Since arriving in Madison for her freshman campaign, current sophomore Sophie Shirley has had an undeniably large impact on the success of the Wisconsin women’s hockey team. Not only does she continually put up impressive offensive numbers, Shirley may just have been the factor that put the Badgers in position to capture the 2019 NCAA title — their first since 2011. Once more, Shirley is a key leader in the Badgers’ fight for a second straight title. 

In her freshman season, Shirley was among the top three scorers for the Badgers at the end of the season. In 41 games, Shirley netted an impressive 38 points, the best of any other freshman on the team. In fact, other than co-freshman Britta Curl, Shirley was the only freshman on the team to net greater than 15 total points on the season. 

Shirley provided a balanced weapon for the Badgers in her opening season, as she tallied 20 goals and 18 assists when everything was said and done. Along with the return of Annie Pankowski from international play, Shirley was ultimately one of the defining factors in the Badgers’ 2019 championship run. 

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In the 2017-2018 season, then-sophomore Abby Roque stood alone at the top of offensive production for the Badgers with 41 points on the season. No one else was near her, as then-sophomore Presley Norby was second on the team with just 29 total points and only 10 goals on the entire season. 

Even before this, Roque and Pankowski had teamed up in the 2016-2017 season with Pankowski netting an insane 55 points and Roque totalling an impressive 28. Even with other major contributions from the likes of Sarah Nurse and Emily Clark, it still wasn’t enough to capture a national title — as the Badgers lost in the NCAA finals that year to Clarkson. 

Then came Shirley. In her freshman season, Roque and Pankowski continued their offensive domination, but this time they had yet another powerhouse to back them up. The trio combined to score 33% of the team’s total points during the 2018-2019 season. Along with Curl, Shirley provided a fresh face to an offensive core that needed a boost to push them over the edge of national success. 

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This boost has undeniably continued throughout the 2019-2020 season. Shirley recently passed Roque in overall points scored and holds a solid lead over her in total goals with 28. While Shirley is still significantly behind junior Daryl Watts in offensive production, no one in the country is currently capable of catching Watts on her way to a historic performance. A performance that, quite arguably, should have been worthy of consideration as a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier award. 

With Watts taking over Pankowski’s role as the team’s leading source of offensive production, the big three of Watts, Roque and Shirley are even further ahead of the rest of the Badgers than they were last year. 

Watts, Shirley and Roque have a grand total of 73, 59 and 57 points to date on the season. The next closest you ask? It’s Mekenzie Steffen with just 28. Now, in any other respect 28 points in a single regular season is an extremely impressive year. Yet when Roque more than doubles that number, it’s clear to see that the Badgers are top heavy when it comes to offensive talent. 

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Even Curl, the star freshman that nearly matched Shirley in offensive production last season, has failed to match or improve upon these numbers in her sophomore campaign. She currently sits at just 24 points on the regular season with 16 goals and eight assists. For comparison, she ended 2019 with 22 goals and 12 assists. It remains highly unlikely that she will match these numbers by the end of the season, as the Badgers have a maximum of five games left on the season. 

As Shirley has continued to play a greater role for the Badgers, their offensive production has become more and more stratified with the improvement of Roque and the addition of Watts. Their performances have been undeniably impressive, but such reliance on key players may prove to be a fault rather than a strength in the postseason. 

Even with a heavy responsibility for offensive production placed on these three Badgers, the talent is there to capture a second straight championship. If Shirley continues to play the role she has these last two years for Wisconsin, the next two years look quite bright — no matter the outcome in 2020.