College women's hockey: UMD's season comes crashing down in OT loss

From the circus surrounding the nonrenewal of head coach Shannon Miller's contract to the liver transplant underwent this weekend by strength and conditioning coach/equipment manager Julianne "Montana" Vasichek, Minnesota Duluth had plenty to dea...

Bemidji State’s Kaitlyn Tougas (9) and Minnesota Duluth’s Emma Stauber go down in front of UMD goalie Kayla Black during the WCHA playoff game Sunday at Amsoil Arena. (Steve Kuchera /

From the circus surrounding the nonrenewal of head coach Shannon Miller’s contract to the liver transplant underwent this weekend by strength and conditioning coach/equipment manager Julianne “Montana” Vasichek, Minnesota Duluth had plenty to deal with off the ice this season.

In the end, however, it wasn’t either of those off-the-ice distractions that brought down the Bulldogs' 2014-15 season and ended the UMD coaching career of the only women’s hockey coach the school has ever known.

It was Bemidji State sophomore goaltender Brittni Mowat who brought down the Bulldogs. She stopped 35 of the 36 shots she faced over three-and-a-half-plus periods on Sunday to lead her team to a 2-1 overtime victory in Game 3 of a first-round best-of-three WCHA playoff series at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
“I thought we were the better team for all three games,” said Miller, who coached her final game with the Bulldogs on Sunday after 16 seasons, five national titles and more than 300 wins. “I thought we played really well, especially today - a very complete game, well enough to win - but we couldn’t beat their goalie two out of three games and it cost us.
“Tough way to lose a game for everybody. Tough way for your season to be over.”
The Bulldogs (20-12-5)were 33.9 seconds away from returning to the WCHA Final Face-Off and possibly locking up a spot in the NCAA tournament, having moved into a tie for sixth in the PairWise with Boston University following a 2-0 win over Bemidji State (20-16-1) in Game 2 of the series on Saturday.
Instead, Beavers junior center Hanna Moher tied the game at 1-1 with an extra-attacker goal in the final minute of the third period and junior wing Kaitlyn Tougas tallied the game-winning goal for the Beavers 12:08 into overtime via a two-on-one breakaway with junior center Stephanie Anderson.
“It definitely sucks. We definitely should have won,” said UMD senior forward Jenna McParland, whose team fell outside the eight-team NCAA tournament bubble to a tie for ninth in the PairWise with Cornell. “I don’t even know what to say. The season ends. We had such a great team. It ended sooner than we expected.”
Moments before Tougas and Anderson’s breakaway, Mowat picked up her 35th and final save of the game in incredible fashion. Despite getting caught on far opposite post, Mowat was able to reach out and glove the potential game-winning shot by UMD freshman forward Michelle Lowenhielm that was sent to the near post.
UMD senior forward and captain Zoe Hickel said she’ll have nightmares tonight not only about that missed chance, but a few others. In addition to the goal by Brigette Lacquette just under five minutes into the third period, the Bulldogs did beat Mowat on two other occasions, but both of those shots caught iron instead of netting.
“It’s been the biggest journey I’ve ever been on,” Hickel said about the 2014-15 season.
“We’ve been through our ups and downs, but we’ve learned how to persevere through some tough things. Unfortunately we couldn’t buy a bounce when it mattered. It’s tough to take in.”
After starting the season 1-4-2 with a shootout win, the Bulldogs ripped off 11 wins over their next 13 games - 12 wins if you count a shootout victory at Ohio State - to cap the first half of the season.
During the holiday break - specifically the first day of final exams - the university announced it would not be renewing the contract of Miller, citing financial reasons at the time and later the team’s performance over the past 3-4 years.
The Bulldogs went 7-5-2 in the second half, going through a five-game winning streak before a six-game winless streak against Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota, to finish fourth in the WCHA.
As much as the team tried to stay focused on hockey, Hickel said it was hard to ignore every twist and turn of the debate over Miller’s contract when the media, friends, family and parents are talking about it.
“The excess stuff is just excess and we could have still done great things with what he had as a team this year,” Hickel said. “There are 23 kids that have distractions and everyone has a personal life, so there are distractions everywhere. It all matters how we take it in and learn how to put it aside and focus on what we have ahead of us.”
Miller’s contract became the least of anyone’s worries in the program last week when Vasichek was airlifted from a Duluth hospital to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. She underwent a successful liver transplant Saturday while the Bulldogs were playing Bemidji in Game 2 of the series. Vasichek has been living with ulcerative colitis - a chronic digestive disease - since 2002 and primary sclerosing cholangitis - which affects the bile ducts in the liver - since 2007.
Miller said the team was in a much better mood Sunday compared to Saturday after hearing Vasichek’s surgery went well and that she was breathing on her own again.
“There was a giddiness in the locker room,” Miller said. “They were relaxed and having fun before the game. That was a big part of that, I know that. It was very stressful for all of us.”
Miller finishes her 16-year career at UMD with a 383-144-50 record, five national championships, seven Frozen Four appearances, 10 NCAA tournament berths, five WCHA regular season championships - though she was forced to vacate one in 2008 due to secondary NCAA violations - and five WCHA playoff championships.
Since the WCHA added a quarterfinal round in 2005, the Bulldogs had advanced to the WCHA Final Face-Off eight out of 10 times, but only once in the last three seasons. The Bulldogs haven’t won an NCAA title since 2010 and failed to make the NCAA tournament in Miller’s final four seasons.
“This is heartbreaking for us. It’s difficult to be tied for sixth in the country and have your season over a few hours later,” Miller said.
“I haven’t really thought much about myself right now. My first thought was, ‘We just totally dominated in the third and in overtime they were barely in our zone. Are you kidding me?’
“I haven’t spent much time thinking about myself. I probably will in a couple days.”

Bemidji State........... 0-0-1-1-2
Minnesota Duluth.... 0-0-1-0-1
First period - No scoring.
Second period - No scoring.
Third period - 1. UMD, Brigette Lacquette 7 (Jenna McParland and Katerina Mzazova), 4:42; 2. BSU, Hanna Moher 8 (Alexis Joyce, Stephanie Anderson), 19:22 (ex).
Overtime - 3. Kaitlyn Tougas 13 (Stephanie Anderson, Alex Citrowske), 12:08.
Saves - Brittni Mowat, BSU, 11-11-8-5-35; Kayla Black, UMD, 7-7-6-5-25.

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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