Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down, Three Stars: Sweeps can be hard to come by for Bulldogs, but not top-notch goalies
The Bulldogs men's program is still searching for its first NCHC sweep halfway through its league schedule. Meanwhile, the women have quickly found a more-than-suitable replacement for Olympian Emma Soderberg while she is in Beijing.
DULUTH — Minnesota Duluth’s men’s and women’s hockey teams split their weekend series on the road, with both winning Friday and losing Saturday,
In Omaha, Nebraska, the No. 7-ranked Bulldogs men beat up on No. 16 Nebraska Omaha 5-1 on Friday before falling 5-1 on Saturday in NCHC play at Baxter Arena. UMD could have moved into a three-way tie for second in the NCHC with the sweep, but instead sits fourth in the league.
In Columbus, Ohio, the No. 5 Bulldogs women scored with 32.1 seconds left on Friday to beat No. 3 Ohio State 1-0 , with a game-tying goal by the Buckeyes failing to beat the buzzer as time expired. On Saturday, the Buckeyes salvaged a split a the OSU Ice Rink with a 3-1 win .
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 down to no NCHC sweeps
Let’s start with the positive from the men’s weekend at Omaha.
Through six NCHC series in 2021-22 — the halfway point of NCHC play — the Bulldogs have yet to be swept in a league series and have taken at minimum three league points in all six series. That’s something no other NCHC team can claim after North Dakota was swept out of the top spot in the conference this weekend via two losses at Western Michigan.
However, the Bulldogs are among the three NCHC teams — Miami and Omaha being the others — who have failed to sweep a league series and skate away with six points. The closest the Bulldogs came to sweeping this season was at home Nov. 12-13 against Colorado College when UMD won 5-0 on Friday before winning a shootout on Saturday following a 0-0 overtime tie.
“It’s such a tough league,” Bulldogs captain Noah Cates said. “Every team has pride and every team has a shot a being a top one or two seed. It's just such a tight league, and these points just mean so much, especially if you're home Friday and Saturday. They’re such critical games and just the desperation level on Saturday, whether you win or lose, has to be has to be raised.”
Twice the Bulldogs were in danger of being swept — at Western and at home vs. Denver — following Friday losses, but they bounced back both times on Saturday to win and split the series.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have been in a position to sweep four series. They’re 4-2 on Fridays in the NCHC having outscored the opposition 21-12 in the series opener. UMD is 2-2-2 in the series finale on Saturdays, even with a 13-11 combined advantage on the scoreboard.
UMD sits fourth in the NCHC at the midway point, three points ahead of fifth-place St. Cloud State for that final home playoff spot. UMD is three points back of Western and North Dakota, who are tied for second, and six back of first-place Denver.
Five of the Bulldogs' final six series are against those four teams, including four games with St. Cloud State and a series at Denver (where the Pioneers are 7-0 in NCHC play this year). The Broncos and Fighting Hawks come to Duluth.
UMD has one series against the NCHC’s bottom three in the second half of league play, which is a trip at the end of February to Miami, which has been swept a league-high five times through seven series.
“We just need to find some consistency,” UMD senior wing Tanner Laderoute said after Saturday’s game. “We can’t lay an egg on Friday and play amazing on Saturday, and play amazing on Friday and lay an egg on Saturday.”
Thumbs up to ‘Goaltender U’
On Friday, the All-American and All-WCHA goaltender for the UMD women’s hockey team — senior Emma Soderberg — departed for Europe to join Sweden’s Olympic women’s hockey team ahead of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing next month.
That left the Bulldogs with a pair of unproven goaltenders last weekend going into an important WCHA series at Ohio State, where road teams had yet to win a game this season.
The Bulldogs skated away with a split — and had a chance to sweep the series — thanks to the play of sophomore backup Jojo Chobak, who prior to the series in Columbus had made just four relief appearances in her two seasons at UMD.
Chobak, a Chicago native, stopped 65 of the 68 shots she faced from the Buckeyes in her first two collegiate starts, including all 27 on Friday for the shutout in her first start as a Bulldog netminder.
While not surprised by Chobak’s play, Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell admitted after Saturday’s game that Chobak outperformed expectations.
“While I had a ton of confidence in her, that was that was a hell of a weekend,” Crowell said.
With the Olympic women’s hockey tournament getting underway on Feb. 3 and running through Feb. 17, the Bulldogs will likely be without Soderberg for the remainder of the regular season. UMD sits fourth in the WCHA standings , and in a three-way tie for sixth in the Pairwise .
It’s just one series, but based on the performance of Chobak against a very, very good Buckeyes team, UMD will be just fine in the month of February.
“She's game ready. She can give us a chance to win any game,” Crowell said of Chobak. “If she can play the way she did against OSU, we're in good shape here while Soderberg is away for the Olympics. I'm really impressed with the way she played.
“I’m not really surprised, just based on what we know about her, but like I said earlier in the week, sometimes you just need the opportunity as a goalie. She got it and ran with it.”
Matt’s Three Stars
3. UMD sophomore wing Blake Biondi — The Hermantown native finished with three points on Friday in Omaha, assisting on both goals that gave UMD the important 2-0 lead in the first period over the Mavericks. His goal with 2:34 to play in that game to make it 4-1 UMD was the dagger.
2. UMD senior defenseman Kylie Hanley — The forward-turned-defenseman and captain provided the Bulldogs with the necessary offensive punch from the blue line at the perfect moment Friday, scoring the game-winning goal with 32.1 seconds left in regulation to beat Ohip State 1-0.
1. UMD sophomore goaltender Jojo Chobak — Making her first two collegiate starts at UMD, the Chicago native posted a 27-save shutout on Friday before stopping 38 of 41 shots on Saturday at Ohio State.
Both Bulldogs teams are at home this weekend at Amsoil Arena for conference play with the UMD women hosting Minnesota State at 3:01 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The UMD men host No. 3 Western Michigan at 7:07 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.