The Minnesota Gophers women’s hockey team will see a very familiar foe when they take the ice for the NCAA Quarterfinal on Saturday afternoon. Minnesota will face off against their in-state rival the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs for the sixth time this season with a trip to the NCAA Women’s Frozen Four on the line. UMD defeated Harvard 4-0 at Ridder Arena on Thursday night to advance to play the Gophers once again.
Minnesota Is the #2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and received a direct bye to the NCAA Quarterfinals. The Gophers lost in overtime to Ohio State 3-2 in the WCHA Final Faceoff Championship game last Sunday in their most recent game. Minnesota took a 2-0 lead into the third period before the Buckeyes tied the game and then scored on a power play early in the extra period to win the title. They now get a rematch against the Bulldogs who they defeated 5-1 in the WCHA Final Faceoff Semifinal on Saturday afternoon at Ridder.
Minnesota-Duluth earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and was the #8 overall seed. They played #9 seed Harvard Crimson Thursday night and cruised to a 4-0 win getting a natural hat trick from Gabbie Hughes in the opening two periods and adding a fourth goal from McKenzie Hewett. Emma Soderberg was back in goal after fellow Bulldog goalie Jojo Chobak got the start against the Gophers a week ago and made 27 wins in her 5th shutout on the season.
As said before this will be the sixth time that Minnesota dn UMD will face one another this season. The teams split a pair of games in Duluth in October with the Gophers winning 3-1 on Friday before falling 5-4 in OT on Saturday. In December the teams met at Ridder Arena where the Gophers dropped a 3-2 game on Friday before battling back for a 2-1 win on Saturday. The Gophers then won last weekend at Ridder 5-1 in the WCHA Semifinals.
Emma Soderberg appears to have retaken the #1 goalie spot for UMD after her shutout over Harvard Thursday night. She played in all four regular season games against the Gophers in goal allowing 2.75 goals per game. For Minnesota defensively it all starts and stops with controlling the Bulldog’s #1 line of Hughes, Élizabeth Giguère and Anna Klein. They rival the Gophers top line of Taylor Heise, Abigail Boreen and Catie Sjaka in scoring and both Hughes and Giguere have a trio of goals against Minnesota this season.
For Minnesota the first key will be the goaltending of Lauren Bench. She will be tested by the Bulldog’s top line and has played well so far this postseason shutting down UMD a week ago and allowing just three goals to a high powered offensive in Ohio State. If she can keep playing at the same level she has been, then it will be up to the Gopher offense to take advantage. Minnesota raced out against the Bulldogs taking a 2-0 lead to the locker room after the first period and being relentless on the forecheck not allowing the Bulldogs to set up offensively. They will need to pressure they once again and force UMD into making mistakes. Minnesota will need to play smart though. The Gophers downfall against Ohio State came to taking too many needless penalties including one late in the third period that set up the game winning power play in overtime. Minnesota wants to be physical, but not overwhelming so.
Assuming Brad Frost plays the same way Saturday as he did a week ago he will try and matchup up his top line against the Bulldog’s top line. That means Minnesota’s depth will need to shine. The Gophers did get a trio of goals from their top line, but if they get clogged up then the second and third lines will need to put the puck in the net.
This will be the fourth time that these two in-state rivals will meet in the NCAA Tournament. Minnesota won the most recent battle in the Quarterfinals in Duluth in 2017 with a 1-0 win on a Patti Marshall goal. UMD’s only win over the Gophers came in the 2010 Frozen Four semifinals.
With a win the Gophers will advancer to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2019. The 2020 Frozen Four was cancelled due to COVID, and the Gophers controversially did not make the 2021 NCAA Tournament field instead of a UMD team the Gophers had dominated in the regular season. Don’t think that Brad Frost won’t be using that as motivation to make sure that they can send the Bulldogs home and advance to next weekend at Penn State.
The winner of the Minnesota/UMD game will play the winner of the Wisconsin and Northeastern quarterfinal. The other semifinal will pit the Quinnipiac/Ohio State winner against the Colgate/Yale winner. All three teams left in the field who have won NCAA titles remain in the Gophers side of the bracket...and are all from the WCHA. Minnesota, UMD, and Wisconsin are the only three of the 8 teams left in the field who have won a title. Only one of them is guaranteed to make the Frozen Four, and only one will have a chance to potentially play for another title with Northeastern trying to play spoiler. Can the Gophers be that team? It starts Saturday against the Bulldogs.
HOW TO WATCH—NCAA QUARTERFINALS
#8 Minnesota Duluth @ #2 Minnesota Gophers
Where: Ridder Arena, Minneapolis, Minnesota
When: 2 PM Saturday
Stream: BTN + (FREE)
All three other NCAA Quarterfinals will stream for free.
Wisconsin @ Northeastern: Noon— College Sports Live
Yale @ Colgate: 2 PM—WatchESPN
Quinnipiac @ Ohio State: 4 PM—BTN+