Bulldog men falter, women sweep Bemidji State

John Gilbert

The incomparable Maddie Rooney blocked a shot by Bemidji State"s Abby Halluska (circling behind net) for her 30th save Friday night to secure a 2-0 shutout and give Rooney a program record 3,001 saves for her 4-year UMD career. Photo credit: John Gilbert
The incomparable Maddie Rooney blocked a shot by Bemidji State"s Abby Halluska (circling behind net) for her 30th save Friday night to secure a 2-0 shutout and give Rooney a program record 3,001 saves for her 4-year UMD career. Photo credit: John Gilbert

The UMD men’s hockey team commands the sports spotlight virtually
every weekend from October until April, but this weekend is
unquestionably the pinnacle, as the Bulldogs return to AMSOIL Arena to
take on NCHC leading North Dakota in a series that is critical to any
hope the Bulldogs have of winning the league title.

Ask anyone on the Bulldog roster and they will tell you that winning
two straight NCHC championships is unparalleled for a college hockey
players, but they also will quickly add that after winning the NCAA
and the NCHC playoff title, the one thing they have never accomplished
is winning the National Collegiate Hockey Conference title.

Just one week ago, that looked like a reasonable objective, because
UMD was in close pursuit of first-place North Dakota. But the Bulldogs
suddenly hit a dry spell at St. Cloud State, scoring only one goal
total on Hockey Day Minnesota weekend while being swept by the
Huskies. St. Cloud State posted a stunning 2-1 victory on Friday night
— scoring both goals on fluke caroms off the skates of UMD defensemen
— then came back to win 2-0 by skating the Bulldogs to a scoreless
draw until the third period, then getting a goal and adding an
empty-netter for a 2-0 victory.

For the weekend, St. Cloud State goaltender David Hrenak stooped 59 of
60 shots to silence the Bulldogs and throw their title hopes up in the
air.

North Dakota, at 9-1-2 in NCHC play for 31 points, is suddenly eight
points up on UMD, which slips to 7-3-2 in league play. Of possibly
more concern is Denver, which rose to 5-3-4 but is now only two points
behind UMD in third.

UMD also won Saturday's game, 4-2, but it wasn't easy, as Gabbie Hughes found out when her breakaway was stopped by Beavers goaltender Lauren Bench. Photo credit: John Gilbert
UMD also won Saturday's game, 4-2, but it wasn't easy, as Gabbie Hughes found out when her breakaway was stopped by Beavers goaltender Lauren Bench. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Bemidji State goalie Lauren Bench deflected Anna Klein's shot up an's 4-2 victory for a UMD sweep of the series at AMSOIL Arena. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Bemidji State goalie Lauren Bench deflected Anna Klein's shot up an's 4-2 victory for a UMD sweep of the series at AMSOIL Arena. Photo credit: John Gilbert

The Fighting Hawks have rebounded from an  uncharacteristic
noncontending season to put themselves into position to secure their
NCHC lead — at least from UMD — this weekend. The Bulldogs, who had
trouble scoring against Western Michigan two weekends ago, need to
regain their previously solid and balanced scoring touch to cut into
the Fighting Hawks lead.

While the Bulldogs men were away getting swept, the UMD women came up
with two big victories over nemesis Bemidji State, getting a 4-0, 4-2
sweep over the Beavers behind the program-record goaltending of senior
Maddie Rooney, allowing the Bulldogs to renew their quest for home-ice
in the Women’s WCHA playoffs.

Rooney, former U.S. Olympic gold-medal standout, made her 28th save
Friday night at 16:38 of the third period, which gave her a UMD career
total of 2,999 saves to topple Kayla Black’s career record of 2,998.
Her next save was No. 3,000, and her final one of the night was No.
3,001.

After Olympic gold, and this number approaching inexorably, Rooney
said, “There was a lot of talk about it, so I knew it was coming. My
teammates did a good job of getting their players out of the way so I
could see the shots.”

Bemidji State, of course, had swept UMD 4-2 and 2-1 in mid-October in
Bemidji, and while the Bulldogs had beaten Bemidji 2-0 a week earlier
to win the Minnesota Cup tournament at AMSOIL, that didn’t help in the
standings. Last weekend’s sweep did, lifting the Bulldogs (6-6-2 and
11-8-3 overall) into a WCHA tie with the Beavers (7-9 and 13-12-1
overall).

The Women’s WCHA chase ratcheted up another notch last weekend, where
league-leading Minnesota was beaten 4-1 at home by Ohio State before
going outside to win the rematch and gain a series split, but it cost
the Gophers the No. 1 rank, as Wisconsin claimed that, bumping the
Gophers to second in the country. Ohio State is solidly in third at
9-4-3, behind the 12-2-2 Gophers and 11-2-1 Badgers, who have two
games in hand on both Minnesota and the Buckeyes.

In fourth place, UMD and Bemidji State share their 21-point slates, 10
full points out of third, and Mankato and St. Cloud State trail in
sixth and seventh. In the 7-team Women’s WCHA, the first place winner
gets a first-round bye in the playoffs, while second and third get
home-ice to take on the bottom two teams, which leaves the teams
finishing fourth and fifth to face each other in a quarterfinal series
that will send the winner to Ridder Arena for the league semifinals,
while the loser is finished for the season.

For that series, home-ice may be the most critical factor, since UMD
(3-0) and Bemidji State (2-0) are both undefeated against each other
on home ice. The 4-0 loss on Friday was frustrating for Bemidji coach
Jim Scanlan, whose team came in fresh from knocking off Wisconsin the
week before. He was impressed, as usual, with Rooney’s goaltending.

“She’s playing really well this year, extremely well, although she
doesn’t dominate us like this at our place,” Scanlan said.

The Bulldogs got first-period goals from Ashton Bell after only 25
seconds of the first period and made it 2-0 when Anna Klein scored
with 31 seconds remaining in the first period. UMD p[added the lead on
a Taylor Anderson goal at 8:19 of the third on a pretty 2-on-1 rush,
and Gabbie Hughes drilled a 120-foot empty-net shot with 3:04 left.
For the game, Bemidji State outshot UMD 30-26, but UMD coach Maura
Crowell was feisty afterward, in a post-game session involving only a
UMD student video team and this reporter, when I asked Rooney about
facing Bemidji’s attackers.

“Come on now,” said Crowell, “we won the game, so let’s talk about our team.”

Then she turned to the students videotaping the interview and said,
“That’s off now, isn’t it?”
Crowell might have been confused, because she wasn’t being impeached,
and may have overlooked that I was the only actual media person in the
room.

On Saturday, Bemidji State jumped ahead on Paige Beebe’s power-play
goal at 1:27, but Kylie Hartley tied it 1-1 on a UMD power play with a
minute to go in the first period. The game hinged on matching 5-on-3
power plays in the second period.
When UMD got the two-skater edge, Ryleigh Houston scored at 6:57, and
then Ashton Bell scored on the one-skater power play at 7:38. But when
Taylor Anderson and Gabbie Hughes went off eight seconds apart midway
through the period, Rooney and her penalty killers blanked the
Beavers.

That two-goal swing gave UMD a 3-1 edge, although Bemidji State cut it
to 3-2 when Jacqueline Kaasa moved in to the top of the left circle
and whistled a blast past the screened Rooney at 18:50.

Sydney Brodt’s goal at 8:51 of the third period secured the 4-2
victory, as both teams matched 31-shot offenses. That also means that
Rooney hiked her career save total to 3,032. And counting.

“What a great weekend for us,” said Crowell. “I’m excited at the way
we played, especially today. We overcame the adversity of giving up
the first goal. And we’ve worked on 5-on-3s.”

With Maddie Rooney in goal, extending her program record with every
save, it shouldn't matter if media members ask about both teams.