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Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down, Three Stars: Big weekends by UMD's Hughes, Cates, Soderberg lead to big playoff wins

Bender, Fanti and Giguere also come up big during a resilient weekend for the UMD men's and women's hockey programs, who found ways to extend some impressive postseason streaks.

Minnesota Duluth plays Minnesota in NCAA Division I Regional Final for a trip to Frozen Four
Minnesota Duluth forward Gabbie Hughes (17) fights for control of the puck against Minnesota forward Audrey Wethington (4) and Minnesota defenseman Emily Brown (2) on Saturday, March 12, 2022, at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis during the NCAA Women’s Hockey regional final.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — What a difference a week can make, right?

March in “Bulldog Country” went from a bummer two weeks ago to a beauty this past weekend as the Minnesota Duluth men’s and women’s hockey programs went a combined 4-0 in postseason play by taking down some of their biggest rivals.

The Bulldogs men swept a best-of-three NCHC quarterfinal series at St. Cloud State, winning 5-2 and 4-3 in overtime to reach the NCHC Frozen Faceoff on Friday and Saturday in St. Paul. The Bulldogs, who are in the NCHC semifinals for the sixth consecutive season, face off against Denver at 4:07 p.m. Friday in the first semifinal game. The winner takes on either North Dakota or Western Michigan in the championship at 7:38 p.m. Saturday.

The UMD women are back in the NCAA Frozen Four for the second consecutive season after beating Harvard 4-0 in the first round, followed by a dramatic 2-1 victory over Minnesota at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis on Saturday. Now the Bulldogs get a Frozen Four semifinal rematch with Northeastern at 2:30 p.m. on Friday at Pegula Ice Arena on the campus of Penn State University. The winner gets either Ohio State or Yale at 3 p.m. Sunday in the national championship.

Cates scored his second goal of the game at 10:59 of the overtime to give the Bulldogs the NCHC series victory.
Minnesota Duluth takes a 1-0 lead over the Huskies in the best-of-three NCHC quarterfinal series in St. Cloud. Game 2 is at 6 p.m. Saturday at Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
Senior center Gabbie Hughes attempted just a single shot in an NCAA regional final at Minnesota on Saturday, and it sent the Bulldogs to the NCAA Frozen Four for the second consecutive season.
Patty Kazmaier Memorial top-10 finalists Gabbie Hughes, Elizabeth Giguere lead Bulldogs within a game of a return to the Frozen Four after posting three points each on Thursday in NCAA first-round win over Harvard.
Minnesota Duluth advances in the NCAA tournament to take on Minnesota in a regional final at 2 p.m. Saturday at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.

Here’s a look back at this past weekend’s action via a pair of Thumbs Up and the Three Stars by hockey reporter Matt Wellens.


Thumbs up to the Bulldogs’ resilience

UMD may have went 4-0 this weekend in the NCHC and NCAA tournaments, but they actually trailed in three of the four games played.

The only game in which a UMD squad led from start to finish was the women’s first-round NCAA victory over Harvard, in which the Bulldogs literally led from start to finish thanks to a Gabbie Hughes goal 39 seconds in.

In the regional final on Saturday against the Gophers, the Bulldogs fell behind 1-0 midway through the first period after giving up a power play goal. It wasn’t until late in the second period that UMD tied the game after a shot by junior center Mannon McMahon tipped off the glove of Gophers fifth-year goaltender Lauren Bench and across the goal line.

Hughes scored the game-winner 5:24 into the third period and from there, UMD senior goalie Emma Soderberg stopped 13 Gopher shots — including six from senior defenseman Emily Brown — and five different teammates combined to block another seven shots to secure the victory.

“I think talking about the D zone a lot building into this weekend, this game, was important,” said coach Maura Crowell, whose Bulldogs were beaten a week earlier by the Gophers 5-1 at Ridder Arena in the WCHA Final Faceoff. “The last time if felt like we didn’t want to be in there and we wanted to get up ice, and it’s like, ‘No, no, no.’ I think it’s awesome and says everything about the character of this team.”

The UMD men trailed in both games against the Huskies, going down 2-1 in Game 1 after Kevin Fitzgerald scored in the final minute of the first period and Nolan Walker struck on the power play 96 seconds into the second.

A hat trick by fifth-year senior wing Koby Bender of Cloquet rallied the Bulldogs back, with his first two goals coming 30 seconds apart. Sophomore wing Blake Biondi of Hermantown capped what was a four-goal second period for UMD on Friday.

“You just have to stay with these games, there’s going to be ups and downs, ebbs and flows, just like during the year,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said Friday. “Just stay with it and I thought our guys stayed calm on the bench.”


UMD faced an even bigger hole Saturday in Game 2 by going down 2-0 just 1:38 into the second period. They were outshot in the first period 20-5. The Bulldogs were able to tie the game with two power play goals in the opening 3:30 of the third period, however, they let the Huskies retake the lead at the 3:41 mark via the second goal of the game for Nick Perbix.

That shot by Perbix was the only shot the Huskies put on the UMD net in the third period, and a pair of UMD seniors led the team back from behind. Winger Tanner Laderoute tied the game with 2:57 left in regulation and Noah Cates, the senior wing and captain, scored his second goal of the game 10:58 into overtime for the series sweep.

“After the first period, we got a little more life and the game started to come a little bit in the second, but you just need to get a goal. It was a great third period for us. We felt we had momentum going into the overtime,” Sandelin said Saturday. “I’m really happy for our guys. I’m really happy with the effort and to stay with it, not give up. It was a good character win.”

Thumbs up to Scott Sandelin and Maura Crowell

March has become a crazy fun time for fans of Bulldogs hockey, and as my co-host on the Bulldog Insider Podcast mentioned on Saturday night, UMD fans should really appreciate this era of Bulldogs hockey.

Here’s a look at the current run both programs are on at the conference and NCAA level:

  • The women have now made back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances and back-to-back Frozen Fours in 2021 and 2022. They’re also on a run of four straight WCHA Final Faceoff appearances and have qualified for six of the last seven Final Faceoffs.
  • The men will be making their sixth consecutive appearance in the NCHC semifinals on Friday and their fifth-straight appearance in an NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul (tournament was canceled in 2020 and all eight teams went to Grand Forks last season). UMD won the Frozen Faceoff in 2017 and 2019.
  • The men are a lock for their seventh consecutive NCAA tournament appearance this season, and are looking to extend their streak of four consecutive Frozen Fours. UMD won back-to-back national championships in 2018 and 2019.

The only other era of Bulldog hockey that compares is between 2007 and 2011 when the two programs combined to appear in five Frozen Fours, with the women winning national championships in 2008 and 2010, followed by the men getting their first in 2011.
The only other university that can boast a more prosperous era of men’s and women’s hockey combined is Minnesota, whose programs combined for eight Frozen Fours between 2002-2006 and another eight between 2012-2017. The programs each won back-to-back titles between 2002 and 2006.

Minnesota Duluth faces Harvard in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Hockey Tournament at Ridder Arena
Minnesota Duluth head coach Maura Crowell talks to her team during a timeout against Harvard on Thursday, March 10, 2022, at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The UMD women head into this week’s Frozen Four as the only school to have previously won a national championship. This will be Ohio State’s third Frozen Four, Northeastern’s second — both were in last year’s Frozen Four with UMD — and Yale’s first Frozen Four appearance.

Crowell said her team still feels like the underdogs of college hockey, however.


“I’m so proud of our group, they work so hard,” Crowell said. “I think we’re underrated and a little under appreciated, to be honest. I think this (win over Minnesota) is a real statement. We don’t have to say any more. Back-to-back Frozen Fours, earned through — Minnesota was the No. 1 team in the country up until Ohio State beat them last week — earned 100% through the No. 1 team in the country, or 2, whatever it is. We deserve this.”

Matt’s Three Stars

3. UMD senior goaltender Emma Soderberg — After playing just a period in the WCHA postseason, the Bulldogs turned to the Olympian and only goalie on the roster with previous NCAA tournament experience for the NCAA tourney games in Minneapolis. Soderberg came through, looking like her old and superb self again. She stopped 64 of the 65 shots she faced against Harvard and Minnesota, with a shutout of the Crimson. The lone goal Soderberg surrendered was a power play goal.

2. UMD senior wing Noah Cates — Like Soderberg, this Olympian also looked like his old superb self again. ‘Captain Clutch’ posted three goals and an assist against the Huskies, scoring the first UMD goal each night. His biggest goal, of course, was the last one 10:58 into overtime on Saturday night to send UMD to the Frozen Faceoff.

Like Soderberg, Cates needed more time than he anticipated to recover from playing in the Olympics, and the jet lag of traveling from one side of the globe to another.

“That first week back, he still was not himself,” Sandelin said Saturday. “He had a lot of travel and was still getting acclimated. We saw a little more life in him this week. He was a little more acclimated. He was our leader tonight and the weekend. I thought Friday he was outstanding and tonight he had a couple of goals. He epitomizes our team.”

1. UMD senior center Gabbie Hughes — A top-10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, Hughes made the case this weekend that she should be the first Bulldog to ever win it. Hughes posted a natural hat trick against the Crimson on Thursday and then scored the game-winner against the Gophers on Saturday. The top three finalists for the Patty Kaz will be announced later this week. Hughes, who is also a finalist for the Hockey Humanitarian Award, should be among the top three.

Honorable mention: UMD fifth-year senior Koby Bender had a hat trick on Friday in St. Cloud, and finished with five points off three goals and two assists; junior goaltender Ryan Fanti made 59 saves against St. Cloud State in two games, including 19 of his 38 on Saturday in the first period; and fifth-year season wing Elizabeth Giguere had four assists against the Gophers as well. Only on a weekend like this do all three get left out of the Three Stars, but they deserve recognition.


Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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