Bulldogs' 2022-23 super seniors leave as legends, but Crowell ready to reload at goaltender in 2023-24
A look back at the 2022-23 UMD women's hockey season, and a peek into the future of what's to come next season for the Bulldogs.
DULUTH — Coming off a loss to Ohio State in the 2022 NCAA championship game on the Penn State campus last spring, the Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey program had its sights set on a third-straight NCAA Frozen Four appearance in 2022-23.
The cherry on top of this year’s Frozen Four was the location — Amsoil Arena.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs — who went 26-10-3 this season while finishing fourth in the WCHA — they didn’t get a second crack at an NCAA title. UMD fell a game short of playing at home in the Frozen Four in Duluth following an NCAA regional final loss to Minnesota at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.
“It was a great run,” Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell said. “I thought we had a really good season, pretty consistent from start to finish.”
Crowell, who just completed her eighth season at UMD, met with the media recently to recap the 2022-23 season and look ahead to 2023-24. Here are four takeaways from her season-ending press conference compliments of Bulldogs beat reporter Matt Wellens.
UMD seniors leave as 'legends'
When asked to reflect on their careers as Bulldogs, super seniors Naomi Rogge and Ashton Bell, who first arrived at UMD in the fall of 2017, have often brought up their freshman year back in 2017-18.
That year, the Bulldogs not only failed to make the NCAA tournament, but they missed the WCHA Final Faceoff as well, losing a three-game league quarterfinal series at home to Bemidji State.
Since then, the Bulldogs have reached the WCHA semifinals each of the last five years, they’ve gone to three straight NCAA tournaments, appeared in back-to-back Frozen Fours in 2021 and 2022, and UMD played for an NCAA title last season.
A sub-.500 team when Taylor Anderson, Kylie Hanley, Anneke Linser, Gabbie Hughes, Maggie Flaherty and Emma Soderberg were freshmen, the Bulldogs have gone 83-41-10 the last four seasons.
This season’s .705 winning percentage was the best for the program since 2016-17 — Crowell’s second in Duluth — when UMD went 25-7-5 (.743), and was also ousted by Minnesota in an NCAA regional final, but at Amsoil Arena.
“What they did in past years getting to the national championship game, back-to-back Frozen Fours, three NCAA Tournaments in a row — they're written in stone here,” said Crowell, who also highlighted the sweep of eventual national champion Wisconsin in Madison back in January as a big part of the seniors’ legacy. “There are legends in that class that we'll be talking about for years and years.”
McMahon takes big step
Asked who on her team took big steps in 2022-23 toward leading the team in 2023-24, Crowell highlighted the defensive pairing that played behind Flaherty and Bell — senior Taylor Stewart and junior Nina Jobst-Smith (who had 20 assists).
“Taylor Stewart had a great year. Nina Jobst-Smith had a sneaky, not so sneaky outburst of a season,” Crowell said.
Most of the praise was saved for senior center Mannon McMahon, who like Stewart, will be back for a fifth season in 2023-24.
McMahon posted collegiate highs of 10 goals and 19 assists for 29 points as the Bulldogs’ second-line center in 2022-23. She previously had seven goals combined in her first three seasons.
Crowell said McMahon had her best season yet, and will be key to filling the void left by UMD’s top-line center from the past five seasons — Hughes.
“She plays center similarly to Gabbie Hughes. They both are extremely physical and think of themselves as third defenseman in the D zone,” Crowell said. “I love that starting point right there. I think that makes you feel really good. We always talk about building a team through the middle, so I love the steps that she took.”
UMD reloading in goal
Crowell said saying goodbye to Soderberg is a tough one, especially after the Swedish Olympian re-wrote the UMD record book for goaltenders this year.
Soderberg’s 11 shutouts this season are a single-season program record, while her 1.39 goals against average is the second-best for a Bulldogs starter that played 1,000 or more minutes in a season.
Her 23 career shutouts are also first all-time at UMD, while her .934 save percentage is second and 1.68 GAA is third all-time among UMD goalies to have played 50 or more games.
But Crowell said the program feels good about what they have coming in. In addition to bringing back freshman Hailey MacLeod — who posted a .936 save percentage and 1.03 GAA in six starts — UMD is bringing in 20-year-old freshman Eve Gascon.
Gascon is one of just three females to ever play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the second woman to ever backstop her team to a win in the league.
“We're excited, especially about our goaltender. I think she's the best recruit in the country that anyone could have gotten,” Crowell said. “She will be a freshman. She will be someone who speaks English as a second language, so there will be growing pains there, but what she can do on the ice once she's settled in is going to be huge for our program.”
Bulldogs active in transfer portal
In addition to Gascon, the Bulldogs’ 2023-24 freshman class include forwards Grace Sadura of Minnetonka and Payton Halloway of Shattuck-St. Mary’s, defenseman Quinn Dunkle from the North American Hockey Academy and a defenseman from Sweden’s Under-18 squad that Crowell couldn’t name yet, as she was unsure if the player’s National Letter of Intent had been processed.
With just five players committed for next season, and nine players — five forwards, two defenseman and two goalies — departing, Crowell said her program will be active in the transfer portal this offseason to fill out the roster.
Crowell said this is something she had long planned for, because finding eight or nine freshmen that could step in right away would be a tall task. She brought in between nine and 10 freshmen in 2017-18 and 2018-19, and both times UMD finished under .500.
“We'll be selective in who we get, and we want to make sure that they want to be here, that they're going to help us and push us,” Crowell said. “We're trying to get to the NCAA tournament, and we're trying to make that an every year sort of thing. That's what this class set us up to do. We have to make sure we have what we need to do that.”