For the Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey team, road trips are considered a great opportunity to bond as a team, whether it be over casual team dinners or on a lengthy bus ride. It’s also a chance for the team to focus on just themselves and hockey with the distractions of a home series behind them.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the nature of UMD hockey road trips, however, from turning them into one-night excursions to canceling series altogether. Thanks to the coronavirus, the Bulldogs are making just their second road trip of the 2020-21 season this weekend to play Bemidji State at 7:37 p.m. Friday and 4:07 p.m. Saturday at Sanford Center in Bemidji.
The Bulldogs' first road trip of the season came on the opening weekend Nov. 20-21 at Minnesota State-Mankato. The next two — at Wisconsin Dec. 11-12 and at Minnesota Jan. 4-5 — were both called off due to COVID-19 protocols.
Neither trip to play at the Badgers or Gophers has been rescheduled at this point, meaning the only other road trip left on the schedule for UMD after this weekend is another drive to Mankato to play the Mavericks Feb. 12-13.
“Road trips are a lot of fun,” UMD senior captain Ashton Bell said. “We're very excited to get on the road for this weekend and it seems like forever. Our first series was against Mankato so long ago and that was our first road trip. We definitely enjoy road trips and are excited for this weekend.”
In another oddity thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, this weekend’s series in Bemidji is the only scheduled regular season meeting between the two WCHA rivals, who played each other eight times last season (the second time in three years that many meetings have happened).
Four of the eight games were part of regular season series, one showdown came in the championship of the Minnesota Cup (won 2-0 by UMD) and then there was the memorable best-of-three WCHA playoff series that included a four-overtime thriller in Game 2. UMD lost that marathon playoff game at Amsoil Arena, but won the series to finish the season 5-3 vs. the Beavers.
Bemidji State got off to a later start than everyone else in the WCHA this season due to COVID-19 protocols. It didn’t play its first game until Dec. 10, and has just one win in 10 games this far (1-7-2).
The Beavers sit last in the league standings, and also rank last in scoring defense (giving up 3.40 goals per game), power play (0-for-18) and penalty kill (79.2%). BSU's scoring offense (1.60) only beats St. Cloud State.
UMD has the league’s best scoring offense (3.25 goals per game) and its scoring defense is tied atop the WCHA with Wisconsin (1.38). The Bulldogs (5-3) are also fourth in the standings despite playing only eight games this year, but head coach Maura Crowell told her team to ignore all those numbers this week.
“I talked to some of the players already. Don’t get caught up in stats and wins and losses,” Crowell said. “This year is really weird in terms of consistency. Bemidji got a slow start in terms of actually starting. … They are always going to be gritty, they’re always going to get in front of shots, they’re always going to grind and that’s something they are really good at year after year regardless of who is on the roster.”
After missing four freshmen last weekend against the Buckeyes due to COVID-19 contact tracing protocols, Crowell said her entire team will be available this weekend in Bemidji.
By playing both games this weekend in Bemidji, the Bulldogs will be NCAA tournament eligible, hitting the 10-game threshold for women’s hockey.
Bell was one of 47 players invited to take part in Hockey Canada’s National Women’s Team Training Camp this month, but like eight other NCAA players in the United States, she will not take part. Former Bulldogs at the camp include Brigette Lacquette and Jocelyne Larocque.
UMD junior goaltender Emma Soderberg picked up two awards from the league this week, being named WCHA Goaltender of the Week and WCHA Performance of the Week after stopping 78 of the 79 shots she faced in a win and loss to Ohio State at Amsoil Arena.