College women's hockey: Goaltending duel on deck as Huskies visit Bulldogs this weekend
With six games remaining in the regular season, fourth-place Minnesota Duluth is five points clear of fifth-place Bemidji State for the final home-ice playoff seed for the upcoming WCHA playoffs.
The Bulldogs also are five points back of third-place Ohio State with two games in hand, however, that's not where their attention lies. It's not on the Beavers, either.
UMD (12-12-2 overall, 8-8-2 WCHA) is focused solely on last-place St. Cloud State (9-20-2, 4-16-0) this week with the Huskies visiting Amsoil Arena for a pair of league games at 7:07 p.m. Friday and 4:07 p.m. Saturday.
That's a healthy mindset considering recent history against this week's opponent. While 63-13-6 all-time against the Huskies — who are on track to finish sixth or lower in the WCHA for a third consecutive season — UMD has won just one of its last five games against St. Cloud State going back to the second half of last season (1-2-2).
"We want to play good hockey and focus on what is right in front of us," Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell said. "The more we can do that the better off we'll be.
"The more you think about the end of the season, the more you forget about what's in front of you. Our focus right now is on St. Cloud and on Friday night's game."
The Bulldogs split their first encounter with the Huskies earlier this season in October in St. Cloud, winning 2-1 on Friday before losing 3-2 on Saturday. UMD outshot St. Cloud State in the series 91-37, but could only manage a split.
Solid goaltending is why the Huskies kept that series so tight despite the Bulldogs' bombardment of the home net.
Junior goaltender Janine Alder — the Swiss national team member who won an Olympic bronze medal with former Bulldog Lara Stalder in 2014 in Sochi, Russia — made 39 saves in the Friday game opposite UMD freshman goalie Emma Soderberg of the Swedish national team.
Sophomore goalie Emma Polusny — a recent call-up to the U.S. Women's National Team for the 2018 Four Nations Cup — stopped 48 shots the next night opposite UMD junior Maddie Rooney, who won Olympic gold for Team USA in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
"Alder is a little quieter, technically sound, does a nice job with rebounds. Goals that you think are in the back of the net aren't," Crowell said. "Polusny is coming on strong later in her career and has been invited to some USA camps. She is big. Again, pucks that you think are in the back of the net, she grabs. She doesn't give up a lot of space."
Alder boasts the best save percentage of any WCHA goaltender at .938 in 16 games. Polusny is sixth among league goalies at .923 in 15 games. When it comes to goals-against average, however, Alder is seventh at 2.50 and Polusny ranks 10th at 3.25 as the two are also among the league's top five in saves and shots faced.
The Huskies are last in the WCHA in scoring defense at 3.03 goals per game. While it didn't lead to a split last time, UMD knows the odds are in its favor this weekend if players continue to put as many pucks and bodies to the net as possible.
"Their goaltending is unreal," said Bulldogs leading scorer Gabbie Hughes, a freshman, who has 15 goals and 29 points in 26 games this season. "We just have to get shots, put everything we can on net. Go to the net hard and crash the net. That's going to be a huge part of it. Just put everything on net, go for the rebounds, not trying to be too fancy."
ST. CLOUD STATE (9-20-2) AT UMD (12-12-2)
What: WCHA series
When: 7:07 p.m. Friday/4:07 p.m. Saturday
Where: Amsoil Arena
Pink the Rink: The Bulldogs will wear pink breast cancer awareness jerseys both nights. The jerseys will be auctioned off — bidding ends during the second intermission Saturday — with proceeds going to Essentia Health Foundation to support families of breast cancer patients and help with patient expenses.