Gophers score early and late, sending Bulldogs home to await their NCAA tourney fate
Goals in the first and last minute of play proved to be the winning formula for the top-ranked Minnesota Gophers on Saturday, as they won their 10th consecutive game and advanced to play for the WCHA playoff title.
MINNEAPOLIS – It is an accepted truism of hockey that goals scored in the first minute and the last minute of a period can have a significant psychological impact on both teams. They provide a massive emotional lift for the team doing the scoring, and can be devastating for the psyche of the team that is scored upon.
On Saturday, the Minnesota Gophers scored twice in the opening minute of a period, and once in the final minute of a period, bringing the conference season to a quick conclusion for the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs.
The Gophers’ 5-1 win in the opener of the WCHA Final Faceoff puts them into Sunday’s title game, and puts the Bulldogs into “wait and see” mode pending the announcement of the NCAA tournament field on Sunday night.
Elizabeth Giguere had the only goal for the Bulldogs, her 21st of the season, who fell to 24-11-1 with the loss. Goalie Jojo Chobak had 34 saves, dropping her record to 10-4-1.
The game was less than a minute old when the Gophers took the lead, scoring on their first shot on goal. Chobak, who was rock-solid in round one of the WCHA playoffs after coming on in relief of Emma Soderberg, surrender the classic “shot she’d like to have back” getting fooled by a bad angle puck that the goalie got a piece of, only to have it trickle over the line.
“She’s been good for us since she even started her first game, and we can’t forget about that. I had all the confidence in her,” Giguere said of Chobak. “We went up there and said, ‘You’ve got this. We need to be better in front of you,’ but I didn’t think she needed it. I’m proud of her. She made a lot of great saves. It could’ve been way worse than that.”
If the Gophers’ first score was a bad goal, their second was just bad luck for the Bulldogs. In the final seconds of the first period, a clearing attempt was stopped at the blue line by Gophers defender Crystalyn Hengler, whose shot was headed wide of the Bulldogs net. Then the puck hit UMD defender Brenna Fuhrman and deflected past Chobak, doubling the Gophers’ lead.
“It’s always frustrating when lucky bounces go against you when you’re starting to play the game you want to play and a lucky bounce goes in like that,” said Bulldogs center Gabbie Hughes. “But we had confidence in Jojo as always and lifting her up, she knew that one was a lucky bounce. We have each other's back and know that wasn’t a Grade A chance for them.”
The Bulldogs made a nice push early in the second period, testing Gophers goalie Lauren Bench repeatedly, but got nothing to show for it except a higher hill to climb when the Gophers made it 3-0.
The Gophers, who won their 10th game in a row on Saturday, improved to 29-7-1 and will play for the the conference’s playoff title on Sunday after winning the regular season title. Perhaps their biggest challenge is staying mentally sharp in this time of year when every game is a must win affair.
“As (assistant coach Natalie Darwitz) always says, ‘rinse and repeat.’ Play it five minutes a time, we can’t look too far ahead,” said Gophers right winger Catie Skaja, who had a goal and an assist. “So, keeping those short increments and just playing those and winning those five minutes. Like I said, rinse and repeat. That’s really helped us.”
After Taylor Heise – recently named the conference’s best player – made it 4-0 with the Gophers’ first shot of the third period, Giguere got the Bulldogs on the board, but they would get no closer.
“A lot of their goals came at opportune times for them and were tough to overcome but I liked the way we came at them a little more in the second, came at them even more in the third,” Crowell said. “When Gig got that first goal I think we were all confident that we were going to be able to push and make it a game, get two, then pull the goalie and have some magic happen.”
Some projections have the Gophers returning to Minneapolis for a first round game versus an opponent to be determined, with the winner advancing to face the Gophers for a trip to the NCAA Frozen Four. The field will be announced on ESPNews at 8 p.m. CT.
“We’ll be in our locker room at 8 o’clock. I think the feeling will be a little different than last year. There’s a little more certainty with the season moving on so that’s a good thing,” said Crowell. “It’s always special when you can get to the NCAA tournament where it’s always a dogfight. Still not settled where we’re going and who we’re playing, so that’s kind of fun.”
Minnesota 5, Minnesota Duluth 1
First period — 1. MIN, Catie Skaja 18 (Abigail Boreen, Emily Brown), 0:51. 2. MIN, Crystalyn Hengler 5 (Olivia Knowles, Skaja), 19:48. Penalties — Ella Huber, MIN (boarding), 12:15.
Second period — 3. MIN, Boreen 23 (Madeline Wethington), 3:18. Penalties — Anna Klein, UMD (tripping), 13:08.
Third period — 4. MIN, Taylor Heise 29 (M. Wethington), 0:13. 5. UMD, Elizabeth Giguere 21 (Gabbie Hughes, Anna Klein), 3:55. 6. MIN, Emily Brown 4 (unassisted), 17:16 (eng). Penalties — None.
Shots on goal — MIN 11-16-12—39; UMD 5-9-8—22. Goalies — Lauren Bench, MIN (22 shots-21 saves); Jojo Chobak, UMD (39-34). Power plays — MIN 0-of-1, UMD 0-of-1. Referees — Sarma Ozmen, Chris Binkley. Linesmen — Brian Jansen, Brenda Reinen. Att. — NA.