College women's hockey: Bulldogs, Beavers meet again with key WCHA points on the line
DULUTH — Two weeks ago at Amsoil Arena, the University of Minnesota Duluth got its revenge against Bemidji State for a pair of October losses by shutting out the Beavers in the final of the second annual Minnesota Cup.
What the Bulldogs didn’t get in that nonconference tournament showdown, however, were any points back in the league standings. That opportunity comes this weekend as the Bulldogs once again host the Beavers, though this time in a two-game WCHA series scheduled for 7:07 p.m. Friday and 4:07 p.m. Saturday.
Fourth-place Bemidji State is six points up on the fifth-place Bulldogs, who do have a pair of games in hand. While a lot can change over the final six weeks of the regular season, the outcome of this weekend’s series will likely play a large part in determining whether it’s the Beavers hosting the Bulldogs in the WCHA quarterfinals or if the Beavers will return to Duluth a third time for a best-of-three series Feb. 28-March 1.
“It felt good to win that game and win that tournament in our home rink," said UMD senior co-captain Sydney Brodt. "It was super fun, but this series is a lot more important. We’ve really keyed in on things we need to get better at. I don’t think we played our best game at all, and I think we have more to give against them this weekend.”
UMD and Bemidji State have met in the WCHA quarterfinals four of the previous five seasons. Tack on this year’s Minnesota Cup final and the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame showdown two years ago, in addition to their four annual regular season WCHA contests, and the Bulldogs and Beavers are meeting this weekend for the 35th and 36th time in the past six seasons.
The 34th meeting two weeks ago saw UMD senior goaltender Maddie Rooney make 38 saves in a 2-0 shutout at Amsoil Arena. It was in stark contrast to the Oct. 18-19 series in Bemidji. The Beavers won 4-2 and 2-1, putting five pucks by Rooney on 49 shots in the series.
Despite seeing 38 shots in the Minnesota Cup final, Rooney said UMD didn’t give the Beavers many great offensive looks. That’s a credit to the job her teammates did in front of her, she said.
“Definitely a team effort there,” said Rooney, whose .927 save percentage ranks second and 2.04 goals against average is third among WCHA goalies. “There were some shaky rebounds, but they were quick to clear them. They have my back.”
It wasn’t just Rooney stonewalling the Beavers’ offense two weeks ago at the Minnesota Cup. It took the Beavers 39 shots to finally get one past St. Cloud State goalie Emma Polusny for a 1-0 win in the tournament semifinals the night before.
But scoring wasn’t an issue for Bemidji State last week in its home series against second-place and second-ranked Wisconsin. The Beavers scored five goals on 41 shots in two games, falling 3-2 in the opener on Friday before upsetting the Badgers 3-2 on Saturday.
Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell watched both games between the Beavers and Badgers, and nothing Bemidji State did in that series surprised the UMD coach.
“They were hard on Wisconsin kids, very physical,” said Crowell, whose UMD teams have gone 13-12-2 against the Beavers in her five seasons. “Sometimes teams are used to that. That gives them an edge. They play with confidence when they're able to throw the body around a little bit. They get a couple goals, it's exciting and then they're very confident in their defensive play. So, it's a team that you certainly like to score first against.”