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'Dogs take three of four from Gophers

There was prestige, the national rankings, next weekend's Women's-WCHA playoffs and -- probably most important -- those were the Minnesota Gophers on the other bench at the DECC. With all that as inspiration, the UMD women's hockey team still nee...

There was prestige, the national rankings, next weekend's Women's-WCHA playoffs and -- probably most important -- those were the Minnesota Gophers on the other bench at the DECC. With all that as inspiration, the UMD women's hockey team still needed a spark of ignition to get its formidable engine going.
Enter Joanne Eustace. Trailing 1-0 when the second period opened on Saturday, Eustace played the role of spark plug, which she does best, by whacking the puck past Erica Killewald at 0:23 of the middle period to tie the game 1-1. Typically, the Bulldogs immediately clicked on all cylinders, roaring to the tie-breaking goal by Erika Holst two minutes later, and a power-play goal by Hanne Sikio a couple of minutes after that.
Three goals in the span of 4:41 was all the Bulldogs could muster, but with Tuula Puputti's solid goaltending, that flurry produced a 3-1 victory for UMD over the Gophers.
With the WCHA season ending, Minnesota wins the league title with an 18-4-2 record, while UMD finishes 15-5-4, four points behind. The Gophers have a first-round bye in the league playoffs, starting next Thursday in, of all places, Rochester, while UMD will face last-place Minnesota State-Mankato in a quarterfinal, and will have to win three games in three nights to repeat as league champion.
But overall, the Bulldogs and Gophers came into the series tied for the No. 2 ranking in the computerized power ratings, behind No. 1 Dartmouth. Coming on the heels of Friday's 2-2 tie, the 3-1 UMD victory should solidify UMD's position nationally, with a 23-5-4 record to Minnesota's 23-7-2.
"I just thought it was pretty poetic that we came in neck-and-neck, so close in so many ways, and played to a 2-2 tie," said Gopher coach Laura Halldorson. She was in a less-cheery mood about Saturday's rematch.
When it was suggested the game was tough and hard-fought but lacked the end-to-end electrifying nature of the teams' meetings last year, Halldorson said: "I disagree. I thought they were both excellent games."
There were so many good chances, with UMD outshooting the Gophers 43-33, that a score of 6-4 might have seemed more appropriate than 3-1, which might have been testimony to how well Puputti and Killewald tended goal. "I think it was defense," said Halldorson.
Maybe it was the intensity of the year-old rivalry that got to Halldorson. UMD coach Shannon Miller, in fact, learned something about what a UMD-Gopher series means.
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"I thought Jessica Smith stepped up and played very well for us on defense," said Miller. "She listens, and she works hard. In fact, a lot of our Minnesota girls stepped up -- Jenny Hempel, Shannon Mikel, Jessi Flink."
Smith, who has been steady but unnoticeable, was far more physical, and on numerous times ran off Gophers who were coming hard as if to crash the net. The Bulldogs outshot Minnesota 10-8 in the first period, but trailed 1-0 when Courtney Kennedy, a large, rugged Gopher defenseman, scored with a screened shot from the right point at 11:30.
Fresh from the 2-2 deadlock the night before, the goal gave the Gophers their first and only lead of the weekend, and it loomed large when the second period started.
But on the first shift, Maria Rooth swept out front and left the puck. "She left it right for me," said Eustace, "so I came around and knocked it in."
It was the 14th goal for Eustace, who had scored the first goal of the game on Friday, too. On the next shift, Hanne Sikio passed out from behind the net, and Holst deposited the puck into the right edge of the net from 5 feet out for her 19th goal. Then Stephanie Snow was penalized for interference at 4:45, and after 19 seconds of power play, Sikio scored her 29th of the season with a backhander from close range.
The Gophers, though, outshot UMD 16-10 in the second period, despite being outscored 3-0. Then the Bulldogs forced play throughout the scoreless third period, outshooting Minnesota 23-9 to prevent the Gophers from putting on any pressure. Killewald was very good, blocking all 23 shots -- defense notwithstanding -- to finish with 40 saves while holding her team in the game.
"We created so many good opportunities, I can't believe we didn't put more of them in," said Miller. "Puputti played well tonight, and was good last night, too. The funny thing about it, I thought we dominated by more last night, and wound up in a 2-2 tie, than tonight."

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