For once, the non-renewal of head coach Shannon Miller’s contract was the last thing on the minds of the Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey team Saturday at Amsoil Arena.
Instead, UMD’s hearts and minds were with their strength and conditioning coach/equipment manager Julianne “Montana” Vasichek during a 2-0 victory over Bemidji State in Game 2 of a best-of-three WCHA first-round playoff series.
The series wraps up at 2:07 p.m. today with a decisive Game 3 and a berth in the WCHA Final Faceoff next weekend.
Vasichek, who was admitted to a Duluth hospital earlier in the week before being airlifted in critical condition to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., on Thursday, was scheduled to undergo a liver transplant at 2 p.m. Saturday. She 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.
Vasichek’s condition as of press time was not known.
“They were very worried about Montana. There were a lot of tears and a lot of conversations going on,” said Miller, who herself fought to hold back tears when talking about Vasichek during her postgame news conference. “She’s fighting for her life and they know that. It’s hard on them and it’s hard on me.
“I just got them to relax for the third period and they did and they just took over the game.”
Both goals were scored in the third period by sophomore center Ashleigh Brykaliuk, who like the rest of her teammates wore a ‘49’ sticker on her helmet in honor of Vasichek. No. 49 was the number Vasichek wore while winning three national championships for the Bulldogs from 2001-05.
“It was definitely tough, but we know what she wants is for us to do well,” an emotional Brykaliuk said. “We definitely played for her.”
“We’re still playing for her this whole weekend,” UMD senior goaltender Kayla Black added. “She’s in our prayers and we hope she recovers quickly.”
Brykaliuk’s first goal with 12:29 remaining in regulation came after the Beavers turned the puck over along the boards in front of their own bench, creating an odd-man rush for Brykaliuk, sophomore forward Katerina Mrazova and the puck handler, senior forward Jenna McParland. McParland made a cross-ice pass through the stick of Mrazova to Brykaliuk, who buried the game-winner.
Brykaliuk’s second goal of the game and 16th of the season never actually went into the Beavers’ net, but counted as a goal with 0:00 on the Amsoil clock because Brykaliuk was taken down via a hook during a breakaway to an empty Beavers’ net. Because the hook occurred with an empty net with under two minutes to play, it’s an automatic goal. Had there been a goalie in the net, it would have been a penalty shot.
“We didn’t really bring it at all yesterday,” Brykaliuk said about UMD’s 3-2 Game 1 loss. “We heard about it and we came back and responded so that was important. The third period was the best this weekend so far.”
Brykaliuk’s first goal will go down in the statistics as the game-winner, but Brykaliuk herself will tell you it was Black who kept the Bulldogs’ season alive for one more day.
Black finished with 31 saves, including 15 in the third period, for her 19th career shutout and 10th of the season - both UMD records. Her biggest saves came during a major penalty on senior center Brienna Gillanders, who responded to a slashing penalty by taking down Bemidji’s Kristin Huber and throwing a punch. Gillanders was tossed from the game and given a five-minute major and 10-minute misconduct for contact to the head.
Black was forced to stop one Beaver shot during a 50-second, 4-on-3 Bemidji advantage, two shots during a 1:10, 5-on-3 Bemidji advantage because of a cross check by Mrazova, and one more shot on goal during the final 1:50 of Gillanders’ major with the Beavers on a 5-on-4 advantage.
“That was a big one, it took a while to kill that off but I just did what I had to do,” Black said. “I try not to think about it too much. I just play my game and make the saves I need to.”
Online For updates on the condition of Vasichek, visit her Caring Bridge website at caringbridge.org/visit/juliannevasichek.
Bemidji State........... 0-0-0-0 Minnesota Duluth.... 0-0-2-2 First period - No scoring.
Second period - No scoring.
Third period - 1. UMD, Ashleigh Brykaliuk 15 (Jenna McParland), 7:31; 2. UMD, Brykaliuk 16 (unassisted), 20:00 (en).
Saves - Brittni Mowat, BSU, 7-12-7-26; Kayla Black, UMD, 7-9-15-31.