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. Wrapping up our countdown is…
Moment 1: The Sensational Ann-Renée Desbiens
For most of the past four years, fans of Wisconsin women's hockey and the WCHA have had the privilege of watching one of our league's fantastic student-athletes fashion possibly the greatest goaltending career in the sport's history. Through 122 record-setting games in a Badgers sweater, Ann-Renée Desbiens kept pucks out of the net at an historic rate, helped UW to tremendous team success and, with an equally impressive commitment to academics and the Madison community, crafted a truly remarkable legacy.
Desbiens' first collegiate start came Oct. 29, 2013 and, fittingly, she collected 17 saves in a 6-0 shutout of St. Cloud State. That clean slate was the first of her 55 career shutouts, the NCAA record regardless of gender. Desbiens set the standard Nov. 6, 2016 with her 44th blanking, part of a sensational run in the UW net that also saw her establish NCAA records with a 0.89 career goals-against average and a .955 save percentage. The native of La Malbaie, Québec posted a 99-14-19 record at Wisconsin; a victory total that is the fourth-most in NCAA Division I women's history, just one shy of Mercyhurst's Hillary Pattenden (2009-12) and fellow Badger Alex Rigsby (2011-14) for second. Finally, her .848 collegiate winning percentage is the seventh-best in the sport's history.
Her 2016-17 season could have been derailed, as she was sidelined at various points with a concussion and a knee injury. Instead, Desbiens rose to every challenge and, after a stellar senior campaign, was justly honored with the 2017 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as the top player in NCAA Division I women's ice hockey. While overcoming setbacks to start 35 of UW's 40 games, she led the country with an 0.71 goals-against average (the single-season NCAA record), a .963 save percentage (again, the NCAA single-season mark), 29 wins, a .963 winning percentage (29-2-4) and 17 shutouts. She did not allow more than two goals in a game all season, posted 11 contests with just one score yielded and backstopped the Badgers to the NCAA Women's Frozen Four championship game and a final No. 2 national ranking.
Becoming just the third goaltender to win the Patty Kaz Award in its 20-year history was a fitting exclamation point to Desbiens' sustained brilliance. In addition to her career records in the same categories, she also set the NCAA single-season marks with 21 shutouts in 2015-16, while establishing the GAA and save percentage standards in back-to-back seasons (2015-16 and 2016-17). A two-time First-Team All-American and two-time All-WCHA first-team selection, she was the 2016 WCHA Player of the Year, WCHA Final Face-Off Most Outstanding Player and USCHO national Player of the Year. Her Badger teams won back-to-back WCHA regular season championships, three-straight WCHA Final Face-Off crowns and advanced to the NCAA Frozen Four in each of her three seasons as the full-time starting goaltender.
Off the ice, Desbiens – who had a limited grasp of English when arriving at Madison from predominantly French-speaking Québec – was a three-time member of the WCHA All-Academic Team, accumulated an incredible 147 undergraduate credits (most UW degrees require 120) and has been accepted into the Wisconsin School of Business to begin her Integrated Master of Accountancy degree. She also made a tremendous impact in the Madison community, volunteering with the Badger Life program and at the Veterans hospital.
Desbiens now aims to represent her country at the 2018 Winter Olympics, as she earned a spot on the 28-player Olympic centralization roster for Canada's National Women's Team.
Simply put, the last few years will be forever remembered in Wisconsin, WCHA and NCAA lore – a time of unparalleled goaltending excellence and the era of the sensational Ann-Renée Desbiens.
"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
3: Fifteen Short Years
2: WCHA Makes a National Impact