straight Final Face-Off crown. UW also led the nation in winning percentage (.875, 33-3-4), scoring offense (3.92 goals per game), scoring defense (0.88 goals allowed per contest), goal margin per game (+3.05), shots on goal margin (+22.32) and penalty-kill efficiency (.918), among others.
Wisconsin was the first WCHA team off the blocks in 2016-17, opening with a league series at St. Cloud State on Sept. 23-24. The Badgers swept that road test, jumping out to an early WCHA lead and never looking back; UW finished with 73 points (22-2-4-3) and held the top spot in the league standings after each weekend in which they had played at least an equal number of games as Minnesota. Head coach Mark Johnson's team went undefeated in its first 10 WCHA contests (9-0-1), before closing the campaign with a 15-game run (12-0-3). And, in a sweet moment, the Badgers once again clinched the regular season title at home on Senior Day, defeating Minnesota Duluth in front of a raucous and sold-out LaBahn Arena on Feb. 12.
Holding the top seed for the 2017 WCHA tournament, the Badgers dispatched of Minnesota State in the quarterfinal round, sweeping the Mavericks behind a pair of Ann-Renée Desbiens shutouts. Wisconsin then outlasted a Final Face-Off field that included three NCAA tournament participants to win their league-record seventh WCHA playoff championship, while becoming just the second team in league history to earn three-straight postseason titles. All-tournament selection Emily Clark delivered the tie-breaking, game-winning goal with 2:43 remaining in regulation in a semifinal victory over North Dakota, while Sarah Nurse's three-point, third-period outburst (1g-2a) led the Badgers to a 4-1 triumph over Minnesota Duluth in the championship game.
Desbiens, the league's Goaltending Champion, was named to the All-WCHA First Team alongside senior defenseman Jenny Ryan and junior forward Annie Pankowski. Nurse garnered All-WCHA Second Team accolades, while Clark was a third-team honoree. Freshman forward Abby Roque was voted the WCHA Rookie of the Year following an excellent debut season, while she was joined on the All-Rookie Team by defenseman Mekenzie Steffen.
"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
6: National Award Winners