Bulldogs hit their NCHC, NCAA playoff pace
There is no question the UMD Bulldogs have locked into their favored playoff form for the NCHC — and presumably the NCAA — hockey tournaments. The Bulldogs made a valiant bid to win the No. 1 seed after a season-long pursuit of North Dakota, and after beating St. Cloud State 4-1 last Friday while the Fighting Hawk lost 4-1 at Omaha, the Bulldogs were in sight of tying for the title, and they held the tie-breaker for the top seed.
UMD did its part, winning 6-1 for the sweep, with balanced offensive attacks both nights at AMSOIL Arena while Hunter Shepard was locked in at goalie, but North Dakota came back with a 5-0 victory at Omaha to maintain its 3-point edge on UMD for the title.
All that means is that UMD will be home again this weekend for a best-of-three series against Miami of Ohio Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The winner advances to Xcel Center in Saint Paul for the NCHC Frozen Faceoff next weekend, while Colorado College goes to North Dakota, Omaha goes to third-place Denver, and St. Cloud State goes to Western Michigan.
By sweeping St. Cloud State, UMD has risen to No. 4 in the Pairwise rankings, behind North Dakota, Minnesota State-Mankato, and Cornell, with Denver fifth. Bemidji State, riding a closing surge, is up to 12th, which could be a strong position when the NCAA selects its top 16 for the big tournament.
The UMD women ended the season in the WCHA tournament semifinals. The Bulldogs played well, but fell behind early and dropped a 4-1 game to top-seeded Wisconsin, with the fourth goal an empty-netter.
The toughest thing about watching that afternoon semifinal at Ridder Arena was that I couldn’t take my eyes off Maddie Rooney in the third period, knowing that without a stunning goal outburst by the Bulldogs, she would be playing her final game in a UMD uniform.
Of course there are other seniors. Captain Sydney Brodt hustled around the rink trying desperately to ignite a final rally, which was not to be. Ryleigh Houston, a center who came to UMD when the North Dakota program collapsed, was a vital part of UMD’s attack, and Brooklynn Schugel, a left winger, was part of the balance provided by the fourth line. On defense, Jalyn Elmes is a tough, competitive senior.
And Rooney, former Team USA gold medal Olympian, who has meant so much to the Bulldogs for an elongated period since playing for the Andover boys high school team, was the last recruit by previous UMDF coach Shannon Miller, and while back-ups Emma Sopderberg from Sweden and HJanna Markel from Dillon, Colo., are capable, it will be a new experience for UMD observers to watch the Bulldogs without Maddie Rooney’s familiar No. 35 back in the nets.
My game-plan for last week was to get to the Twin Cities in time to watch the Class A quarterfinals Wednesday and the AA quarterfinals Thursday, then catch the Friday semifinals in both. On Saturday, watching the Hermantown A final, a 3-2 overtime loss to Mahtomedi, was wrenching, and the overtime meant my sprint to Ridder Arena from Saint Paul would only leave me a curtailed UMD-Badger game. Sure enough, it already was finishing the second period, and the Bulldogs were unable to generate any more offense.
So it was back to Xcel Center, in time for the AA final, when Hill-Murray proved once again what a great coach Bill Lechner is by beating Eden Prairie. My further plan was to stay over until Sunday to watch the anticipated Women’s WCHA final between Minnesota and Wisconsin, because that’s always a classic. But Ohio State upset the Gophers 4-3 in overtime Saturday night, which I didn’t learn until Sunday morning.
Watching Ohio State play Wisconsin had less appeal to me, so, somewhat exhausted, I drove back home to Duluth instead. After getting home, I learned Ohio State had also upset Wisconsin 1-0, also in overtime. That makes a great scenario for the WCHA in the eight-team NCAA women’s tournament, because Ohio State gets the automatic bid, and both Wisconsin and Minnesota get in by their high national ranking.
It may be less good news once Minnesota learned that they would be home for a one-off quarterfinal, but they would have to face the same Ohio State Buckeyes in that game this weekend.
Meanwhile, as Stephen Colbert might say, the UMD women’s basketball team has a shot at the NCAA Division II basketball regional Friday, although the men missed the regional by one spot. That means Brandon Myer’s career is over, and he leaves as UMD’s all-time leading scorer.