With a 5-0 win over No. 3 Mercyhurst in the national championship game last Sunday, the University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team captured its third national title in four years. During that four-year stretch, which also included 2007-08’s second place finish, the Badgers have been a model of consistency. Led by head coach Mark Johnson, whose service to Badger hockey is arguably unprecedented, Wisconsin has proved itself peerless.After a successful regular season that saw the Badgers dropped no lower than No. 2 in the nation, Wisconsin silenced all doubters in postseason play as they went 4-0 against top-five opponents Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth and Mercyhurst down the stretch to win the national title in Boston.The Badgers finished the season 33-2-5, and on the heels of a crucial 12 game unbeaten streak. After winning the WCHA playoffs in Minneapolis on March 8th, Wisconsin came to Boston riding a wave of confidence. After dismantling Dartmouth 7-0 in the first round, the Badgers had a date with archrivals Minnesota-Duluth for the sixth time this year in the semifinals.After a grueling 3-1 win over the Bulldogs, Wisconsin was expecting a border-battle showdown with their other archrival from the “Land of Ten Thousand Lakes” — the Gophers. However, No. 3 Mercyhurst had other plans as they shocked Minnesota to earn a spot in the national championship against Johnson and the Badgers. However, the Cinderella slipper didn’t quite fit for hometown Mercyhurst as goaltender Jessie Vetter’s 37 saves and goals from five different Badgers guided Wisconsin to a 5-0 win over the hometown team, and a fitting culmination to a great season.Using a calculated offensive attack, with scoring potential on each line, the Badgers used their incredible depth to wear down opponents, and in the rare case a game came down to the wire, Wisconsin fans could rest assured that Vetter, the national player of the year, would help the Badgers emerge victorious.2009-10 will present a unique challenge to the women’s hockey team, as they will be without their head coach, Johnson, their backbone Vetter, and their emotional leader, senior forward Erika Lawler. Also departing are versatile forward Angie Keseley, power-play whiz Alycia Matthews and role players Kayla Hagen and Rachel Bible.Johnson will head to Blaine, MN, to prepare for his upcoming stint as the head coach for Team USA for the 2010 Olympics. Vetter and Lawler will likely follow Johnson to Minnesota, as both have had storied international careers and are considered locks to don the red, white and blue next winter in Vancouver.An encore to this year’s success will undoubtedly be a challenge for Wisconsin, but despite the colossal losses of Johnson, Vetter and Lawler, the Badgers bring back a nucleus that is flush with ability and experience.Leading the way will be forwards Hilary Knight, Meghan Duggan and Brooke Ammerman. Duggan, a highly skilled and passionate junior will likely fill the leadership void left by Lawler while Knight and Ammerman simply need to continue the steady offensive production they exhibited this year. Badger enthusiasts can expect an ample offensive spillover with these three gunners.Add in the solid two-way play of returners Jasmine Giles, Mallory DeLuce and Kyla Sanders and the top-two lines appear ready for another productive season. Sophomore Kelly Nash is another player to watch, as her skill-set and playmaking ability appear a good fit to replace Lawler as a puck-distributing pivot.Wisconsin’s defensive core returns a talented top pairing of freshman Brittany Haverstock, a swift Canadian, and junior Malee Windmeier, whose unwavering play not only helped barricade Vetter, but also earned the Minnesota native a spot on the NCAA-All-Tournament Team. Also returning are veteran sophomores Olivia Jakiel and Anne Dronen.Vetter’s departure marks a new era in Wisconsin women’s hockey, and brings about an aura of uncertainty between the pipes that Badger fans haven’t experienced since Vetter’s strong play during their march to the national championship her freshman year. Junior stopper Alannah McCready and freshman Nikki Kaasa will be in the spotlight from the get-go as hockey fans watch to see if Vetter’s departure spells doom for Wisconsin’s hopes of a second straight national championship.Wisconsin’s returning players will be aided by one of the nation’s top recruiting classes. The 2010 Wisconsin women’s hockey recruiting class is headlined by goaltender Becca Reugsegger who should challenge McCready and Kaasa for the starting goaltender position.With all the changes the Badger’s are to endure, the 2010 team will surely have a new identity, and with their recent championship only intensifying the pressure to succeed, expectations will be curtailed to a certain extent, but a serious regression is highly unlikely. Many will expect the losses of Johnson, Lawler and Vetter to cripple the Badgers, but even with those losses, the Badgers will have, at the very least, a senior class with the invaluable experience of playing in four national championships.