NCAA women’s greatest graduating classes
As Year 19 in NCAA women’s hockey history begins, eight Clarkson seniors are subject to scrutiny.
Where four other graduating classes fell short, the fourth-year Golden Knights have a chance to match the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs of 2003. Although other classes at other schools have won three national titles in four seasons, a pure hat trick is a higher criterion for a legendary legacy.
Of course, when breaking down a winning roster, a subgroup’s individual and collective impact warrants examination as well. Going into 2018-19, the seniors have a couple of chances to raise a bar.
Reigning team scoring leader Loren Gabel already has 144 career points. With 38 more, she will surpass Jamie Lee Rattray for the program record. Fellow forward Rhyen McGill is 18 points away from breaking triple digits. Meanwhile, defender Josian Pozzebon nearly doubled her career output from 27 to 49 last season.
Any or all of those players could add to their individual trophy cases while upping Clarkson’s banner count. They can also bank on reinforcement from two accomplished transfers. Before coming to Potsdam, forward Taylar Cianfarano tallied 110 points in three complete seasons at ECAC rival Quinnipiac. Meanwhile, goaltender Kassidy Sauvé comes from Ohio State, where she retained a 1.88 goals-against average and .932 save percentage in 88 games.
Those additions are one version of a hardly unheard of phenomenon. Several outstanding graduating classes mutate from their recruiting form when a student-athlete takes a year off for the Olympics.
None of the following will be penalized for essentially taking a star from a preceding class. Every point scored, award attained and championship won by a player in a given graduating bunch counts.
In terms of adding up to greatness, this is what the 2018-19 Golden Knights have to live up to.
10. Clarkson’s class of 2017
One less goal by Boston College or one more by Clarkson, and this class would have made three national finals. As it was, despite losing the 2016 semifinal in overtime, five Knights rebounded and became the first group of non-WCHA players to win two women’s national titles.
Mercer — a 2017 Patty Kazmaier finalist, the ECAC MVP and its top defensive forward — was the most decorated individual. She and classmate Geneviève Bannon formed a one-two punch, capping their college careers with 178 and 150 points, respectively.
Down the depth chart, forward Jessica Gillham and defender Corie Jacobsen scored 32 and 29 respective career points. Beyond the regulars, backup goaltender McKenzie Johnson saw action in 13 games, but still savored the two titles with everyone else.
9. Minnesota’s class of 2005
In a pair of forwards and a pair of goaltenders, respectively, Kelly Stephens and Jody Horak stood out. Once they were upperclassmen, their veteran presence sparked a Minnesota machine to back-to-back national titles.
In those two runs, on the scoring chart, Stephens trailed only Natalie Darwitz and Krissy Wendell, who were one year behind academically. In net, Horak posted dominant numbers to win three WCHA goaltending titles.
As a team, the Gophers matched Horak’s conference championships with three WCHA postseason tournament wins. During this group’s tenure, they would also reach four Frozen Fours, including three in the national tournament’s pre-quarterfinal era.
8. Wisconsin’s class of 2012
A belated senior by virtue of the 2010 Olympics, Hilary Knight was the only award-winning 2012 Badger graduate. But between her, Brooke Ammerman and Carolyne Prévost, this five-member class featured a sterling scoring troika.
A one-time WCHA player of the year and three-time Kazmaier candidate, Knight posted 262 points at Wisconsin. Ammerman amassed 215 in her time, while Prévost pitched in 142. Depth defender Brittany Haverstock tallied 43 points.
Tellingly, in Knight’s absence, the Badgers missed the NCAA tournament after winning three of the previous four titles. But the class of 2012 won its second championship together in 2011, then fell two goals shy of a repeat. They also won two conference finals in as many appearances, presaging their 2009 and 2011 Frozen Four victories.
7. Clarkson’s class of 2018
Offensively, the Golden Knights seniors were strapped to fill Mercer and Bannon’s skates. With that said, 2018’s fourth-year skaters aggregated 60 goals and 148 assists in 602 career games.
But the lone defender among those four, Savannah Harmon, got due recognition for her title job. While helping the team repeat as national champions, she repeated as the ECAC’s best defensive player.
Behind all of that, Shea Tiley capped an outstanding Clarkson career. Replacing Erica Howe, who bolstered the program’s groundbreaking championship in 2014, she backstopped Clarkson to four more NCAA tournaments and three Frozen Fours.
As a senior, Tiley joined Harmon among the top 10 Kazmaier vote-getters and won her second ECAC goaltending crown. In all, she played 152 games, went 114-24-14 and retained a 1.38 GAA and .937 save percentage.
6. Minnesota-Duluth’s class of 2010
After totaling 80 points in her first three years, Emmanuelle Blais surged to 65 as a senior. That total led the eventual national champions, and joined her with classmate Saara Tuominen in the triple-digit club.
With depth and defense from three fellow graduates, including future Unified Korea Olympic coach Sarah Murray, the Blais-Tuominen tandem helped UMD to four Frozen Fours. They would reach the title game three times, avenging 2007’s loss to Wisconsin as sophomores in 2008.
During this class’ stay, the Bulldogs also claimed the 2008 and 2019 WCHA postseason titles. Individually, Blais was considered for the Kazmaier in that crowning 2009-10 campaign, finishing among the 10 finalists.
5. Minnesota-Duluth’s class of 2004
Thanks to Jenny Potter’s participation in the 2002 Olympics, this class took her from its 2003 predecessor. Even in her absence, then-sophomores Tricia Guest and Satu Kiipeli helped UMD to its second of three straight national titles.
One thing the Bulldogs did not attain in that 2001-02 season was the WCHA playoff pennant. But with Potter, they won it in 2000, 2001 and 2003. Of course, only two of those titles were in Guest and Kiipeli’s presence.
An overwhelming difference-maker for this class, Potter capped her first college season as a top-10 Kazmaier nominee. She was the first runner-up as a junior, and the second as a senior. A two-time WCHA player of the year to boot, she accounted for 256 of the 2004 troika’s 402 career points.
4. Minnesota’s class of 2015
Matching the rival Bulldogs of 2003 and Badgers of 2009, these Gophers nabbed three national and three conference championships.
Headlined by forwards Rachael Bona and Megan Lorence and defender Rachel Ramsey, this small class started by providing depth on back-to-back title runs. By the time they were relied on more heavily, their individual performances drew sound recognition.
Amidst Minnesota’s near-miss bid for an NCAA three-peat in 2014, Bona finished among the top 10 Kazmaier nominees. The next year, Ramsey took her place on that ballot and repeated as the WCHA’s defensive defender of the year. More critically, the two joined Lorence and backup goalie Shyler Sletta in leaving with a third national championship ring.
3. Minnesota-Duluth’s class of 2003
Despite “losing” Potter, this pack of Bulldogs was more quantitative, more collectively decorated and more balanced.
Six forwards and one defender combined for 440 goals and 524 assists in 874 games. Among those skaters, Erika Holst, Maria Rooth and Hanne Sikio each broke triple digits in the goal and assist column. Rooth was the league’s 2000 rookie of the year and a four-time top-10 Kazmaier candidate.
Behind them, goalie Patricia Sautter’s patience was rewarded when she played 31 of her 53 career games as a senior. In all, she went 41-4-5 with a .921 save percentage and 1.69 GAA. She would backstop her class’ third WCHA playoff championship, then a double-overtime win over Harvard for a three-peat national title.
2. Wisconsin’s class of 2009
Among Madison’s great scorers, Erika Lawler was variously overshadowed by Sara Bauer, Meghan Duggan and Knight, but not by much.
By her finale, Lawler had become the second Badger to break triple digits in the career assists column. Working with Angie Keseley and three other skaters, she helped Wisconsin do more than arrive among the heavyweights.
In the class of 2009’s time, the Badgers became the first women’s team to reach four consecutive national finals. They lost their bid for a three-peat to Duluth in 2008, but reclaimed the crown in 2009. For her part, Lawler was a top-10 Kazmaier candidate that year.
The winner: Jessie Vetter, who capped her college career with a 91-13-10 record, 1.19 GAA, .941 save percentage and 39 shutouts. She was also the WCHA’s goaltending champion in 2008, and backstopped a conference playoff championship before all three national titles.
1. Minnesota’s class of 2016
A remarkable rise-fall-return story retroactively pushed the beginning of this class back to 2010. That year Amanda Kessel arrived as the can’t-miss recruit, and proceeded to take the Gophers back to glory.
In 2012, Minnesota won its first national title in seven years, and Kessel was a top-10 Kazmaier nominee. The next year, the day after Kessel won the national player-of-the-year prize, the Gophers repeated, capping a perfect 41-0-0 season.
Hannah Brandt was the head-turning fresh face that year, joining Kessel among the Kazmaier top 10. While Kessel took off for the Olympics in 2013-14, Brandt and the rest of the 2012 recruits helped the Gophers to a near three-peat. They lost the 2014 final to Clarkson in a 5-4 thriller, but regained the glory in 2015.
In that time, a concussion suffered in Sochi appeared to have derailed Kessel’s career. But late in 2015-16, while Brandt was making her fourth straight Kazmaier ballot, Kessel returned for a belated senior season.
Kessel and Brandt would graduate together with a combined three WCHA MVP awards and three national championship rings apiece. Collectively, the four skaters in the class tallied 279 goals and 424 assists in 581 career games.
Oh, and goaltender Amanda Leveille posted a 98-9-5 record, a 1.18 GAA, .947 save percentage and 32 shutouts.