The Wisconsin Badgers are hoping to end a five-year NCAA women's hockey championship drought this spring and are being led by four national team members, three from Team Canada and another from Team U.S.A.
The Badgers have been the top ranked club in the nation from the early going of the 2016-17 campaign as they strive to capture their first NCAA crown since 2011 and end the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ drive for a third straight title.
The Badgers and Gophers met twice earlier this season in Wisconsin with Minnesota taking the opener 2-0 and the Badgers rebounding for an 8-2 decision in Game 2. The clubs wrap up the regular season with two more games in Minneapolis on Feb. 18 and 19.
Leading the way for the Badgers (20-2-1) is senior goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens from La Malbaie, Que. who, despite missing four games with an upper body injury earlier in the season, leads the nation in goals-against-average (0.66), save percentage (.961), winning percentage (.917) and shutouts (10) while posting a 16-1-1 record.
Desbiens is one of the three Canadians, the others being junior forward Emily Clark from Saskatoon, Sask. and senior forward Sarah Nurse from Hamilton, Ont., who are expected to suit up for the Canadian national team at the IIHF World Championships following the NCAA season from March 31 to April 7 in Plymouth, Mich.
Clark and Desbiens were honoured on Jan. 17 by being named WCHA offensive and defensive players of the week after back-to-back shutout wins (9-0 and 2-0) over the St. Cloud Huskies on Jan. 13 and 14.
Clark tallied four times and added three assists in the two victories which included a hat trick and six-point outing in the opening win. She has also recorded 15 points in her last five outings.
Her 26 points (9G, 17A) tie her with Nurse, who is the leading goal scorer with 15, for second in team scoring.
Clark and Nurse trail junior forward Annie Pankowski (14G, 13A) by just a single point for the team lead in scoring. Pankowski, a native of Laguna Hills, Calif., will be suiting up against the three Canucks for Team U.S.A. in Plymouth.
Another Canadian among the eight in total on the squad, freshman Nikki Cece from Oakville, Ont. is the Badgers back-up goaltender this season and proved her worth during the injury to Desbiens with four wins, including a shutout, in five starts. She allowed just eight goals for a 1.60 GAA and a .907 save percentage.
The other players from north of the border in the Badgers lineup are: senior defenceman Melissa Channell, Oakville, Ont.; sophomore forward Sam Cogan, Ottawa, Ont.; senior forward Sydney McKibbon, Oakville, Ont.; and junior defenceman Lauren Williams, Windsor, Ont.
The women's Frozen Four (NCAA championships) will take place from March 17 to 19 in St. Charles, Mo.
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