Minnesota Duluth was less than 90 seconds away Saturday from celebrating its first WCHA regular season championship in over a decade, leading top-ranked Wisconsin 3-2 late on Senior Day.
There would be no championship celebration for the Bulldogs, however, who for the second consecutive season had to watch the Badgers celebrate with the Julianne Bye Cup on the Amsoil Arena ice following a 4-3 overtime loss in the regular season finale.
Senior center Brette Pettet tied the game with 1:27 remaining in regulation to give Wisconsin a share of the WCHA regular season title. A shot by senior wing Daryl Watts that went top shelf 41 seconds into overtime deprived UMD a share of a regular season title for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
“Devastating the way it ended, but what I talked to these guys about in the locker room is that I look at the whole weekend,” said Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell, who was also going for her 100th win at UMD Saturday after Friday’s 4-2 victory over Wisconsin. “The performance that we put together over 120 and then some minutes against the No. 1 team in the country, I certainly think puts us in the conversation of being one of the best teams in the country.
“Taking four out of six points from Wisconsin here in what was our biggest weekend of the year is something that makes a statement.”
The Bulldogs head to the WCHA Final Faceoff at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis next weekend as the second seed to play third-seeded Ohio State at 5:07 p.m. Saturday, March 6 in the league semifinals. The top-seeded Badgers play fourth-seeded Minnesota at 1:07 p.m.
Depending on who you ask, the Bulldogs are on the bubble for an NCAA tournament bid.
“We're not happy with the loss today by any means,” Crowell said. “We wanted that trophy as badly as anyone, but we also know there's a lot more hockey coming ahead. And next weekend's trophy is the one that gets you in an (automatic qualifier) into the NCAA tournament. I like the fact that we had this experience this weekend, had a lot of pressure on our backs, and I think for the most part we answered that pressure well. We'll take it into next weekend.”
Bulldogs junior center Gabbie Hughes scored two goals for the third game in a row and junior goaltender Emma Soderberg made a career-high 45 saves, topping the 44 she made earlier this season in a 1-0 loss to Ohio State on Jan. 16.
Soderberg, who shut out the Buckeyes in a 2-0 win on Jan. 15, said the Bulldogs are just getting going.
“People don’t know what’s coming at them,” Soderberg said. “We’re going to go at every team we’re playing against now going into the tournament. They’re going to have to be ready.”
Minus the start of the second period, when Watts used an early push by the Badgers to tie the game at 1-1 four minutes into the period, the Bulldogs went at the Badgers from start to finish for the second day in a row.
Hughes picked up her second goal of the day with less than eight minutes to play in the period to put UMD ahead 2-1. Senior wing Anna Klein, left open on the back door, buried a feed from junior wing Taylor Anderson to put UMD up by two goals with 2:40 to play before the intermission.
The Badgers, however, pulled back within a goal 23 seconds later on a shot from just below the blue line by freshman wing Lacey Eden. Instead of going into the third up 3-1, UMD held just a 3-2 advantage.
“Us having a two-goal lead would have been great,” Crowell said. “Unfortunately, that wasn't the way the story was going to be written, so that was a tough one to give up.”
The Bulldogs led 1-0 at the first intermission thanks to a goal by Hughes seven minutes in and 18 saves by Soderberg.
Hughes — seconds after Soderberg made a save on a solo Badgers breakaway — scored off a turnover by the Badgers in their own zone, collecting a poorly cleared puck at the blue line and taking it right to the net.
Hughes opened the season with just one goal in her first 10 games, but closes the regular season on a six-game goal streak and seven-game point streak, tallying nine goals and 13 points over the last month.
“It’s definitely a bummer not getting that trophy, but we know what we have our eyes on,” Hughes said. “We’re ready to go for the next trophy that’s in hand for us. That’s the big thing we’re focused on. We could dwell (on the loss) but we’re going to build off it and use it to motivate us for next weekend.”
The Badgers, who clinched last year’s title via a 5-5 tie and 3-on-3 overtime win against UMD in Duluth, won their eighth WCHA regular season title and fifth in six seasons.
UMD has three WCHA regular season titles (1999-20, 2002-03, 2009-10) in its history, with a fourth (2007-08) vacated due to an ineligible player.
Friday’s 4-2 win by UMD over Wisconsin was its first over the Badgers since a 4-1 victory on Nov. 18, 2016 at Amsoil Arena. UMD was attempting to sweep the Badgers on Saturday for the first time since Oct. 13-14, 2012, in Duluth.
Minnesota Duluth 1-2-0—3
Saves — Kennedy Blair, UW, 4-6-6-0—16; Emma Soderberg, UMD, 18-11-16-0—45.
Power plays — UW 0-2; UMD 0-1. Penalties — UW 1-2; UMD 2-4.