College women's hockey: Bulldogs rally to sweep WCHA playoff series

All season the Minnesota Duluth women's hockey team has sung the praises of Amsoil Arena, their home here in Duluth. But there's something about Ridder Arena in Minneapolis that tugs at the heartstrings of many Bulldogs as well. "A lot of us at U...

Clint Austin / Minnesota Duluth's Gabbie Hughes (17) scores on Bemidji State goaltender Lauren Bench (35) during Saturday's WCHA playoff game at Amsoil Arena. The Bulldogs won 4-3 to sweep the series.

All season the Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey team has sung the praises of Amsoil Arena, their home here in Duluth.

But there’s something about Ridder Arena in Minneapolis that tugs at the heartstrings of many Bulldogs as well.

“A lot of us at UMD, our families are all from the Cities,” said UMD freshman center Gabbie Hughes of Lino Lakes. “Having everyone’s family there and all our friends from the Cities there and showing them what Bulldog Country is made of down at Ridder is going to be really fun.”

The fourth-seeded Bulldogs are heading back to the Twin Cities next weekend for the WCHA Final Faceoff following a come-from-behind 4-3 victory over fifth-seeded Bemidji State on Saturday at Amsoil Arena to sweep the best-of-three quarterfinal series.

UMD (15-15-4) scored four straight goals to rally from a 2-0 first-period deficit before a crowd of 653. Junior goaltender Maddie Rooney made 32 saves while Hughes, the team’s leading scorer, was part of two key third-period scores.


The Bulldogs will play the tournament hosts and top seed, Minnesota, in a Final Faceoff semifinal at 2:07 p.m. next Saturday while second-seeded Wisconsin takes on third-seeded Ohio State at 5:07. The championship is scheduled for Sunday.

Like the Bulldogs, the Badgers and Buckeyes swept their quarterfinal series while the regular-season champion Gophers received a bye.

UMD’s sweep of the Beavers (13-21-2) could be considered the biggest shock of the WCHA’s first round, and not just because Bemidji State came to Duluth a year ago and upset UMD in three games as the No. 5 seed.

This weekend was the fourth time in five years the teams met in a quarterfinal series and it's the first time the home team has won the series. This is only the second time the series didn’t go three games - UMD swept in 2015-16 as the No. 6 seed.

“It’s been a tough year schedule-wise, but a lot of high points. What we’ve learned throughout the course of the year is what we’re seeing now,” Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell said. “Down by a couple goals? That’s fine. We just stick with it. We were very composed throughout the game. We did what we needed to do to claw back into the game and then a big third period to seal the deal. I love the way this team is playing.

“This is when we want to be rolling and I think we are.”

Junior wing Jacqueline Kaasa and sophomore wing Paige Beebe appeared to be sending the series to a decisive Game 3 when they gave the Beavers a 2-0 lead 11:37 into Saturday’s game, but UMD junior wing Ryleigh Houston cut the margin to one with a goal three minutes prior to the first intermission.

Sophomore wing Anna Klein tied the game seven minutes into the second period after snatching up the puck off a draw in the UMD zone. She took it the other way, outskating a pair of defenders in the process, and put the puck in off the post for her 12th goal of the season.


“They passed it right to me it seemed like,” said Klein, the Edina native. “I know both those defenders I went against, they are good defenders. I’ve been playing against them since I was younger, too. I just had to use my speed, turn on the jets.”

Hughes put the Bulldogs ahead 11:20 into the third period with her team-leading 18th goal of the season by firing a shot through two defenders and then fighting through those same two to get her own rebound.

Three minutes later she teamed with her former Centennial High School teammate Anneke Linser, a fellow freshman forward, on the deciding goal, dishing to the wing late on a two-on-one breakaway.

“It was a great two-on-one. She was wide open calling for it. I knew she would bury it. She snipes,” Hughes said. “We have this thing where we’ll look at each other and I knew she wanted a goal as soon as I saw her on the other side. She had that look in her eye.”

Bemidji State 2-0-1-3
Minn. Duluth 1-1-2-4First period - 1. BSU, Jacqueline Kaasa 10 (Kiki Radke, Tina Kampa), 7:09; 2. BSU, Paige Beebe 9 (Abby Halluska, Emily Bergland), 11:37; 3. UMD, Ryleigh Houston 9 (Lizi Norton, Jalyn Elmes), 16:59.
Second period - 4. UMD, Anna Klein 12, 7:03.
Third period - 5. UMD, Gabbie Hughes 18 (Maggie Flaherty), 11:20; 6. UMD, Anneke Linser 10 (Hughes, Liz Norton), 14:10; 7. BSU, Haley Mack 8 (Jacqueline Kaasa, Tina Kampa), 14:55.
Saves - Lauren Bench, BSU, 14-7-11-32; Maddie Rooney, UMD, 8-14-10-32.

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