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What to expect from the 2017-18 Wisconsin women’s hockey season

Here’s everything you need to know to get ready for the upcoming season

Baylee Wellhausen celebrates a Wisconsin goal during a win over Minnesota last December.
Baylee Wellhausen celebrates a Wisconsin goal during a win over Minnesota last December.
Nicole Haase

Editor’s note: This was originally posted to B5Q as a FanPost, but we wanted to convert it to a regular article to give Bob’s excellent work some more promotion. To write your own FanPost, please click here anytime.

It’s almost that time for hockey! And I’m totally pumped for the women’s hockey season. Two seasons ago, my family started going to women’s hockey games as an affordable way to have fun. We enjoyed it so much we got season tickets last year and have renewed them for this year. I highly recommend volleyball and hockey for a seriously good sports experience! And they are way more affordable than men’s football, basketball, and hockey.

I’m relatively new to hockey, so I encourage feedback! Is there something I missed in my analysis? Is there something I’m getting completely wrong? I look forward to hearing!

I’ve been looking for some season previews, and I’m having trouble finding them now. I’m sure The Ice Garden and other hockey writers such as Nicole Haase will come up with some stellar analysis as always. But until then, you’re stuck with me!

Looking Back

The 2016-17 season was both everything and nothing Mark Johnson and the Wisconsin women’s hockey team was hoping for. Ann-Renée Desbiens won the Patty Kazmaier Award, the team won the WCHA regular-season and tournament titles. Wisconsin was ranked No. 1 from the start of the season until the national championship game against Clarkson, where the Badgers fell 3–0 (but the Badgers did out-shoot Clarkson 41–20). Looking ahead at the schedule this year, it doesn’t appear that the Badgers will have to play critical games on soft ice like they did in the 2017 Frozen Four. It was clear the Badgers’ speed advantage was muted due to the playing conditions.

Team Preview

In an Olympic season, the Badgers will temporarily lose top offensive contributors Emily Clark and Annie Pankowski to Hockey Canada and Team USA. They will likely return in the 2018-19 season, and in the meantime some younger players will have a chance to develop. Make no mistake, though—the goal for the Badgers will be to win the WCHA and NCAA titles this year. The Frozen Four and WCHA tournaments are both hosted across the border in Minnesota, so it will be a nice road trip for the Badger faithful should Wisconsin put together a quality season. In a Sept. 4 press conference, Johnson alluded to the fact that the 2018-19 season could be spectacular with Pankowski and Clark returning and the rest of the team having an extra year of experience. However, we’re just focused on the 2017-18 season, which definitely could be special as well.

The Badgers will need to replace 94 of last year’s 157 goals (60 percent), 139 of 260 assists (53 percent), 233 of 417 points (56 percent), and 823 of 1,651 shots (50 percent). And that is not to mention replacing Desbiens’s 2,110 minutes at goal, 645 saves, .71 goals against average, and .963 save percentage. Oh yes, and of course there are the 17 shutouts and 29 wins Desbiens earned last year. It may strike some anxiety in the Badger fan, but perhaps it is better to view the season as an opportunity to turn the page to a new era in Wisconsin women’s hockey.

Wisconsin will add a number of new players to help offset the huge loss in production due to the Olympics and graduation. Kristen Campbell joins the team to bolster the depth at goaltender as a transfer from South Dakota, and Claudia Kepler will be eligible to play in the 2017-18 season after transferring from Ohio State. Kepler has earned the title of co-captain this year and should contribute significantly on offense.

It’s hard to predict which incoming freshmen will contribute. Last season, Abby Roque was a significant contributor due to her great stick skills and size. It seemed to take Roque some time to find her role on the team, but when she did, she came up with the most spectacular assist of the season.

This season, it seems like the incoming freshmen with the best résumés are Maddie Posick, Brette Pettet, Delaney Drake, and Grace Bowlby. The Badgers will have 10 new players to wear the Motion W, and eight are true freshmen.

On Sept. 16, the Badgers took on the South Korean national team, and the new players got a great chance to play together. Roque looked great, Kepler led the game off with a score, and the freshmen looked talented and energetic.

The exhibition also gave us a look at the goaltender position. Nikki Cece is injured with an unclear timetable to return, so that left Campbell, Baldwin, and Blesi with time at the net. Unfortunately, the Badgers defenders limited South Korea to five shots, but two led to juicy rebounds off of Baldwin. Given Baldwin’s limited size, I have some doubts that she will get significant playing time this year.

Campbell definitely looks intimidating in front of the net given her size in comparison to Baldwin. It’s hard to analyze Blesi, who faced zero shots in 20 minutes in goal. When Cece is healthy, Johnson might go with a rotation of Campbell and Cece like the men’s team did with Matt Jurusik and Jack Berry last season. I would imagine that Blesi or Baldwin will get some more opportunities as well before WCHA play begins.

This team’s success will depend on how well these 10 new players can contribute and how well the returning players can improve their craft. Johnson and staff have a lot of talent to work with; they need to make the most of it, though, given the power they are losing.

Key Departures

Goaltenders

Name GP-GS Minutes Goals Against Average Shutouts Saves Save %
Name GP-GS Minutes Goals Against Average Shutouts Saves Save %
G Ann-Renée Desbiens 35-35 2,110:52 0.71 17 645 0.963

Position Players

Name =+/- Goals Assists Points Shots Shot %
Name =+/- Goals Assists Points Shots Shot %
D Melissa Channell 33 3 14 17 55 0.055
D Jenny Ryan 38 7 18 25 100 0.07
F Sarah Nurse 42 25 28 53 180 0.139
F Sydney McKibbon 26 13 19 32 115 0.113
F Emily Clark 48 20 26 46 192 0.104
F Annie Pankowski 42 25 30 55 165 0.152
Cumulative Stats (of key departures) 38.17 93 135 228 807 0.115

Key Returners

Goaltenders

Name GP-GS Minutes Goals Against Average Shutouts Saves Save %
Name GP-GS Minutes Goals Against Average Shutouts Saves Save %
G Nikki Cece 5-5 299:38:00 1.6 1 78 0.907

Position Players

Name =+/- Goals Assists Points Shots Shot %
Name =+/- Goals Assists Points Shots Shot %
D Lauren Williams 21 1 7 8 25 0.04
D Maddie Rolfes 37 3 13 16 44 0.068
D Mekenzie Steffen 29 4 10 14 66 0.061
F Sam Cogan 28 11 15 26 111 0.099
F Abby Roque 28 8 20 28 130 0.062
F Baylee Wellhausen 25 15 7 22 117 0.128
F Sophia Shaver 20 3 15 18 92 0.033
Cumulative Stats 26.86 45 87 132 585 0.077

Key Newcomers

  • G Kristen Campbell (transfer; redshirt sophomore)
  • F Claudia Kepler (transfer; redshirt senior)
  • G Breanna Blesi
  • D Grace Bowlby
  • D Natalie Buchbinder
  • F Delaney Drake
  • F Maddie Posick
  • F Brette Pettet

Key Home Games (get your tickets the moment they go on sale)

  • Dec. 1-2: vs. Minnesota-Duluth
  • Feb. 16-17: vs. Minnesota

WCHA One-Sentence Previews

  • Minnesota-Duluth: A strong coaching staff will have UMD in the mix for a conference championship.
  • Minnesota: Goldy loses stars Sarah Potomak and Kelly Pannek to the Olympics, yet will be in the mix for the WCHA regular-season title until the last weekend.
  • Bemidji State: This pesky team could find a way to host Round 1 of the WCHA tournament, but it will be an outside shot.
  • Minnesota State: The Mavericks could be on the cusp of turning around.
  • St. Cloud State: The Huskies will benefit from Clark, Pankowski, Pannek, and Potomak playing in the Olympics.
  • Ohio State: While their program has been filled with turmoil, returning the best goaltender in the NCAA will help.

Bob’s Predictions

MVP: Abby Roque

Defensive Player of the Year: Maddie Rolfes

Breakout Player of the Year: Sam Cogan

Freshman of the Year: Maddie Posick

Must-See Player: Baylee Wellhausen

Record: 29–6 (19–5 WCHA)

WCHA: No. 2 seed

NCAA: No. 3 seed

Hope to see you at the games! It’s a blast, LaBahn Arena is a great facility, and the prices are really budget-friendly.