While much of college hockey was shocked by Minnesota State-Mankato’s upset of then No. 1 Wisconsin last week in Mankato, those inside Amsoil Arena were not.
That’s because Minnesota Duluth has seen the Mavericks’ best on multiple occasions this season and the Bulldogs expect they’ll see it again when they play the Mavs at 7:07 p.m. Friday and 3:07 p.m. Saturday at the newly named Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center — originally the Mankato Civic Center.
“As with so many teams in this league, when you have good goalies, anybody can win any game," Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell said. "We always talk about that, but them in particular. They have two good goalies, you start there. They have some nice goal scorers, as well. They can score goals and they can keep pucks out of their net. They’ve added a lot of depth this year.”
The Bulldogs swept the first series between the two schools Oct. 11-12 in Duluth, winning 3-2 in overtime the first night on a goal by senior captain Sydney Brodt, then winning convincingly, 4-1, on Saturday.
The Mavs (11-15-5, 4-13-3) returned to Duluth on Jan. 4 for the Minnesota Cup finals, tying UMD 2-2 in the semifinals. The Bulldogs advanced via a 3-on-3 overtime goal by sophomore leading scorer Gabbie Hughes.
Sophomore Abigail Levy (.911 save percentage/2.74 goals against average) started two of the three games against UMD, pushing both games to overtime while making a combined 80 saves on 85 shots. Freshman Calla Frank (.904/2.89) was in goal for the 4-1 defeat, making 34 saves.
Frank made 35 saves last Friday in the Mavericks 3-1 victory over Wisconsin. Minnesota State led 3-0 with just seven shots on goal after two periods. It was in stark contrast to Friday when the Mavs were behind 3-0 after 20 minutes.
While her Mavericks have a record well below the .500 mark, Frank is now 6-5-2 for Minnesota State in goal.
“Both their goalie we’ve seen can play very well," Brodt said. "Whichever one we face, it’s going to be a tough opponent. They play good defense. Being able to get through that, not get frustrated and be able to put pucks away will be key this weekend.”
The Bulldogs find themselves in a pair of tight races late in the 2019-20 regular season. They sit fourth in the WCHA standings, just one point back of third-place Ohio State. The Buckeyes are at Wisconsin this week. The Badgers travel to Duluth the following week to close the regular season.
UMD is also chasing a possible at-large berth to the NCAA tournament, sitting at No. 8 in the Pairwise rankings. The Mavericks are a common opponent of the team right in front of UMD — No. 7 Clarkson — and depending how things shake out, UMD might be able to jump the Golden Knights with two wins this weekend.
Securing an at-large berth is important to the Bulldogs. While winning the WCHA Final Faceoff would also put them into the NCAA tournament — that is the team’s top priority — Brodt said it’s comforting going into the league tournament knowing they have that at-large bid to fall back on.
“It's definitely a lot different, it gives you a little safety net,” said Brodt, who as a freshman was on the last UMD team to make the NCAA tournament, nabbing an at-large bid after falling in the league championship game. “(An at-large bid) allows you to play more free, and you don’t have so much pressure on your shoulders. Either way, we're sitting in a good spot right now. We have to keep continuing to play our best hockey and if we do that, it's going to put us in a good position.”
Bulldogs junior defenseman McKenzie Revering said on the News Tribune’s Bulldog Insider Podcast this week the team typically shies away from looking at the league standings, or even the Pairwise rankings. That hasn’t been the case as of late. The Bulldogs even held a team meeting recently to emphasize the spot they are in and the importance of every game down the stretch.
“Usually, during the season, we try and stay away from the standings, but now we’ve gotten to a point where we are so in control,” Revering said. “We have to make sure the underclassmen — the freshmen and sophomores — understand how big every single game is from here on out.”