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WCHA notebook: Starting goaltender up for grabs at UMD

Sophomore Catherine Johnson, senior transfer Jessica Convery and freshman Hanna Markel will battle it out this year for the starting goaltender job at Minnesota Duluth with junior Maddie Rooney gone this season playing on the U.S. National Team. UMD photos

A year ago, Minnesota Duluth coach Maura Crowell wasted no time naming a starting goaltender.

That’s not the case this season because the 2016-17 starter — Maddie Rooney — is gone with the U.S. National Team for the 2018 Winter Olympics and her absence has left the Bulldogs without a clear-cut No. 1.

Sophomore Catherine Johnson, freshman Hanna Markel and senior transfer Jessica Convery will battle it out this year to fill the void left by the All-WCHA third-team goalie. Crowell, speaking during Tuesday’s WCHA women’s preseason teleconference, said all three are capable goaltenders with different styles. All three can make an immediate impact in net, she said.

“It’s wide open, as is much of the roster,” Crowell said. “Plenty of opportunity for those three goaltenders to step up and take the spot. I think it’s going to be a battle from what I can tell right now. I think they’re all capable of doing it, which is exciting.”

Convery is the most experienced of the three, with 27 career starts over the previous three seasons at Mercyhurst. In 33 games with the Lakers, she posted a .908 save percentage, 2.18 goals-against average and two shutouts. She posted a .911 save percentage and 2.08 GAA last winter.

Johnson, out of St. Paul United, appeared in just two partial periods for the Bulldogs as a freshman, relieving Rooney in the final 11:15 of a 6-0 win at Ohio State on Oct. 28 and for the final 15:57 of an 8-0 loss at Wisconsin on Feb. 12. She stopped all 13 shots she faced.

Markel is a native of Dillon, Colo., who played last season with Northwood School in Lake Placid, N.Y., and before that the Colorado Select club hockey program.

Crowell said ideally one of the three will step up to be the No. 1 like Rooney did, because a three-person rotation can be a sticky situation.

“It’s going to depend on who is ready to go, who is in shape, who knows what we’re looking for and who has the confidence to play,” Crowell said. “All of those things will have to become a little clearer as we practice for a few weeks.”

Badgers, Gophers also dealing with Olympic losses

The Bulldogs aren’t the only team in the WCHA dealing with Olympic absences this season.

Minnesota will be without senior forward Kelly Pannek (USA) and junior forward Sarah Potomak (Canada), while Wisconsin is without senior forward Annie Pankowski (USA) and Emily Clark (Canada). All four finished in the top five in conference scoring a year ago.

“We’re losing about 120 goals between our graduation and our Olympians who are gone,” said coach Brad Frost, whose Gophers were picked to win the WCHA in 2017-18. “Certainly every other team is licking their chops because the talent level is going to be more spread out in our league and throughout the country.”

As Crowell mentioned, it’s difficult to fill the void of an Olympic absence, unless you get lucky like UMD and have a one-year transfer fall in your lap.

The Badgers and Gophers haven’t been as lucky, so they’ll both enter the season with just 12 forwards on their rosters.

“It’s just something where our players know they’re going to have plenty of opportunities and it’s going to be real difficult for us,” Frost said. “We need to avoid injuries, we need to get great goaltending.”

Quick hits
  • The Bulldogs finished in a tie for third with Ohio State in the WCHA women’s preseason coaches poll, released Tuesday. Defending regular-season and postseason champion Wisconsin was second behind the Gophers.
  • The WCHA launched a crowdfunding campaign at in late January and so far five of the seven areas the league is taking donations for remain at $0. As of Tuesday afternoon, the league has raised $50 toward its postgraduate scholarship and $2,253 in support of the league’s operations fund. Still, commissioner Katie Million said Tuesday she was pleased with the attention the campaign has brought the league — like getting a New York Times reporter on Tuesday’s teleconference. “Every dollar that comes in and every article that’s written and any post on social media that comes in because of this is a plus for me,” said Million.

WCHA Women’s Preseason Coaches Poll

Team, first-place votes, points

1. Minnesota (4) 34

2. Wisconsin (3) 33

t3. Minnesota Duluth 23

t3. Ohio State 23

5. Bemidji State 14

6. St. Cloud State 11

7. Minnesota State-Mankato 9

WCHA Preseason Player of the Year: Kassidy Sauve, Jr., G, Ohio State

WCHA Preseason Rookie of the Year: Grace Zumwinkle, F, Minnesota

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

(218) 723-5317