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 3: Fifteen Short Years
Nobody knew what they were really watching on March 4, 2017. For all of us, it was simply a terrific hockey game; two stalwart competitors locking horns in a taut contest worthy of a WCHA Final Face-Off semifinal. None of us could possibly imagine that Wisconsin's 2-1 victory would be the last time that the University of North Dakota would play a women's hockey game.
Yet, just 25 days after UND's seventh-straight Final Face-Off appearance, University President Mark Kennedy announced the program was being eliminated due to severe budget cuts affecting the entire campus.
Sadly, the WCHA and the entire college hockey community are left to mourn a program that, in just 15 short years, had produced three All-Americans (and Academic All-Americans), nine Olympians and 26 national team players, while appearing in two NCAA tournaments, becoming a fixture in the national rankings; and, had positioned itself for a long run of prominence.
This is not a "Top Shelf Moment" in the traditional sense, as no words can replace the sight of a North Dakota jersey itself, in many ways, symbolic of this great game of hockey on the ice. Try as we might to wax poetic, nothing can ease the profoundly negative ramifications of this loss on generations of women nationwide, and the sport as a whole. We are at a loss to repair the dreams of countless girls not just in Grand Forks, but from coast to coast who dreamed of one day of wearing that iconic UND sweater. What this "Moment" can do is, in a small way, recognize some of the reasons why UND was a cherished program for our league and sport; players and moments such as:
- Devon Fingland, a freshman defenseman on North Dakota's inaugural varsity team in 2002-03 and a blue-liner on the school's first two WCHA teams, who was the first player in program history to appear in every game over her four years.
- Susanne Fellner, who became UND's first Olympian when she represented Germany at the 2006 Winter Games.
- Shantel Rivard, who ushered the program into the Division I era before Brian Idalski came aboard in 2007; Idalski won 169 games in 10 years and guided North Dakota's rise to national prominence.
- Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux, the Grand Forks natives and transcendent talents who propelled their hometown school to unprecedented heights after transferring to UND for the 2010-11 season. Both renowned stars with Team USA, Jocelyne remains tied atop the WCHA's all-time scoring chart, while Monique is third.
- 2012 WCHA Rookie of the Year Michelle Karvinen, who later would become the first non-North American to be named the Olympics' best forward for her performance with Finland at the 2014 Winter Games.
- Shelby Amsley-Benzie, who by any and all measures represents the very best of college athletics; while re-writing UND's record-books as an All-America goaltender and two-time Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award finalist, the 2016 WCHA Postgraduate Scholarship recipient maintained a 4.0 grade-point average in a double-major program and a tireless devotion to community.
- One of UND's final assistant captains, Halli Krzyzaniak, who earned the 2017 WCHA Postgraduate Scholarship and will pursue a medical degree after a hockey journey that may very well take her to the 2018 Winter Olympics with Canada.
- Lisa Marvin, who inspired us all with a heroic return to the ice in October 2016, just 22 months after suffering multiple, devastating injuries upon being hit by a car in November 2014.
- Tanja Eisenschmid (Germany), Anna Kilponen (Finland), Emma Nuutinen (Finland), Vilma Tanskanen (Finland) and Susana Tapani (Finland), who joined Fellner, Karvinen and the Lamoureux twins as UND Olympic players; Peter Elander (head coach, Sweden) and Max Markowitz (video coordinator, Finland) have also represented the University at the Winter Olympics.
- The 2012-13 team, which finished with a program-best 26-12-1 record and No. 6 national ranking; UND fell, 3-2 in triple-overtime, in an epic NCAA quarterfinal game to Minnesota (the Gophers, widely recognized as the best team in college hockey history, went 41-0-0 en route to the national championship).
- The 2010-11 through 2014-15 teams, which combined for a 110-61-14 (.632) record during a stretch of five-straight, 20-win seasons.
- The 2010-11 through 2016-17 teams, which finished in the top half of the league standings each year, advanced to seven-straight WCHA Final Face-Offs, made two appearances in the WCHA playoff championship game and played in two NCAA tournaments; North Dakota's 144 wins since the start of the decade tied for the ninth-most nationally (third-best in the WCHA).
As for that final game? Well, the 2016-17 squad lived up to the "Fighting" nickname that has long been part of team lore, while making all who support North Dakota hockey proud. UND put a tremendous scare into a Wisconsin team that carried a 21-game winning streak into the national championship game; the top-ranked Badgers needed a goal with 2:43 remaining in regulation to escape with a 2-1 victory.
Fittingly, UND's final goal was scored by Amy Menke, the senior captain who ranks eighth in program history with 108 career points and sixth with 50 goals. Her score at 15:34 of the second period tied the WCHA Final Face-Off semifinal, while fellow senior Lexie Shaw turned in a career-high 47 saves in net.
With WCHA All-Rookie Team selection Ryleigh Houston returning in 2017-18, alongside a strong core featuring Olympians Kilponen, Nuutinen and Tanskanen, we are all left to wonder the heights this promising program might have reached.
Fifteen years is far too short, but the memories will always be with us. The WCHA wants to thank each and every person involved with North Dakota women's hockey from its inception in 2002 and, especially, beginning with the program's inaugural WCHA season in 2004-05. Their efforts have had an indelible impact on our growth as a league, helping us thrive both on and off the ice.
The University of North Dakota women's hockey program and all associated with it will forever be part of the WCHA family.
"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
4: A Fabulous Final Face-Off