It was a dream season that came up short.
No. 1 Wisconsin women’s hockey lost to No. 2 Clarkson in the national title game 3-0 on Sunday.
The Badgers went down early in the second period on a goal by Savannah Harmon. Despite a number of chances, including a goal disallowed on a cross-checking penalty on forward Emily Clark, Wisconsin was unable to battle back before Cayley Mercer put the Golden Knights up 2-0 late in the third period. Mercer added an empty-net goal to complete the win.
It was a disappointing finish to a fantastic 2016-17. Wisconsin held the No. 1 spot in the rankings wire to wire. The Badgers set the NCAA record for attendance in the Fill the Bowl event. They won the WCHA regular-season title and the conference tournament. The Badgers knocked off Boston College 1-0 in an instant classic semifinal. Goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens won the Patty Kazmaier Memorial trophy.
Despite losing a wealth of experienced players including Desbiens, defenders Mellissa Channell and Jenny Ryan, and forwards Sarah Nurse and Sydney McKibbon, Wisconsin returns a great deal of talent next year.
Clark, along with Patty Kaz top-10 finalist Annie Pankowski and WCHA Rookie of the Year Abby Roque, headline the returning forward group for a Wisconsin offense that led the nation in scoring.
Junior defenders Maddie Rolfes and Mekenzie Steffen and sophomore Mikaela Gardner each tallied double-digit point totals and look to solidify a backline that loses Desbiens. Freshman Nikki Cece, who looked good in limited time when Desbiens was out earlier in the season with injury, should have the inside track on the starting job next year.
Despite the loss, the future looks bright. For the seniors, however, this is a bittersweet end to their careers and to an amazing final season in Madison.