The third edition of “Year of the Badger” takes a look at one of Wisconsin’s most consistently dominant programs, women’s hockey.
Even before he was named the head coach of Wisconsin’s women’s hockey team in 2002, Mark Johnson was already a Badgers legend.
Johnson played for the UW men’s hockey team, coached by his father, the prolific “Badger Bob” Johnson, and left the school as its all-time leading goal scorer. Since taking over the reigns of the women’s hockey program, he has proved that great coaching really does run in his family.
The Badgers have regularly been one of the country’s best teams during Johnson’s tenure, winning four national titles in six years between 2006 and 2011. They also became the first team in women’s hockey history to play in four consecutive national championship games when they did so from 2006 to 2009.
While the previous three seasons haven’t yielded another national title for UW, that certainly doesn’t mean they have fallen from the ranks of the nation’s elite programs. They returned to the national championship game in 2012, and made it to the Frozen Four this past season after missing the NCAA tournament in 2013.
Led by All-American Alex Rigsby, one of only three goaltenders in NCAA history to register 100 career wins, the Badgers posted a 28-8-2 record on their way to a second place finish in the WCHA regular season standings. Wisconsin was an extremely well-rounded team, averaging 3.00 goals per game for the sixth-highest total in the country, and allowing just 1.24 goals per game, the NCAA’s third-lowest mark.
Though UW does lose Rigsby for the 2014-15 season, Johnson and his staff have to be confident with who will replace her between the pipes.
Badgers fans got a glimpse of Ann-Renée Desbiens in action last season, as she saw significant playing time while filling in for Rigsby as she recovered from an injury midway through the year.
Desbiens posted an 11-1-0 record to go along with a sparkling 1.06 goals against average and a .957 save percentage during her freshman campaign.
And aside from Rigsby, Wisconsin returns a majority of their core players from last year, including their top three scorers (Brittany Ammerman, Blayre Turnbull, and Katy Josephs).
In addition, the country’s No. 1 recruit from last season, Annie Pankowski, who didn’t play for UW in 2013-14 because of her Winter Olympics participation, will finally make her long-awaited debut in Madison. Plus, the Badgers have a few other highly-touted incoming recruits that could make an immediate impact, including Baylee Wellhausen, Maddie Rolfes, and Emily Clark.
Wisconsin has struggled recently against bitter rival Minnesota, dropping their last 11 contests against the Gophers, including all five meetings last year.
The Badgers will need to reverse this trend if they want to capture a fifth national title, and they certainly have all the tools in place to do it.
At the very least, this much is clear: the Wisconsin Badgers’ status as a perennial women’s hockey powerhouse doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon.