ERIE, Pa. — Minnesota Duluth advanced to its first NCAA Frozen Four in over a decade thanks to an unassisted overtime goal Monday by its senior captain, the offensive-minded forward-turned-defenseman Ashton Bell.
On Thursday in the national semifinals, it was an offensive-minded senior defenseman for top-seeded Northeastern who emerged as the hero, scoring with 26 seconds remaining in overtime to oust the fifth-seeded Bulldogs 3-2 from the Frozen Four at Erie Insurance Arena in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Skylar Fontaine, whose unassisted game-winner was her 14th goal in 24 games this year, picked off a pass in the Bulldogs’ zone, made her way to the left faceoff circle and fluttered the puck to the far top corner.
Fontaine’s goal came with controversy after a trip of Bulldogs sophomore center Mannon McMahon went uncalled — one of a couple uncalled penalties in the overtime period — on the Bulldogs breakout from the defensive zone. The puck floated to the stick of freshman wing Clara Van Wieren after McMahon was taken down with the puck, and it was Van Wieren’s exit pass that was then picked off by Fontaine.
Skyler Fontaine scores in the final minute of overtime to send the Huskies to the Final pic.twitter.com/ZKSOKJfMqx— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) March 18, 2021
Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell declined to comment on the no-call after the game per NCAA rules, and instead brought up the Bulldogs’ missed opportunities earlier in overtime, which included a shot off the post and a couple of close calls atop the Huskies’ crease.
“We were pushing, we had stuff in the tank,” Crowell said. “It was a tough, long game. At the beginning we had the puck for most of the game, so we were fine in terms of energy.
“The weird play off of the attempted breakout sort of put us out of position a little bit and they took advantage of it. The puck didn't go in cleanly there. I'm pretty sure that bounced off of somebody in front. That's the way it goes. It's tough.”
The Huskies, making their first Frozen Four appearance in program history, will face No. 2 Wisconsin, a 4-2 winner over No. 3 Ohio State in the other semifinal, Saturday in Erie for the national championship.
The Bulldogs were attempting to return to the NCAA title game for the first time since 2010, when they beat Cornell in three overtimes in Minneapolis for their fifth NCAA title in program history. That was also UMD’s most recent trip the Frozen Four until Thursday, when they made their first in six seasons under Crowell.
Bell put the Bulldogs back in the Frozen Four with her — uncontroversial, but stylish — unassisted overtime game-winner on Monday in the 1-0 victory over fourth-seeded Colgate.
“Really proud of the way our team battled, the way we showed up in this tournament,” Crowell said. “We did our university proud and are really proud to have put us back on the map. This is certainly the place that we want to be.”
Northeastern scored two goals in the opening 5:30 of the third period to storm back from a 2-0 deficit, outshooting the Bulldogs 31-10 in the second and third periods, and then 12-5 in OT.
Redshirt junior wing Maureen Murphy got the first goal of the day for the Huskies 42 seconds into the third period, just after a 5-on-3 power play that carried over from the second period converted into a 5-on-4 advantage.
A turnover by the Bulldogs behind their own net retrieving the puck led to the second Huskies goal, with Northeastern sophomore center Katy Knoll storming the Bulldogs crease to tie the game at 2-2.
“They were all over us in the first,” Northeastern coach Dave Flint said of his team’s slow start. “We just weren’t moving our feet and we hadn’t seen that speed in awhile. They did a good job of taking away time and space and then we weren’t making good decisions with the puck.”.
The Bulldogs, who dictated play early, took a 2-0 lead into the second intermission off goals by sophomore center Mannon McMahon and junior wing Taylor Anderson.
McMahon’s goal 10 minutes into the second was her first of the season and third of the year as she was able to put away a puck put off what looked like a shot gone wide by junior defenseman Kailee Skinner. Instead it proved to be the perfect pass to a wide open McMahon.
Anderson put the Bulldogs up by two off a successful penalty kill with 4:30 to go in the second. Senior wing and linemate Anna Klein got things going by racing into the Huskies zone, working the puck behind the net and backhanding a shot on goal. The rebound popped out to Anderson, who went backhand to forehand before releasing.
“It was great for the team to get some experience in this tournament, and coming back with the same group is going to be huge,” said Anderson, who is one of 20 players possibly returning for the Bulldogs next season, pending possible Olympic call-ups. “Everyone is going to know what it feels like to be here and losing today is going to make us want it even more next year. I can't wait for next year, it's going to push us in the offseason.”
The Bulldogs got themselves into penalty trouble in the final seven minutes of the second, starting with the hooking call on junior center McKenzie Hewett that preceded Anderson’s goal.
A tripping penalty by junior wing Anneke Linser killed the final 29 seconds of UMD’s only advantage of the afternoon and junior center Gabbie Hughes put the Bulldogs down two skaters after a retaliatory interference penalty in the final minute.
The Bulldogs killed off the initial 50.5 seconds of the two-person disadvantage via two clears by Klein, a cover by junior goalie Emma Soderberg and a tie up along the boards to run out the final seconds before the second intermission.
But the Huskies were able to break through with the power play goal in the opening minute of the third, and Crowell said that shifted the momentum Thursday.
“I thought we had the game in control for a large portion of those first 40 minutes,” Crowell said. “Honestly, it was just that early goal against in the third — they scored pretty quickly into that situation, it was really a 5-on-3 — and then they had a lot of momentum and got that next one back. I like that we settled in because the third was definitely our worst period.”
UMD dominated the opening 20 minutes of the first Frozen Four semifinal, outshooting the Huskies 13-4. The Bulldogs were unable to get a puck past Huskies senior goaltender Aerin Frankel, the national goaltender of the year and top three finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award.
Frankel finished with 26 saves after a busy first period while Soderberg made 44 saves for the Bulldogs.
“We rely on her to bail us out in some situations and she did that today,” Flint said. “Even when we had the slow start, she kept it 0-0. We got into the first intermission down one or two, it might have been a different game.”
Minnesota Duluth 0-2-0-0—2
Saves — Emma Soderberg, UMD, 4-16-13-11—44; Aerin Frankel, NU, 13-3-5-5—26.
Power play — UMD 0-1; NU, 1-3. Penalties — UMD 3-6; NU, 1-2.