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Women's hockey: Bulldogs advance to Frozen Four

Katie Wilson of Minnesota Duluth reacts after the Bulldogs scored a goal against New Hampshire in the third period of the NCAA Regional Quarterfinal game in Duluth on Saturday. UMD defeated New Hampshire 2-1 to advance to the Frozen Four. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

After being cut from Canada's Olympic women's hockey team in December, sophomore defenseman Jocelyne Larocque found she could return to Minnesota Duluth for the second half of the season, although it meant using up a full season of eligibility. She said yes immediately and told coach Shannon Miller she believed the Bulldogs were a Frozen Four-caliber team.

UMD has lost just one game in 2010 since Larocque rejoined the team, going 15-1 the past two months.

On Saturday, she provided a goal as No. 2-ranked UMD defeated No. 5 New Hampshire 2-1 in an NCAA Division I quarterfinal game before 523 fans at the DECC. The Bulldogs (29-8-2) advanced to the Frozen Four for a fourth straight year and meet No. 3 Minnesota (26-8-5) in Friday's semifinals at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.

"The first half of the season was the worst hockey of my life [in not making the Canadian team which ultimately won a gold medal). And the second half has been the best hockey of my life," said Larocque, a native of Ste. Anne, Manitoba. "When I came back here, everyone opened their arms to me, and I'm so happy that we are going to the Frozen Four."

The Bulldogs survived a tense battle with Hockey East member New Hampshire and needed a power-play goal from freshman winger Jessica Wong at 3:57 of the third period to break a 1-1 tie. The Bulldogs led 26-24 in shots on goal and got another solid performance from freshman goalie Jennifer Harss of Germany. She gained her 27th win of the season and has a .933 save percentage and 2.07 goals-against average for the season with an NCAA-leading 1,138 saves.

UMD has beaten New Hampshire (19-9-5) three straight years in the NCAA tournament -- in the 2008 semifinals (3-2 at the DECC) and in the 2009 quarterfinals (4-1 in Durham, N.H.). Last season's game was 0-0 after two periods before the Bulldogs pulled away and broke New Hampshire's 30-game home unbeaten streak.

"UMD has a lot of different weapons. They have a little more punch up front and their defensemen were better offensively," said New Hampshire coach Brian McCloskey. "Both teams played good, smart playoff hockey; it was a battle."

The first two goals of the game came exactly three minutes apart in the first six minutes of the first period. Larocque cracked a shot from the left point and it snuck through junior goalie Kayley Herman at 2:42. It was UMD's first shot on goal and gave Larocque three goals and 12 points in 16 games. New Hampshire, which lost to Boston University 4-0 in the Hockey East playoff semifinals, countered with Micaela Long's 13th goal of the season at 5:42.

While New Hampshire's top player, Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award finalist Kelly Paton, a senior center, was held without a point, she had chances. Harss turned her away with 24 seconds left in a scoreless second period. The game was a tossup with 20 minutes remaining.

"We played very nervous and struggled through almost the entire game," said Miller, who juggled lines to work out the jitters. "But we played well enough to win and it's a pretty big deal for such a young team."

UMD scoring leader Emmanuelle Blais, at the right edge of the New Hampshire net, made a great feed to the slot and Wong converted on a power play for her 14th goal of the season for the winner. New Hampshire had a power play with 6:06 to play and pulled Herman with 84 seconds to play, but couldn't get even. After averaging five goals a game in winning the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff title, the Bulldogs survived with two goals.

"I was nervous the first couple of shifts, but we kept working hard, tried to stay focused and played a little better," Wong said.

The Wildcats have been without star defenseman Courtney Birchard since she suffered a spine injury against Connecticut on Feb. 7. She was an offensive catalyst, especially on the power play, said McCloskey. New Hampshire went 6-7-1 the final 14 games. On the other hand, UMD has continued to excel with Larocque and the Bulldogs have won seven straight, and are 17-1-2 the past 20 games.

The Gophers defeated Clarkson 3-2 in overtime Saturday afternoon at Ridder Arena in another quarterfinal game and will meet UMD for the sixth time this season (UMD leads 3-2). Matched in an all-East semifinal are No. 1 Mercyhurst College (30-2-3) of Erie, Pa., and Cornell University (20-8-6) of Potsdam, N.Y.

New Hampshire...............1-0-0--1

Minnesota Duluth............1-0-1--2

First period -- 1. UMD, Jocelyne Larocque 3 (Kacy Ambroz), 2:42; 2. New Hampshire, Micaela Long 13 (Katie Brock), 5:42. Penalties -- Kailey Chappell, New Hampshire (tripping), 3:24; Laura Fridfinnson, UMD (hooking), 10:39.

Second period -- No scoring. Penalties -- Larocque, UMD (tripping), 7:05; Kristina Lavoie, New Hampshire (tripping), 9:07.

Third period -- 3. UMD, Jessica Wong 14 (Emmanuelle Blais, Katie Wilson), 3:57 (pp). Penalties - Lavoie, New Hampshire (slashing), 3:15; Tara Gray, UMD (cross-checking), 13:54.

Shots on goal -- New Hampshire 11-7-6-24, UMD 9-8-9-26. Goalies -- Kayley Herman (8-4-3), New Hampshire (26 shots-24 saves); Jennifer Harss (27-8-2), UMD (24 shots-23 saves). Power plays -- New Hampshire 0-of-3; UMD 1-of-3. Referees -- Robert Ludwig, Dan Lick. Assistants -- Christine Langley, Tai Thorsheim. A -- 523.

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