Lengthy season-opening road trip helps Bulldogs keep mind off ultimate goal of playing Frozen Four at home
The Minnesota Duluth women's hockey team opens the 2022-23 season with four games in seven days in New York. They hope to close the season with two NCAA Frozen Four wins in three days at Amsoil Arena.
DULUTH — Minnesota Duluth drops the puck on its 2022-23 season this weekend, playing Long Island University on Saturday and Sunday in East Meadow, New York.
Six months from now, the Bulldogs’ home of Amsoil Arena will host the 2023 NCAA Women’s Frozen Four, an event in which UMD has taken part in each of the last two seasons. The Bulldogs were a win away from celebrating the program’s sixth NCAA championship last March at Penn State.
With 17 players returning from the 2021-22 team that finished as national runners-up, plus defenseman and captain Ashton Bell back from winning two IIHF World Championships and an Olympic gold medal with Canada in Beijing, the Bulldogs' ultimate goal in 2022-23 is to not only be playing at home in the Frozen Four come March, but to be hoisting the program’s sixth national championship trophy on March 19 in Duluth.
Just don’t expect them to say much “about that whole thing.”
“I don’t think coach has mentioned it maybe once, if any, or at all, about that whole thing,” said UMD redshirt fifth-year — so sixth-year — senior forward Naomi Rogge. “We do a really good job about focusing on what’s in front of us. The road trip is in front of us, LIU is in front of us right now. That’s what we do a good job of focusing on, not thinking about the big picture too much. We focus on the small steps to get there.”
Long Island, which is winless against the WCHA, ECAC and Hockey East in its three seasons of NCAA Division I women’s ice hockey, may seem like the kind of program that’s easy to overlook. However, the trip is part of an eight-day trek to the Empire State. After taking on the Sharks, the Bulldogs head upstate to Canton to play St. Lawrence on Sept. 29 and Penn State on Sept. 30 at the Saints’ Appleton Arena.
Rogge said a lengthy trip like that to start the season will present a number of challenges for the Bulldogs, young and old. They’ll have to find ways to keep up with their classwork remotely, and adapt to an unusual routine — something Rogge said athletes aren’t big fans of.
“I think getting out of routine for a lot of people is tough, but we’re going to be there for such a long time that you get into a routine,” Rogge said. “You get used to sleeping in a hotel bedroom, get used to sleeping with your roommate.”
Rogge is one of nine Bulldogs who are playing their fifth season season of college hockey in 2022-23 thanks to the COVID-19 exemption they received from playing in 2020-21. Among those nine are two goaltenders in All-American and Swedish national team player Emma Soderberg and Czechia national team goalie Blanka Skadova; two veteran defensemen in Bell and Maggie Flaherty; and 2021-22 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award top-three finalist Gabby Hughes leads the group of five fifth-year forwards.
It’s that group that gives Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell confidence going into this road trip, which comes after just two weeks of practices.
While it’s only September, the outcome of these games could be the difference between playing in the NCAA tournament for a third-straight year, or missing out and having to watch the Frozen Four from your own stands.
“I think it certainly helps we have so many fifth-years and we’re definitely an older group,” Crowell said. “If it was maybe next year, I wouldn’t feel the same way. Right now I do feel good about where we are at, what these guys have gone through and understand what is coming at them.”