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College women's hockey: Crowell returns to Bulldogs in time for showdown with Buckeyes

News Tribune file photo Minnesota Duluth coach Maura Crowell talks to her team during a time out earlier this season at Amsoil Arena. Crowell returned to the program this week after serving as head coach for the silver-medal winning U.S. Under-18 Women's National Team at the U-18 Women's World Championship in Obihiro, Japan.

Back from coaching Team USA to a silver medal at the Under-18 Women's World Championship in Obihiro, Japan, Minnesota Duluth coach Maura Crowell knows she and her Bulldogs have some work to do over their final 12 regular-season games.

It starts this weekend with fifth-ranked Ohio State coming to Duluth for a pair of WCHA games at 7:07 p.m. Friday and 4:07 p.m. Saturday at Amsoil Arena. Saturday's game will be aired on Fox Sports North Plus as part of the network's Hockey Day Minnesota coverage.

The Buckeyes are coming off a home split last week with top-ranked Wisconsin and previously swept UMD by 3-1 and 4-1 margins in November in Columbus, Ohio.

UMD is in a tight battle with Bemidji State for the final home-ice playoff spot in the WCHA playoffs, which get underway March 1. The Bulldogs are fourth in the league, eight points back of the third-place Buckeyes and three up on the fifth-place Beavers.

Crowell returned to Duluth this week after the U.S. U-18 Women's National Team lost the gold medal to Canada 3-2 in overtime Sunday. Despite being gone for nearly a month, the fourth-year Bulldogs coach is well aware of what stands before her team.

"It's nice to be back. It was a fantastic trip. I've been gone for a really long time. Nice to sleep in my bed and be back with the Bulldogs," said Crowell, who left assistant coach Laura Bellamy in charge of the program in her absence.

"I tried to watch as much of the Bulldogs as I could with the time change and I talked to (Bellamy) frequently about the team. I was back (Tuesday) for practice. I really like the way we are playing right now, the way the team is putting up goals and finding ways to finish games off and come back or whatever it might be. We're in a good spot. I think we understand what's in front of us and we're excited against Ohio State this weekend."

UMD went 2-2 under Bellamy while Crowell was with Team USA, splitting at the Minnesota Cup in Minneapolis to finish third two weeks ago, and splitting at Bemidji State last weekend to retain fourth place in the league.

The Bulldogs posted three or more goals in three of the last four games, something they were only able to do twice during their first 16 regular-season games.

Freshman forward Gabbie Hughes — UMD's leading goal-scorer (11) and point-getter (20) — has four goals and three assists in the first four games of 2019 while her linemate, sophomore Anna Klein, has three goals and three assists.

Also stepping up last weekend for the Bulldogs was freshman goaltender Emma Soderberg, who stopped 23 of the 25 shots she faced in the 5-2 win over Bemidji State. Sitting behind junior goaltender and Olympic gold medalist Maddie Rooney (2.81 goals-against average, .916 save percentage in 17 games), Soderberg has played only three games this season.

The Swedish national team goalie has won all three of her starts, posting a 1.33 GAA and .934 save percentage.

"She's playing really well and that's no surprise," Crowell said. "We knew that going in bringing her here. That was our goal. We've been happy to have her in the role she is in. We'll use her when we need to use her. We have all the confidence in the world that she can go in and play well and give us a chance to win."

• Sophomore forward Allison Rodgers of Oswego, N.Y., left the Bulldogs program at the end of last semester to transfer to Robert Morris. She'll be eligible to play for the Colonials as a junior starting in 2019-20. After playing 33 games as a freshman, Rodgers played just three this season with the most recent coming Oct. 20. She failed to register a point in her 36 games at UMD.

NO. 5 OHIO STATE (15-7-0) AT UMD (8-10-2)

What: WCHA series

When: 7:07 p.m. Friday/4:07 p.m. Saturday

Where: Amsoil Arena

TV: Fox Sports North-Plus Saturday only

Internet: flohockey.tv

Twitter: @UMDWHockey

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

(218) 723-5317