2015-16 Team-by-Team Preview: Wisconsin Badgers

2015-16 Roster | 2015-16 Schedule

Head Coach: Mark Johnson (14th Season)
2015-16 Captains: Courtney Burke (C), Sydney McKibbon (A), Jenny Ryan (A)

2014-15 Recap

Record: 29-7-4 (19-6-3-1 WCHA/2nd place)
WCHA Postseason: WCHA Final Face-Off Champions; advanced to Final Face-Off with quarterfinal series win vs. St. Cloud State, defeated North Dakota in semifinals, and defeated Bemidji State in championship game
NCAA Tournament: Advanced to Frozen Four with win vs. Boston University, lost to Minnesota in semifinals

The 2014-15 season saw Wisconsin claim a postseason trophy for the first time since 2011, as the Badgers were crowned WCHA postseason champions at the Final Face-Off in Grand Forks, N.D. They started off the season with six wins, sweeping Lindenwood, Minnesota Duluth, and Ohio State, before dropping two to Minnesota at home. They responded by remaining unbeaten until the next time they faced the Gophers, going the next 12 games with an 11-0-1 record. Over that stretch, Wisconsin also posted a shutout streak of 388 minutes, 56 seconds, starting with an 8-2 win vs. Minnesota State on Nov. 13, and ending in a 2-1 overtime win vs. North Dakota on Dec. 5.

Wisconsin opened up the 2015 calendar year with a road series against Minnesota, and though they couldn’t beat the Gophers, they earned a 1-1 tie and a point from the shootout loss in the second game. They then welcomed Bemidji State to Madison and settled for a split against the upstart Beavers. The Badgers earned a sweep in one of their last five series of the regular season, against Minnesota State; in the other four, they played to ties against Clarkson and Minnesota Duluth, and then lost back-to-back to Ohio State and St. Cloud State.

Those last two losses didn’t seem to phase Wisconsin as the team began postseason play. In the WCHA quarterfinals, they had little trouble with SCSU, defeating the Huskies 5-1 and 4-1 to advance to the Final Face-Off. In their semifinal match-up against North Dakota, the Badgers defeated the hosts, 4-1, to move on to a championship match-up against Bemidji State. Wisconsin won the championship game decisively, 4-0, and a four-goal, five-point weekend from Sarah Nurse earned her MVP honors.

The Badgers were the third seed in the NCAA Tournament, and they welcomed Boston University for the NCAA quarterfinal game. Wisconsin advanced to the Frozen Four after a 5-1 win over the Terriers, with freshman Annie Pankowski leading the way just as she’d done all year with a two-goal performance. At the Frozen Four in Minneapolis, Minn., the Badgers’ year was ended by the Gophers in the national semifinals for the second straight season, as they fell, 3-1.

Individually, Pankowski was recognized as both the WCHA Rookie of the Year and the National Rookie of the Year, and senior Blayre Turnbull earned a spot on the All-WCHA First Team. Senior Brittany Ammerman was selected to the conference’s Second Team with Pankowski, while senior Karley Sylvester, junior Courtney Burke, and sophomore Ann-Renée Desbiens collected All-WCHA Third Team honors. Sophomore Jenny Ryan won the NCAA Elite 89 Award, which is given to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative GPA at the NCAA championship site for each of the NCAA’s 89 championships.

Meet the Newcomers

D Mikaela Gardner, U.S. Under-18 Team, Chicago Mission

Gardner helped the U.S. Under-18s collect a gold medal at the 2015 IIHF Under-18 World Championships, and was invited to four different USA Hockey national development camps. With the Mission, she won state and regional titles as a sophomore and junior, taking third at the national championship both of those years as well. This past season, Gardner led the Mission to the Tier I national championship.

Coach Mark Johnson on Gardner (via UWBadgers.com):

“We are very excited to add Mikaela to our class,” Johnson said. “She only lives a couple of hours from Madison. It is a great fit and it is a great opportunity for her. We are excited as she brings a great skill set to the table. Her strength and her experience playing on the international stage, winning a gold medal with the U.S. U-18 team and winning a national championship with the Chicago Mission, helps her understands what it takes to win championships. We are excited to watch her develop and grow as a player at Wisconsin.”

“She has good size as a defenseman,” Johnson added. “We also like her skating ability and her ice vision as well. She is going to be a great addition and she will be a big part of our team this upcoming year.”

F Sam Cogan, Canadian Under-18 Team, Nepean Jr. Wildcats

Cogan won a silver medal with Team Canada at the 2015 IIHF Under-18 World Championships, after winning gold with the squad the year before. She also helped the Jr. Wildcats capture a pennant in 2014-15, and was invited to Hockey Canada’s National Team Fall Festival a year ago. In 32 games with Nepean this season, she recorded 13 goals and 22 assists. The season prior, she scored 100 points, amassing 37 goals and 63 assists in 68 games.

Coach Mark Johnson on Cogan (via UWBadgers.com):

“Sam is a great scorer and has a great hockey IQ. She understands the game, she has good hockey sense, and as her skill set continues to develop, she has a chance to be a real good player. She’s got good size and will be a good power forward for us.”

F Sophia Shaver, U.S. Under-18 Team, Wayzata High School

Shaver also medaled at the U18 World Championships, winning gold with Team USA. At Wayzata, she was a finalist for the Minnesota Ms. Hockey Award last season, after posting 17 goals and 25 points in 19 games. As a junior, she tallied 20 goals and 24 assists for 44 points in 27 games, and collected all-state honorable mention honors as well as an all-conference selection.

Coach Mark Johnson on Shaver (via UWBadgers.com):

“She is not only a good skater, but she’s a fast skater. I think she’s just tapping into the surface of what her potential is. So as time goes along, and she continues to do the things she’s done probably the last year and a half, she’s got a chance to be a real good player because of that. We like her size and her strength and her skating ability, that’s a real good foundation to start with in our sport. She goes after the puck, she tracks the puck and goes and gets it.”

2015-16 Season Preview

Key Departures: F Brittany Ammerman, F Karley Sylvester, F Blayre Turnbull, F Katy Josephs, D Katarina Zgraja
Key Returners: F Annie Pankowski, F Sarah Nurse, F Emily Clark, G Ann-Renée Desbiens, D Courtney Burke, D Mellissa Channell
Key Additions: D Mikaela Gardner, F Sam Cogan, F Sophia Shaver

Wisconsin solidified itself as the best defensive team in the nation last season, leading the country with an incredibly small 1.12 goals-against per game. That number was largely helped by a national-best 95.8% penalty-kill efficiency and the goaltending of sophomore stand-out Ann-Renée Desbiens. But the Badgers also generated 41.52 shots per game, once again the best number across the country, and in general were a dominant possession team. They’ll strive to excel in all of these areas and more as they aim for another WCHA Championship and their first national championship since 2011.

The pool of goaltending talent in the WCHA is extremely deep, and Desbiens is a big reason why. Last season, she seamlessly filled the hole left in the crease upon Alex Rigsby’s graduation. She led the country in minutes played, with 2,236:55, and posted a .941 save percentage and 1.15 goals-against average. She also recorded 14 shutouts for the Badgers, boosting their overall defensive effort tremendously. The team has very little to worry about with her in net, and she should only continue to dominate between the pipes again this season.

Defensively, Mellissa Channell and Jenny Ryan have both risen up to become central parts of Wisconsin’s defensive corps, and took big leaps forward in that regard as sophomores last season. But the bona fide leader on that blue line is senior Courtney Burke, who is coming off of her third-straight season of 20 points or more. Last year the Badgers relied heavily on their top-four blue liners, so the loss of leading shot blocker Katarina Zgraja hurts from that standpoint. Wisconsin will be looking for more from sophomore Maddie Rolfes, who notched 10 assists as a rookie in 2014-15. Mikaela Gardner, a gold medalist with the U.S. U18 Team at the 2015 IIHF Women’s U18 World Championships, brings potential as well. However, the top three of Burke, Channell, and Ryan will likely be leaned on, making depth somewhat of a concern. The team worked around it last season, making it a non-issue, and the Badgers will be hopeful for the same this upcoming year.

Wisconsin returns leading scorer and 2015 WCHA Rookie of the Year Annie Pankowski up front. As a freshman, Pankowski led the squad with 43 points, and finished third on the club with 22 goals. She’s expected to lead the offense again, and with her dynamic skillset, a repeat effort shouldn’t be a problem. The Badgers will be dealing with the losses of three key seniors in Karley Sylvester, Brittany Ammerman, and Blayre Turnbull, who were the team’s next top scorers after Pankowski last season. That’s quite a bit of production to replace, but sophomore Emily Clark was a great offensive addition as a rookie and should be even better this season. Juniors Sarah Nurse and Sydney McKibbon have been solid secondary scorers for Wisconsin, and Nurse in particular looks ready to take the next step and become more of a primary piece up front. They’re also bringing in some talent with U18 national team program alums Sam Cogan and Sophia Shaver.

There might be some growing pains up front as the Badgers figure out the best mix to replace four seniors, but the pieces are certainly there to make it happen. Pankowski is already a star, and Clark is well on her way there, looking at a potential breakout season. On the back-end, they showed they can make it work with Burke, Ryan, and Channell leading the way, but there’s less room for error or injury there. Even so, with Desbiens in goal, scoring is going to be a headache for opponents on most nights. Wisconsin was one of the strongest teams in the nation last season with this level of talent, and this season should see the Badgers stay competitive and well in the running for more postseason hardware.

Schedule Higlights

Oct. 2-3 vs. Providence (in San Jose, Calif.)
Oct. 10-11 vs. Ohio State
Oct. 23-24 vs. Bemidji State
Nov. 13-14 at Minnesota Duluth
Nov. 27-28 vs. Dartmouth
Dec. 4-5 vs. Minnesota
Dec. 11-12 at North Dakota
Jan. 8 & 10 vs. Minnesota Duluth
Jan. 15-16 at Bemidji State
Jan. 23-24 vs. North Dakota
Feb. 5-6 at Ohio State
Feb. 19-20 at Minnesota

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