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Wisconsin’s Desbiens Eclipses Historic Season as Senior

03/07/2017, 9:00am MST
By Dan Scifo

Already one of the nation’s best players, goalie has done even more in 2016-17

An award of The USA Hockey Foundation, the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award is presented annually to the top player in NCAA Division I women’s ice hockey.

When University of Wisconsin standout goaltender Ann-Renee Desbiens enjoyed a historic junior season, she promised to temper expectations entering her senior year.

Turns out, she met and exceeded those expectations during another history-making season as a senior.

For the second straight season, Desbiens was named a top-three finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, presented annually to the top player in women’s NCAA Division I hockey.

“Twice in a row is pretty special, and I think this year has been pretty special,” Desbiens said. “I know after last year was over, I sat down and realized how impressive it was. There were a lot of people that put a lot of pressure on me and higher expectations, so I just tried to do better this year, work harder in practice and focus on the little things to improve my game overall.”

Desbiens leads the NCAA with a 0.69 goals-against average, which is lower than her NCAA-record 0.76 goals-against average she established last year. She also carries a .963 save percentage this season, another record breaker that tops her NCAA-record .960 from last season.

“There are a lot of people who want to ask me questions about it, and it’s especially easy with the media,” Desbiens said. “People sometimes get caught up into it, but it’s a team effort and I’m only able to do it because of the team in front of me. I realize that yes, it’s special, but at the end of the day, if you don’t work hard, nothing is going to happen in the future either.”

Desbiens, who leads the league with 25 wins and 15 shutouts, set a NCAA record for most career shutouts — male or female — in November. She currently has 53 shutouts in 115 starts and her 95 wins ranks fifth in NCAA history.

The numbers are even more impressive considering Desbiens followed in the footsteps of Jessie Vetter and Alex Rigsby, former Wisconsin goaltending giants. Vetter is a two-time Olympic silver medalist with six IIHF Women’s World Championship gold medals. Rigsby has three world championship gold medals and also led the U.S. Women’s National Under-18 Team to victory.

Desbiens carved her own niche by tying Vetter’s single-season shutout record (14) in 2014-15. She also broke the mark and set a new NCAA record with 543.33 consecutive shutout minutes and a program — and NCAA — record in 2015-16 with 21 shutouts.

“There were a lot of expectations coming here and I know I had big shoes to fill,” Desbiens said. “There have been some amazing goalies in front of me, so I decided to take it as a challenge.”

That wasn’t her only challenge at Wisconsin. Desbiens, a native of La Malbaie, Quebec, didn’t know much English after initially learning the language in high school.

“I know the easiest way to learn English was to go somewhere in a county where I couldn’t speak French with anybody, so that’s what I did,” Desbiens said.

On top of that, Desbiens will earn her undergraduate degree from Wisconsin in accounting with a 3.367 grade-point average. She also secured a top-tier accounting internship in Chicago and was accepted into the Wisconsin School of Business to begin a master’s degree in accounting.

“Being able to play Division I at Wisconsin was challenging and classes were hard, but at the end, now that I look back on it, school and classes are definitely easier than they used to be,” Desbiens said.

Desbiens is used to challenges after growing up playing men’s hockey in Canada. She only played with the Canadian women’s national team and Team Quebec before her first full season of women’s hockey as a freshman at Wisconsin.

“I needed to be way more aggressive [against men] and I realized playing girls, I could trust where I am,” said the 5-foot-9 Desbiens. “Also, the shots are different. I feel like the girls are a little smarter about it because they shoot for a rebound and guys want to snipe you.”

That helped Desbiens perform as the best goaltender in the nation, ranking first nationally in shutouts, wins, goals-against average and save percentage.

“It’s always an honor because there are so many amazing players,” Desbiens said. “It’s nice to be recognized because there are so many other people who are deserving too.”

Desbiens is already familiar with how the process works as she was named a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award last season. She’s only the second player from Wisconsin to be named a finalist twice and hopes to become the school’s fifth recipient of the award. Desbiens also seeks to become the third goaltender to win.

“Being mentioned in the same sentence as Patty Kazmaier is always a great feeling,” Desbiens said. “Everything she has done in the past, it’s always nice to be in consideration for this award, especially in the top three.”

She was in class recently when her phone wouldn’t stop vibrating from the Twitter notifications informing Desbiens that she was a finalist for the prestigious award. Desbiens shared the news with her parents after class, and plans to share the experience with them again when the award presented at a brunch ceremony later this month as part of the NCAA Women’s Frozen Four weekend.

“It means a lot, knowing what she was able to do as a hockey player and the legacy she left behind,” Desbiens said. “It’s just an awesome feeling to be compared to that and knowing what I did is being recognized.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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