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 4: A Fabulous Final Face-Off
Annually the nation's top conference championship tournament, the 2017 WCHA Final Face-Off did not disappoint. The four-team, three-game event to cap off the 2016-17 WCHA season featured three NCAA tournament teams, three teams that would finish in the top-five of the final opinion polls, five of the top-10 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award finalists, seven All-Americans, at least 16 potential 2018 Olympians, and a bevy of epic individual and team performances.
Topping the list of marquee performances was Minnesota Duluth sophomore goaltender Maddie Rooney, who made a WCHA Final Face-Off/Playoff Championship weekend-record 112 saves. Facing 117 shots and backstopping UMD for a whopping 151:29 against the high-flying offenses of Minnesota and Wisconsin, she compiled a .957 save percentage – including a .981 mark (104-of-106) over the first 131:29 in net. For her efforts, Rooney was named to the All-Tournament Team; she also became the first Most Outstanding Player from a non-winning team at a WCHA Final Face-Off or Playoff Championship.
A Bulldog single-game record 62 of Rooney's saves came during UMD's epic 2-1, double-overtime semifinal victory over the Gophers – a game finally won by Lara Stalder after 92:19, making it the longest game in a WCHA Final Face-Off and/or WCHA Playoff Championship. Rooney compiled 20 saves in the first OT and five more in the second (while Minnesota's Sidney Peters made a couple highlight-reel stops of her own), keeping the score deadlocked after the Bulldogs' Katerina Mrazova and the Gophers' Sarah Potomak traded second-period goals. Finally, it was Stalder – a top-three finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award – who lifted UMD into the championship game.
While the Bulldogs and Gophers played an instant classic, all three games of a thrilling Final Face-Off were tied heading into the final period. Wisconsin and North Dakota set the tone with the first semifinal, as the Badgers' Emily Clark scored the tie-breaking, game-winning goal with 2:43 remaining in regulation to give UW a 2-1 triumph. That contest featured second-period strikes by captains Sydney McKibbon (UW) and Amy Menke (UND), along with a career-high 47 saves by Fighting Hawks senior goaltender Lexie Shaw.
The championship game was also knotted, 1-1, heading into the final stanza, before Wisconsin's Sarah Nurse took over. The senior forward had a three-point effort over the final 20 minutes, leading the Badgers to a 4-1 win and the 2017 WCHA Final Face-Off championship. Nurse assisted on a pair of Annie Pankowski goals (including the game-winner just 33 seconds into the period), while her short-handed goal to put UW on top, 3-1, landed on SportsCenter's top-10 plays. McKibbon again scored for UW, answering a second-period goal from Bulldogs associate captain Sidney Morin with one of her own. Rooney made 42 of her 50 saves over the first 40 minutes, while eventual Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner Ann-Renée Desbiens turned in a 22-stop gem for the Badgers.
Wisconsin's championship was its third-straight and league-record seventh WCHA playoff title all-time. Clark and McKibbon joined senior defenseman Jenny Ryan on the All-Tournament Team, while Minnesota Duluth was represented by Morin, Rooney and Stalder.
The weekend celebration also honored the WCHA's illustrious past with the third annual WCHA Alumni Game and the on-ice recognition of alumnae Olympians Natalie Darwitz, Jenny Potter and Krissy Wendell; promoted the league's feature with the second annual free WCHA Youth Clinic presented by Sports Minneapolis; and, encouraged the continued growth of women's hockey with an on-ice salute to the Minnesota Whitecaps.
"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
5: Wisconsin Repeats as WCHA Champions