2019-20 UMD women's hockey season preview: 'Pups are all grown up, though old 'Dogs will be key to consistency
For the first time since the program's NCAA tournament run in 2016-17, the Bulldogs don't have to rely on a large freshmen class to carry the load
Back in the fall of 2017, the University of Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey program brought in a band of 10 freshmen, plus two transfers.
UMD added nine more freshmen at the start of the 2018-19 season, while also welcoming back goaltender Maddie Rooney after she backstopped Team USA to Olympic gold.
When practice got underway this month, there were just three new faces — all freshmen — creating an environment that senior defenseman and co-captain Jalyn Elmes said she had yet to experience in her previous three seasons as a Bulldog.
“For the first week we all knew each other. It's like a family,” Elmes said. “I haven't had that since I've been here and it's really nice. I’m really excited for that.”
Over the previous two seasons, the UMD women’s hockey team has often been referred to as the ‘Pups instead of the ‘Dogs due to all the freshmen in the lineup. That will no longer be the case when the Bulldogs open the 2019-20 regular season at 7:07 p.m. Friday and 3:07 p.m. Saturday against Clarkson. The roster includes five seniors, six juniors and nine sophomores.
As Rooney points out, the Bulldogs are still a young team, with the freshmen and sophomores still outnumbering the juniors and seniors. The sophomores are a very experienced group, though, with all but backup goalie Emma Soderberg suiting up for 30-plus games a year ago.
“Some of our rookies really showed themselves and proved themselves last year,” said Rooney, who herself was thrown onto the ice right away as a freshman, making 18 starts. She then started all 37 games as sophomore before playing a year with the U.S. Women’s National Team.
“When you're thrown into those big minutes, you just have to step up and adjust,” she said. “There's a lot of pressure, but it's a confidence builder when you do get through that pressure.”
This year’s sophomores should be confident after what they accomplished last season as freshmen. The class not only played, they often led the way.
Gabbie Hughes, a WCHA All-Rookie Team pick last year at forward, led the Bulldogs in goals (19), assists (18) and points (37). Anneke Linser was right behind her in the points column with 10 goals and 14 assists as a freshman.
Lizi Norton, Maggie Flaherty and Kailee Skinner were part of a four-player rotation on the blue line last season as freshmen along with Elmes. Flaherty led all UMD defensemen in scoring with 20 points and her 16 assists were second overall.
Even Soderberg, who played in just five games last year as a rookie, impressed when she did get into games. She posted a 2.09 goals against average and .913 save percentage, going 3-1 in four starts.
“Our freshmen were some of our best players last year. They had a great season,” said UMD senior forward and co-captain Sydney Brodt. “Our D have become more confident and more willing to step up in the play. And then our forwards, they still have that goal-scoring ability. They look really strong and fast. They're just more confident being older. So I'm excited.”
Also a year older are a few key members from that 2017-18 freshmen class, like Ashton Bell, Anna Klein and Naomi Rogge, who are now all juniors. Forwards Klein and Rogge both tied for third on the team in scoring a year ago with 12 goals and 11 assists each, though Rogge is out for the season with a knee injury. Bell — previously a forward who is transitioning to defenseman at UMD and with Team Canada — is on her way to joining Rooney and Brodt as a national team regular.
UMD has gotten a lot out of its last two freshmen classes, but fifth-year head coach Maura Crowell still believes its her senior class that is the key to the team's success in 2019-20.
And to have success, the Bulldogs have to be more consistent after an up-and-down 2018-19 season that began with a big sweep of Boston College and culminated with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in the semifinals of the WCHA Final Faceoff at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.
UMD, which finished the year a game under .500 at 15-16-4 overall, was outshot 44-9 by the Gophers that afternoon in the WCHA semis. A month earlier against that same team in the same place, the Bulldogs nearly swept the Gophers, winning 3-2 in overtime on a Friday before losing 5-3 on Saturday, with the fifth Gopher goal being an empty netter.
“Honestly, I'm not worried about it right now because I like where we're at,” Crowell said about her team’s inconsistency last year. “Our senior class is really special. We've got great leadership in that group, great experience. Think about Maddie Rooney's hockey career to this point. To see her where she is right now, she's in really good form for the beginning of the season. It's like she's already played several games. She looks really good.
“Syd Brodt is going to have an outstanding year. I can tell she's on another level. Jalyn Elms is on another level. Brooke (Schugel) is so excited to be healthy and ready to go. Ryleigh Houston, excited to have her final year. They all want to go out with a bang."