The University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team ended their 2018-19 campaign with a national championship victory, defeating the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers by a score of 2–0.

The women’s team finished with a record of 35-4-2 (18–4–2 WCHA) and finished the season on a seven-game winning streak in order to capture the title.

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It will be tough for the Badgers to surpass last season’s performance, but with a majority of the roster returning and a dynamic freshman class incoming, their winning culture should remain constant.

The Badgers dominated opponents last season in numerous categories. More specifically, they managed to outscore opposing teams in commanding fashion, averaging 3.8 goals per game and only allowing a measly 1.0 goals per game.

Furthermore, Wisconsin had four individual Western Collegiate Hockey Association award winners: Annie Pankowski was named offensive player of the year, Kristen Campbell was named top goalkeeper, Sophie Shirley was named rookie of the year and head coach Mark Johnson was named coach of the year.

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Individual talent played a massive role in carrying the Badgers to a national title. As it is with all collegiate teams, that talent can’t stay forever. With a new season around the corner, the Badgers will be forced to reload their roster if they hope to once again achieve success.

Through examination of the renewed Badger roster, let’s assess the women’s prospects of repeating their championship run.

Overall, the Badgers have a solid chance of defending their national championship title. Much of the starting squad from last year is returning for the 2019-2020 campaign.

As a senior, Pankowski finished with a team-leading 22 goals and 50 points. She held season highs for the Badgers in multiple categories, including four points, three goals, three assists and 10 shots.

Perhaps most importantly for the Badgers, Pankowski was the face of the team and its undoubted spiritual leader. Without her well-documented leadership abilities as well as extensive experience guiding the Badgers throughout the season, there remain questions as to whether or not someone else will step forward.

Along with Pankowski, the Badgers will say goodbye to seniors Emily Clark, Sam Cogan, Sophia Shaver, Maddie Rolfes and Mikaela Gardner.

With new departures comes new arrivals, in which the Badgers add a skillful incoming class.

The Badgers will be bringing in a recruiting class featuring six new players: Chayla Edwards, Kaitlyn Kotlowski, Grace Shirley, Dara Greig, Teagan Grant and Daryl Watts.

Head Coach Johnson described his expectations for the new class in a recent interview for UW communications.

“As I look at it, this year’s class fills the need of what we lost from last year,” Johnson said. “We lost a couple high-quality defensemen and we’re bringing in three defensemen in Chayla, Teagan and Katie to battle for that position. The same thing upfront, we lost four tremendous forwards and we need people to come in and fill those quality minutes. Obviously Dara, Grace and Daryl are going to be asked to do that.”

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The Badgers will also be bringing back a large core of their roster that helped them to the top of the WCHA not long ago.

Forward Shirley played a massive role in the Badgers’ offense, putting up 38 points as a freshman, marking the third-most for the Badgers. Shirley also led the Badgers with 26 points in conference play.

Redshirt junior and starting goalkeeper Campbell will be returning as well. Campbell had an outstanding save percentage of .940 percent and a Big Ten best 11 shutouts last season.

Forward Abby Roque will be returning for the Badgers for her senior season. Roque contributed 43 points overall, marking the second-most on the team behind Pankowski.

Other returners include forwards Britta Curl, Presley Norby, senior defenseman Mekenzie Steffen and a roster that had 15-plus double-digit point-getters.

With a head coach of the year, tremendous goalkeeper, and deep and experienced roster, the Badgers have an exceptional squad with a substantial chance at another national title.

There is no doubt that the hole created by Pankowski’s departure is large. If the Badgers want to move past it, they’ll have to lean on someone else, or possibly multiple people, to fill those shoes of leadership in a timely manner.

Perhaps most importantly, they’ll have to do so quickly, as a hot start is crucial to building momentum throughout a regular season that is necessary to have the chance at another title game.

The women begin their 2019-20 season with a two-game series in Maryland Heights, Missouri, as they face off against Lindenwood on Friday, September 27. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. (CT). The game can be followed live on Twitter @BadgerWHockey.