MADISON -- It seemed almost inevitable as the season marched on and junior goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens had amassed 10 shutouts before the holiday break, but Saturday what always seemed probable became reality as the Badgers handily defeated Minnesota State-Mankato 6-0 and advanced to the WCHA Final Faceoff in Minneapolis next weekend.
In front of a sell-out LaBahn Arena crowd that included her parents and brother, Desbiens broke the NCAA single-season shutout record. The previous record of 17 games was held by Minnesota's Noora Räty during the Gophers' undefeated 2012-13 season.
"I don’t know what feels best, breaking the record or seeing my dad’s face in the stands," said Desbiens. "That was priceless and I’m really glad my family was able to be here for this moment."
The Badgers poured off the bench to congratulate Desbiens as the buzzer sounded. Women's head coach Mark Johnson said the players were talking on the bench in the final few minutes about protecting the puck and keeping the shut out for Desbiens.
"It feels pretty good. It’s a lot of love. The deserve a big part of it this, so just knowing they’re by my side when this happened is really nice and being able to hug them and make sure they get credit," said Desbiens.
It's just another accolade for Desbiens, who already broke the NCAA scoreless streak record towards the beginning of the season and is poised to break the record for goals allowed and save percentage.
"When you think about it, we’ve played 36 games and she’s got 18 shutouts. I don’t even know how to describe that," said Johnson.
"It’s one of those things you don’t think about or plan for -- it just kind of evolves and eventually it happens. The more I think about it, the more amazing it is. Kudos to her and certainly to the players playing in front of her."
Sophomore Baylee Wellhausen opened the scoring right when she brought the puck in close and then shoved home her own rebound.
Wellhausen moved to the third line with freshman Sophia Shaver and senior Erika Showchuk, and it allowed her to open up her game, and use her speed a bit more.
"Soph’s a very good skater; she’s aggressive, she attacks the puck. It allows Baylee to do some of the things that her skill set shows as far as her speed and also being aggressive. It’s a good combination and it’s a good match-up for us the past four or five games," said Johnson.
Junior Sydney McKibbon doubled the Badger leave with just 10 seconds left in the first period. Junior Sarah Nurse put a shot on net from distance and McKibbon launched herself at the net to bury the rebound.
Wisconsin extended their lead in the second period on a snipe from junior Mellissa Channell. The defenseman shot from out near the blue line and Mankato goalie Brianna Quade was being screened -- the puck went untouched into the net.
The Badgers poured it on and broke the game open for good in the third period, scoring three goals in five minutes.
The fourth goal of the game came on a pretty little combo from sophomores Emily Clark and Annie Pankowski. The puck shot in the air after a face off in the near circle. Pankowksi pulled it down and took a touch in the direction of the net and fed the puck to Clark at the near post. She one-timed it home and the Badgers were up 4-0.
Pankowski displayed the soft hands that can make her so deadly when she sniped a deceptive little wrister from the far circle that flew past Quade before she could react.
Junior defenseman Jenny Ryan added a power play goal 5:01 into the third with a goal very similar to Channell's. Her shot from the point was screened and hit off the post and into the net to make it 6-0 Wisconsin.
The Badgers outscored Mankato 35-1 in six games this season and 22-1 in over the past two home series.
After coming off difficult losses in Minnesota last week, it was important for the Badgers to re-establish their game and not take the series for granted.
"I think everyone working together for that team win was a big win for us. That was our mindset going in, to set ourselves up for the coming weekends because we know we’re going to face tougher teams," said Pankowski.
The Badgers will face Minnesota-Duluth, who upset Bemidji State, at 2 p.m. CT next Saturday. Saturday's semi-final games will be streamed free on WCHA.com. Sunday's championship game will be televised live at 2 pm on Fox Sports North and Fox Sports Wisconsin alternate channel.