Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down, Three Stars: Bulldogs women pick up key win over Buckeyes while UMD men swept in U.P.
The Minnesota Duluth men's and women's programs both have one final series coming up this weekend before a two-week holiday break.
The Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team spent just seven days as the No. 1 team in the country thanks to a pair of nonconference losses over the weekend at Northern Michigan.
The Bulldogs dropped four spots to No. 5 in both the USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls following a 5-4 loss on Friday and a 5-2 defeat on Saturday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette, Michigan. The Bulldogs played the series minus their top two goaltenders and by the end of the weekend had no healthy scratches.
Meanwhile back in Duluth, the ninth-ranked UMD women’s program split its weekend series with second-ranked Ohio State at Amsoil Arena, winning 5-2 on Friday before losing 6-2 on Saturday .
Here’s a look back at last weekend’s Bulldogs hockey action via the Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down and Three Stars by hockey reporter Matt Wellens.
Thumbs up to beating the Buckeyes
While losing by four goals — one of those an empty-net goal — on Saturday is a disappointing way to cap last weekend’s series with Ohio State, it’s important to consider the significance of Friday’s win by the Bulldogs over the Buckeyes.
Before Friday, the No. 1-ranked and previously unbeaten Wisconsin Badgers were the only team to defeat Ohio State, and both wins by Bucky, in Madison, were narrow. Wisconsin won 3-1 on Oct. 23, getting an empty-netter to push the margin to two, and then needed overtime to win 2-1 the next day.
The Bulldogs buried the Buckeyes on Friday by jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first and extending the margin to 4-0 after the second. OSU fought back in the third period, getting an extra-attacker goal to pull within two before an empty-netter sealed it for UMD.
“We have a lot of respect for them and the way they do things,” Crowell said of the Buckeyes on Friday. “It’s definitely fun to play them.”
This was a marquee win for Crowell’s team on Friday, and unlike their other in WCHA play — a 5-4 win over Minnesota on Oct. 9 — this one did not require overtime.
The Friday win over Ohio State was a convincing win and a good bounce-back from a disappointing D1 in DC showcase where the Bulldogs lost to Penn State and needed OT to top St. Lawrence.
“We can play with the best teams in the country, we can beat the best teams in the country. We’ve beaten Minnesota, we’ve beaten Ohio State,” Crowell said Saturday after the series with OSU, and with a trip to play the Gophers on deck.
“We’re lucky to be able to have the opportunity to play another great team and show we’re great, too. I’m looking forward to it.”
Thumbs down to two losses in Marquette
Two weeks ago at home against Alaska, the Bulldogs got hit hard by injuries and illnesses up front at forward, leaving them without a healthy scratch by the end of the weekend. Yet, despite missing a pair of key centermen, UMD still emerged from the nonconference series with a pair of wins by beating the Nanooks 5-1 on Nov. 26 and 1-0 in overtime on Nov. 27.
This past weekend in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the injuries and illnesses continued, this time hitting the back end especially hard. Freshman defenseman Will Francis and sophomore defenseman Wyatt Kaiser missed the series due to illness, and fifth-year senior Louie Roehl was out Saturday due to injury.
On top of that, junior goaltender Ryan Fanti didn’t make the trip due to COVID-19 protocols.
That proved too much for UMD, who as captain Noah Cates put it Saturday, was “humbled” in defeat by the Wildcats.
“We got to take it for what it is, take it as a positive,” Cates said. “It’s happened in all my years here. We’ve always responded the right way. One more week until break. We’ve got to push and be ready to go. We have some big games against a good conference team.”
Redshirt senior goaltender Ben Patt made both starts in net for the Bulldogs, and NMU took advantage of his smaller stature — Fanti is 6-foot-3 and Stejskal is 6-4, for comparison — by repeatedly going high. The Wildcats were able to force Patt, who is listed at 5-11, to leave his crease in order to cut down the angles, and at least once that opened the door for a rebound goal.
Patt made 56 saves on 64 shots last weekend, giving up four goals each night. Of those four goals he surrendered, half came off breakaways off rushes, one was off a faceoff and another on a 5-on-3 power play.
“They were good on the big ice — hard, fast, physical, tough to get any odd-man rushes against,” Cates said. “Conversely, we weren’t too good structurally with a good F3 and they got a lot of chances off the rush. We need to clean up those little things — not cheating on the wrong side of the puck and staying above their guys so they don’t get those odd-man rushes and put pressure on our D and goalie.”
Cates said Patt gave the Bulldogs a chance to win in both games against NMU, and after waiting five seasons to finally play regular season games, Patt deserved a win in goal this weekend.
“That was on everyone’s mind, wanting to get him that (win), because he’s worked so hard for us in these past five years,” Cates said. “To come out and not give him our best effort really, really sucks.”
Thumbs up to Josh Fenton
After the conclusion of the NCHC’s ninth season, commissioner Josh Fenton will depart to take over as commissioner of the multi-sport Summit League .
While the news is a thumbs-down for the NCHC, Fenton deserves a thumbs-up for everything he’s done for the league since its inception, as well as the sport of college hockey.
"Bulldog Athletics appreciates the great leadership of Josh Fenton to firmly establish the NCHC as the premier men's college hockey conference in the nation,” UMD athletic director Josh Berlo said. “We congratulate him and Lindsay and wish them well in the future. The Summit League will be beneficiaries of their commitment, passion and leadership."
In his nine seasons as commissioner, Fenton has not only oversaw the creation of the most competitive league in college hockey, but one of the most successful leagues financially. Even during the height of the pandemic last season, with all the restrictions in place, the NCHC still turned a profit in 2020-21.
Here’s a rundown of his greatest hits:
The league won four straight national championships between 2016 and 2019. It’s sent 27 teams to the NCAA tournament and 12 have reached the Frozen Four.
Now at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, the NCHC Frozen Faceoff actually made a name for itself in a basketball arena in Minneapolis. Everyone originally mocked the league for picking Target Center, but the league put on quite the show those first few years there and showed Minneapolis can be a fun hockey town, too.
The NCHC wasn’t the first college hockey league to stream its games online, but it has now become the standard. NCHC.tv shined while the league was in a Pod in Omaha a year ago, and its production value continues to beat out every other league. It also is a revenue source for the league’s eight members.
The Pod: 38 games played over 21 days at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite vaccines not being available at the time, the NCHC still managed to go the three weeks without a single detection of COVID-19 among athletes, coaches and team staff.
“He’s the best commissioner, he’s meant a lot to our league,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. “The success we’ve had as a league, he’s been a huge part of that. He’s going to be a big loss and hopefully we’ll find somebody that can replace him and keep this league going as strong as he made it.”
Bulldogs Three Stars
3. UMD freshman center Dominic James — He finished with three assists Friday for UMD in the 5-4 loss at Northern Michigan.
2. UMD senior goaltender Emma Soderberg — The Swedish national team goalie made 39 saves in Friday’s 5-2 win for the Bulldogs over Ohio State and 34 stops Saturday in the 6-2 loss.
1. UMD senior wing Anna Klein — The fifth-year forward surpassed the 100-point mark for her career on Friday a week after picking up her 50th career goal. Klein scored two goals and added an assist in Friday’s win over OSU.
Both Bulldogs programs play their final series before a two-week holiday break.
The UMD women travel to Ridder Arena in Minneapolis for a pair of WCHA games against the Golden Gophers at 7 p.m. Friday and 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Bulldogs men host Denver in NCHC play at 7:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.