Exactly three-hundred sixty-four days ago the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs rode star goalie Emma Soderberg to a 2-1 upset win of the #2 seeded Minnesota Gophers women’s hockey team at Ridder Arena to advance to the Frozen Four. Today the #2 seeded Minnesota Gophers women’s hockey team will try and get past UMD and star goalie Emma Soderberg to get to the NCAA Frozen Four. The parallels from a year ago are too obvious to even pretend they don’t exist. Minnesota will need to figure out a way to get pucks past Soderberg if they want their season to continue, and if they want to keep UMD from playing in the Frozen Four on their home ice.
Minnesota is 4-0 this season against UMD, where they were 3-2 headed into the NCAA Quarterfinal a season ago. Minnesota has figured out how to get pucks past Soderberg this season scoring at least three goals in all four games, and even chasing Soderberg from one win in Minneapolis back in November where the Gophers scored five goals in a period and a half. But the threat remains. Soderberg has not allowed three or more goals in nine consecutive games and has shutouts in four of them including UMD’s 2-0 win over Clarkson in the NCAA Opening round game Thursday night. She has been nearly perfect in NCAA Opening round and Quarterfinal games Soderberg is 4-0 with just one goal allowed—to Minnesota a season ago. If Minnesota is going to win and advance they need to score goals. They most likely will not win a 1-0 or 2-1 game. It will most likely take at least three goals to keep their season alive.
That pressure to score will be on the Gophers super seniors. The top line of Taylor Heise, Catie Skaja and Abilgail Boreen knows they could be playing their last college hockey game Saturday if they can’t find the back of the net. But they have been getting help from both the second and third lines in the recent few games. Minnesota won the WCHA Tournament last weekend with second line forward Abbey Murphy scoring in both games—in fact she has scored a goal in each of Minnesota’s last eight games. The Gophers third line of Peyton Hemp, Madison Kasier, and Savannah Norcross came alive last weekend scoring a goal in each of Minnesota’s wins. Having them producing will be key to Minnesota’s success.
Minnesota will look to continue their revenge tour through WCHA opponents. Wisconsin dominated the Gophers in their final regular season series at Ridder and then Minnesota took it to the Badgers in the WCHA Semifinal last weekend. Ohio State beat Minnesota in the WCHA Championship Game a season ago, and last weekend the Gophers flipped that script getting the win. Now it’s UMD’s turn to avoid the same outcome the Badgers and Buckeyes faced last weekend.
It’s a full matchup of contrasting styles. The high flying Gopher offense against the tight UMD defense. Minnesota leads the nation in scoring at 4.65 goals per game. UMD is second in the nation on defense allowing just 1.32 goals per game. Whichever team can best play their style of game will be the ones whose season will continue onto next weekend.
Minnesota will need to forget history and just play their game well. UMD holds a 2-1 lead between the two teams in NCAA Tournament play and a 2-0 record on the Ridder Arena ice. But if the Gophers can score, which is no easy task, they should be able to get past the Bulldogs and return to the NCAA Frozen Four in Duluth next weekend with a chance to go out on top.
Special teams play will be key for both teams. UMD has the #4 ranked power play in the nation at 26.13%, and despite losing all four games were 5-13 against Minnesota with the extra player advantage this season. Minnesota is just #20 in the nation on the PK killing penalties just over 83% of the time. On the other side Minnesota ranks #2 on the power play scoring 28.21% of the time while the Bulldogs are #10 on the PK at 88.54%. The Gophers were just 2-9 on power plays against the Bulldogs in the regular season.
At least one WCHA team is guaranteed a Frozen Four spot with a win in today’s game, but both Ohio State and Wisconsin both are playing for a trip to Duluth as well. The winner of today’s Gophers/Bulldogs game will face the winner of Wisconsin and Colgate in one semifinal next Friday with the #1 seeded Buckeyes looming on the other side of the bracket assuming they get past Quinnipiac.
Today’s game will come down to one simple question—can the Gophers score at least three goals. If the answer is yes, Minnesota is most likely headed to Duluth next weekend. If the answer is no, then UMD will most likely have pulled off back to back upsets of their major in-state rival on their home ice. Lets hope the one maroon and gold team in Duluth next weekend is not the one playing on their home ice. Today’s game will stream for free on BTN+ with no account needed.
HOW TO WATCH: NCAA QUARTERFINAL
#7 Minnesota Duluth @ #2 Minnesota
Where: Ridder Arena, Minneapolis, Minnesota
When: 2 PM Saturday
Stream: BTN+ (FREE!!!)