Bulldogs, Gophers ready to battle for coveted Frozen Four spot at Amsoil Arena in Duluth
Only one maroon and gold team from the State of Hockey can play next week at Amsoil Arena. Will it be the Gophers, or hometown Bulldogs?
MINNEAPOLIS — The 2023 NCAA Women’s Frozen Four at Amsoil Arena in Duluth is guaranteed to have one team from the University of Minnesota system skating in maroon and gold next week.
But who will it be? The Gophers of the Twin Cities or hometown Bulldogs of Duluth?
That question will be answered at 2 p.m. Saturday when the No. 2-seeded Gophers host the No. 7 Bulldogs in an NCAA regional final at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis. The winner advances to the national semifinals on Friday, March 17 while the loser’s season comes to a close.
No. 7 Minnesota Duluth at No. 2 Minnesota
2 p.m. Saturday at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis
Live Stats: NCAA
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Bulldogs super seniors Emma Soderberg and Naomi Rogge said playing at home in the Frozen Four is “huge” motivation to win on Saturday.
“I remember when it got announced, (Ashton Bell) and I knew we were coming back for our sixth years,” Rogge said. “We were like, ‘We're going to come home, we're going to do it all and it have it be our last game. That has definitely been a motivating factor since it's been announced.”
Saturday’s game is a rematch of an NCAA regional final played last year at Ridder Arena, in which UMD came from a goal down to upset Minnesota 2-1 in Minneapolis en route to a defeat in the national championship against Ohio State.
The Bulldogs are seeking their third-straight NCAA Frozen Four appearance while the Gophers are trying to get back to the Frozen Four for the first time since losing to Wisconsin in the 2019 NCAA title game in Hamden, Connecticut.
“The last time for a lot of us older girls was out in Quinnipiac. That was our freshman, sophomore year. There's definitely that hunger to get back there,” said Gophers fifth-year senior Grace Zumwinkle. “Especially having it back in Minnesota, it's that much more special, but we first need to take care of tomorrow.”
Minnesota swept a tight regular season series with UMD, winning 3-2 (OT) on Nov. 4 and 5-3 on Nov. 5 at Ridder Arena. The Gophers also won both games at Amsoil Arena on Jan. 27-28, by 3-1 and 4-3 margins.
The Gophers needed an empty-net goal for the two-goal margin on Jan. 27. The Nov. 5 contest was the only one Minnesota ran away with as UMD fell behind 5-1 after giving up two goals in the opening 35 seconds.
Minnesota chased Bulldogs fifth-year senior Emma Soderberg from the net in the second period after scoring five goals on 17 shots. Not counting an early season game at Long Island in which UMD lead 5-0 in the third period, it was the only game all season in which UMD’s WCHA Goaltender of the Year and top-three finalist for national goaltender of the year was pulled early.
“You got to shoot hard and you got to make her move laterally,” Minnesota fifth-year senior defenseman Gracie Ostertag said of the key to beating Soderberg. “That’s the biggest thing. Getting shots through from the point is also important and just getting pucks deep, going to work and keeping the pressure on in their zone was super big for us.”
Gophers coach Brad Frost and Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell both said Friday they don’t put a ton of stock into the regular season series, especially since those games were back in January and November. As Frost noted, UMD is a much different team than it was even in January, playing with better structure. The way UMD locked down Clarkson defensively on Thursday reminded Frost of how UMD locked down Minnesota in last year’s regional final.
“Clarkson didn't get much of a sniff, granted they were in a lot of penalty trouble,” Frost said.
Clarkson struggled to get shots through against UMD on Thursday in the Bulldogs’ 2-0 NCAA regional semifinal win at Ridder. Soderberg finished with 16 saves on the 16 shots she faced while the Golden Knights — who took two five-minute major penalties — attempted just 33 shots, with just one coming below the faceoff dots and in Grade-A range of Soderberg.
“We kept them to the outside a lot,” Soderberg said Friday, crediting her team’s defense on Thursday. “I think they were working good in front of the net, but they were just not getting the pucks to the net. We kept it to the outside.”
Rogge said, defensively, keeping pucks to the outside is what the Bulldogs want to do against Minnesota, which ranks second in the nation in shots on goal per game at 40.8 and first in goals per game at 4.65. If Soderberg can see the puck, she can stop the puck, Rogge said.
“She's amazing. I have no words for her. She's just amazing,” UMD fifth-year senior Taylor Anderson said Thursday about Soderberg, who picked up her program-record 12th shutout of the 2022-23 season, 23rd of her career and third in the NCAA tournament. “Going into those (NCAA tournament) games, we have so much confidence in her — the way she plays in big games. It’s amazing.”