It’s a great season for hockey!
While Badger football is hunting a potential berth in the College Football Playoff, the Wisconsin women’s hockey team, ranked No. 1 since Oct. 2 and a unanimous No. 1 since Oct. 30, is looking to end a seven-year national championship drought. With how they have performed, it is time to believe in the Badgers.
More than halfway through the 2017-18 season, Wisconsin is an impressive 17–1–0. While the first quarter of the season was an undefeated 8–0, the Badgers were relatively untested, with an average opponent ranking of 25 (out of 40 teams). The second quarter was much more difficult. These 10 games included six against top-10 opponents and an average opponent ranking of 10. In spite of the increased rigor, Wisconsin performed better in step with improved competition. This includes a statement 7–0 win over fourth-ranked Ohio State and an extremely rare road sweep of rival Minnesota.
Let’s take a look at which Badgers have been the best during the first half of the season. We will also discuss five takeaways from the last five weeks, review WCHA power rankings, and take a look ahead to the upcoming schedule.
MVP: Abby Roque
No change here; she is still the most consistent player on the ice. Roque is 10th in the nation in scoring: 22 points on six goals and 16 assists. She continues to create for her teammates, and the offense is electric when she’s on the ice.
Most-Improved: Presley Norby
Norby continues to shine as one of the most athletic players on the team. She scored goals in each of the three series against top-10 teams and has six goals on the season with 12 assists.
Sophia Shaver and Alexis Mauermann deserve honorable mentions as well here; they are contributing significantly offensively and are electric with the puck.
Freshman of the Year (so far): Brett Pettet
No change again. However, her production has dipped slightly with the increase in challenge in Wisconsin’s schedule. Freshmen forward Caitlin Schneider and defender Grace Bowlby have become more instrumental parts of the Badgers’ success as the season progresses.
1. The race for No. 1
After 18 games, there is a clear separation of teams. The first tier is Wisconsin, Colgate, and Boston College. The next tier is a mishmash of about eight teams that include but aren’t limited to: Ohio State, Minnesota, Cornell, Clarkson, and St. Lawrence. Therefore, whoever earns the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament will have a significant advantage over the No. 2 and No. 3 teams. Additionally, the teams ranked Nos. 5-7 in the USCHO.com poll are all dangerous teams—you definitely want an easy matchup in the NCAA quarterfinals.
The Badgers need to continue to be successful. Their worst nightmare would be finishing ranked No. 3 and having to play Minnesota in the quarterfinals and then Boston College and Clarkson in the Frozen Four. Ideally, your national semifinal match-up would be against Ohio State, Colgate, Cornell, or Minnesota. Additionally, the No. 1 seed in the WCHA will be the only team to receive a bye during the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, which could provide a benefit or a hindrance (the Badgers struggled and lost vs. Northwestern after their first bye week of the season).
2. Olympic preparations
Former Badger Sarah Nurse survived the most recent cuts for Hockey Canada, beating out future Gopher Amy Potomak. There are three more cuts she will need to pass. Current Badger Emily Clark (who will return to Madison next season) along with former Badgers Meaghan Mikkelson and Ann-Renée Desbiens all seem to be safe.
For the US team, current Badger Annie Pankowski (also returning to Madison in the 2018-19 season) is working to earn a roster spot. Former Badgers Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, and Alex Rigsby are all 100 percent locks to make the team barring injury.
The Badgers will have between seven and nine players represented on either Team USA or Team Canada for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. If you’re not going to the Big Ten championship game and find yourself in Saint Paul, consider going to the Team USA vs. Hockey Canada exhibition game at the Xcel Energy Center (Dec. 3, 3 p.m.) and cheer on some of the best athletes to ever play at Wisconsin.
Additionally, the 2018 U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team roster features three future Badgers: forward Britta Curl (2018 class), forward Makenna Webster (2020), and forward Casey O’Brien (2020). There are no Badger commits on the Canadian U18 Women’s Team.
3. Gardner the enforcer
Last time, I was rather critical of a penalty Mikaela Gardner took. Since then, her play has improved greatly and she also has taken a role to ensure the Badgers don’t get pushed around. I appreciate that type of fire from the Badgers! Mikaela has five goals and nine assists on the season.
4. The Soup stops!
Kristen Campbell has been excellent this season as the Badger goaltender. She’s stepping into big skates; her predecessors are champions and Olympians. It doesn’t seem to bother Campbell, as she’s been a huge part in helping Wisconsin earn a 17–1–0 record and control of the WCHA. Her .943 save percentage and 0.896 goals against average are outstanding.
5. Wellhausen emerges.
The captain took eight games to score her first goal, but when the Badgers began their toughest stretch of the season, Baylee Wellhausen stepped up in a big way. She had five straight games with a point against top-10 teams and added a key goal against a pesky Boston team. Check out these three critical goals Wellhausen scored for the Badgers:
Here's a look at Wellhausen's game-winning goal! pic.twitter.com/Lfr1RjWQhS— Wisconsin Hockey (@BadgerWHockey) October 30, 2017
Did you miss Baylee Wellhausen's opening goal?— Wisconsin Hockey (@BadgerWHockey) November 4, 2017
We have you covered! pic.twitter.com/wsv33ES9JR
WCHA Power Rankings
1. Wisconsin 17–1–0 (+1)
What can we say about the Badgers? They have shown some inconsistencies, but it seems every game they get better and better (ignoring the sluggish start vs. Northeastern, of course). Considering they prove they are the best both on paper and ice while also being the deepest team in the country, it’s another year of national championship or bust in Madison. It’s clear that the WCHA isn’t the same dominant league during centralization, but the Badgers are still better than the rest by test.
2. Ohio State 11–3–2 (-1)
Wisconsin has a history of knocking teams down and out. I mean, Purdue football hasn’t been the same since this happened 13 years ago:
The Buckeyes have not been the same since the Badgers whipped them 7–0 to deliver the their first loss of the season. Ohio State just lost to Robert Morris this weekend. Still, OSU is clearly a step above Minnesota and has avoided slipping too far down my power rankings.
By the way, Ohio State had the fourth-best team in the country and a potential Patty Kazmaier Award winner in Kassidy Sauve, and still only averages 400ish fans? What a disgrace, OSU!
3. Minnesota 12–4–1 (No Change)
Speaking of attendance, Minnesota’s 45.7 percent average attendance is disgraceful for an arena with only a 3,400-seat capacity and a program that thinks it invented ice. Wisconsin is averaging 700 more fans per game with a full 1,000-seat deficit in capacity (The Badgers’ attendance is the highest in country: 2,237 per game, 93.2 percent capacity). #ExpandLaBahn #GopherBandwagon
Oh, and Minnesota isn’t very good. Of course the Gophers, are talented, but they don’t have the defense and goalkeeping to make it to the Frozen Four.
However, with Duluth sliding off the map, it looks like Minnesota has a good chance of sneaking into the NCAA tournament with an at-large bid, just like it barely snuck by Lindenwood this weekend.
4. Bemidji State 5–9–2 (+1)
The Beavers are a solid team stuck squarely in the middle. They are probably the only team that could beat Wisconsin/Ohio State/Minnesota while also still able to lose to Duluth, Mankato, or St. Cloud. Plus, Bemidji gets a huge bump for having one of the best play-by-play announcers in hockey, Kelly Schultz. Definitely worth the follow on Twitter.
5. Duluth 9–8–0 (-1)
It seems like Duluth and Ohio State have switched places in the WCHA. Without standouts Maddie Rooney (G) and Lara Stalder (D), the Bulldogs are lost. They have recently benefited greatly from a weak schedule, but the tide will turn soon.
6. Minnesota State 2–13–1 (No Change)
Why does everyone want Minnesota State to be successful? The Mavericks’ men’s team has had no problems, so they certainly have the infrastructure to produce quality hockey. It would be good for the WCHA if they improve, but they are simply bad this year instead of the usual terrible.
7. St. Cloud State 3–12–0 (No Change)
St. Cloud has found a way to earn two victories but the Huskies’ overall performance keeps them in the cellar. I’m genuinely happy that they were able to tally a few wins, but it doesn’t change that they are clearly the worst the WCHA has to offer. At least their attendance is better than Ohio State.
The third quarter of Wisconsin’s regular-season schedule looks a lot like the first quarter. The average Pairwise ranking of the Badgers’ opponents is 23; each of the next four opponents (Duluth, at St. Cloud, Mankato, and at Bemidji) has no business competing with the Badgers, so we will see if Wisconsin plays down to the competition like it did in the first quarter of the season. A pair of road games at Bemidji are the likeliest of the next eight games to be Wisconsin’s first blemish, but it is fair to expect Wisconsin to be 25–1–0 before the final stretch of the regular season. My success indicator is if Wisconsin outshoots each opponent by at least 25.
Up next is a pair of home games vs. Duluth at LaBahn Arena on Friday (5 p.m.) and Saturday (noon).
These will be a couple of nice appetizers before the Big Ten Football Championship Game.