Incorporating an exciting combination of playmaking ability and a smooth scoring touch, coupled by grace and charisma, Dani Sibley is the embodiment of what makes NCAA Division III women’s ice hockey one of the hidden gems of sport. Starring for the University of Wisconsin River-Falls Falcons, under the leadership of head coach Joe Cranston, Sibley’s senior season was nothing short of remarkable.
Joined by a collection of elite talent on the Falcons, including fellow All-America selections Paige Johnson, sensational sniper Carly Moran and highly talented backstop Angie Hall, it marked the second straight All-America nod for Sibley. Finishing as the scoring leader among all competitors in Division III play, the pride of Monticello, Minnesota
Reaching a number of statistical milestones, including the surpassing of 75 career goals and 150 points, also graduating as the Falcons all-time scoring leader, it brought with it the honor of an exciting number of distinct achievements. Among them was recognition as the WIAC Player of the Year honor, followed by the milestone of the Laura Hurd Award, selected by the American Hockey Coaches’ Association in recognition of the Most Outstanding Player of Division III hockey.
Becoming the first player in the history of the WIAC to capture the Award, the runner-up was Kristen Lewicki of Adrian, whose 63 points ranked second in Division III. A prestigious achievement that Sibley shall treasure for many years to come, such a pinnacle represents more than personal pride for hits highly talented competitor.
Reflecting of the honor of such an achievement, an admirable respect emerges, which displays the quality of leadership that helped define such an amazing career. Although the award’s legacy serves to recognize the game’s finest, it also preserves the memory of an exceptionally fascinating player whose superlative career included four All-America nods, while pacing Elmira to the inaugural NCAA Division III championship. While her memory is eternally preserved through the Award, her talents helped lay the foundation for this legendary lore in collegiate hockey, allowing all players a role model to emulate,
“Winning the Laura Hurd award and being named D3 player of the year is truly an honor. It was really a breathtaking moment for me. Laura Hurd impacted the game in several ways and being associated with such a player has left me speechless. I know I could not have done it without my teammates, coaches, and the support from my family.”
The product of North Wright County High School, Sibley quickly blossomed into a superstar. Following a respectable 22-point campaign as a freshman, she would almost double her point total as a sophomore, logging 41 points. Becoming a spark plug on offense, her ability to create scoring opportunities was evidenced by the dramatic increase in her assists total, improving from seven to an incredible 23.
As a junior, Sibley reached the 20-goal plateau, lighting the lamp 21 times, while only serving 10 penalty minutes, a reduction of 16 minutes in comparison to her sophomore season. Although her junior season was also defined by setting the Falcons single season scoring mark, it was one that she would shatter in short time.
Accumulating a program record 65 points on the strength of 38 assists in only 27 games, Sibley would also set the new mark for most goals and assists in a season, respectively. As a side note, her 38 assists and four shorthanded goals also set the standard in the Division III season, while she finishes her career with a fantastic 15 game winning goals.
The first points of Sibley’s majestic senior season came on November 4, 2016 against Bethel University. Registering a three point effort, it would prove to be the first of an astonishing 20 multi-point performances on the season.
Although the following game, a November 11 tilt against Wisconsin Stevens Points resulted in a scoreless outing, the offensive floodgates would burst open afterwards. Unleashing an amazing 12-game scoring streak, she accumulated 31 total points (19 goals, 12 assists). While her best individual performance consisted of a breathtaking output of six points at home against Wisconsin-Superior on December 2, it was actually part of a much more amazing display of offensive wizardry.
Of note, Sibley would register three consecutive hat tricks from November 22 to December 3. The first came on the road against St. Olaf, followed by back-to-back games against Wisconsin-Superior (as mentioned) and St. Scholastica. Registering a total of 14 points in this sensational time span, she would also light up St. Scholastica for five points in a Valentine’s Day match on home ice.
Coincidentally, St. Olaf would play another role in Sibley’s season. The last game of the season that saw her go scoreless took place on January 18 on their home ice. Once again, she would respond to a scoreless performance with another 12-game scoring streak. Posting 30 points (eight goals, 22 assists), said streak would culminate with the final game of the Falcons season, a first-round matchup against Gustavus Adolphus in the NCAA Division III tournament.
As impressive as such scoring feats are for Sibley, the achievements in the regular season were prologue. The performance that absolutely affirmed her legend also resulted in one of the most amazing displays of offensive brilliance in the history of the O’Brien Cup.
Looking to capture the fourth Cup championship in her distinguished Falcons career, the collaborative efforts of Sibley and Moran resulted in one of the most exciting games in all of women’s ice hockey for the 2016-17 season. The Falcons only obstacle involved an ambitious Wisconsin Eau-Claire squad. As the game’s narrative unfolded, the favored Falcons found themselves facing a 1-0 deficit after two periods of play.
At the 2:57 mark of the third, Moran snapped Erin Conolly’s bid for a shutout, with Sibley and Hailey Herdine logging the assists. While Eau-Claire’s Elizabeth Bauer helped her squad regain the lead, capitalizing on a power play opportunity at 11:10, the 500+ fans in attendance could feel the level of intensity increase as the period progressed.
With a third period of back and forth scoring, the lead changing hands more than once, Sibley rose to the occasion. With less than three minutes remaining, Sibley and Wagner collaborated on a scoring play by fellow senior Carina Randazzo. Logging the biggest goal of her career, the blueliner from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho would provide the Falcons with a fighting chance to extend their dynasty in the O’Brien Cup.
After more than eight minutes of overtime, pulses pounding in anticipation to see the deadlock broken, the heroic denouement to Sibley’s career would result in combining with Erica Schramel on the Cup-clinching goal by Moran, her second of the game.
Involved in all three of the Falcons goals, highlighted by her gallant assist on Moran’s dramatic overtime winning tally, while winning six faceoffs, Sibley emerged as a prime time player, solidifying her status as a legend in program history.
“Winning the O’Brien cup was something that was really important to me as a senior. It was rewarding to be able to perform well for my team and keep the title. Winning that game was the highlight of my senior year.”
Following such an amazing season, an unforeseen occurrence took place. Sibley would be among a handful of Division III stars approached with an opportunity that would have seemed inconceivable just a few months earlier.
With USA Hockey in contract disputes with the members of the national women’s team, there was speculation that a deal would not be reached in time for the opening faceoff of the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championships in Plymouth, Michigan. To the surprise of many, USA Hockey had reached out to a combination of Division III stars and competitors from the US Under-18 roster to consider taking on the mantle of a “replacement player”.
Although there is a degree of flattery (and perhaps temptation) that comes with being considered for what would have been a once in a lifetime opportunity, Sibley stood strong, showing her support for the national team players by saying no.
Among the players who shared the phrase ‘Stand Tall Together’ on social media, it was perhaps Sibley’s greatest display of teamwork, an unforgettable show of solidarity that displayed an amazing character and unbreakable integrity. With national team players thanking competitors such as Sibley for their loyalty, it truly emerged as one of the all-time feel-good moments in the history of women’s ice hockey in the United States.
“Saying no and not playing on the national team is something me and my teammates take pride in. I was very happy to stand with team USA and support something bigger than myself. Team USA is making a difference for women’s hockey and that is so important to me.”
While Sibley prepares for the next chapter, she departs from the Falcons program as not only their greatest player ever, but one of the greatest in Division III history. With three consecutive appearances in the NCAA Division III tournament, where she recorded 11 points in nine tournament games, it only embellishes an already flawless career.
Along with fellow senior Paige Johnson, absolutely the greatest blueliner to ever don a Falcons jersey, their careers are intertwined with four straight regular season conference championships, plus an impressive four straight conference tournament championships. The chance to share her hockey odyssey with players like Johnson and the other wondrous women who donned Falcons colors since the autumn of 2013, the sense of friendship and family that developed may be the only aspect that shines brighter than a lasting legacy carved on the ice,
“What I’ll miss most is seeing my best friends every day. Each girl on our team has impacted my life in one way or another and I’m grateful I got to experience my senior year with all of them. Our team was a family and the girls made coming to the rink every day exciting.
Senior night was a special night for me. My fellow seniors really made the last four years of my hockey career so special. Each of them helped me create memories I’ll keep with me forever.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images supplied by Dani Sibley