For the second consecutive season, the WCHA's Julianne Bye Cup is coming to Duluth for the final weekend of the regular season as top-ranked Wisconsin hosts No. 6 Minnesota Duluth at 5:07 p.m. Friday and 2:07 p.m. Saturday at Amsoil Arena.
Unlike last season, however, the WCHA’s regular season championship trophy is not in town just in case the league-leading Badgers clinch the title for a second consecutive season. The Bulldogs are also in contention for the regular season conference championship, which would be the program’s first in over a decade.
For the Bulldogs five-member senior class, nothing would be sweeter than celebrating Senior Weekend with a league championship.
“It makes it that much more special,” said senior defenseman McKenzie Revering about what could be her final games at Amsoil Arena as a Bulldog. “It gives you one more thing to be playing for. We’re playing for our teammates and celebrating our four years here, but that trophy is really the No. 1 priority, whether it’s Senior Weekend or not.”
The UMD women’s hockey program has won three WCHA regular season titles (1999-20, 2002-03, 2009-10) in its history, with a fourth (2007-08) vacated due to an ineligible player.
To win a piece of the WCHA title and share it with Wisconsin, the Bulldogs need to take five league points from the Badgers this weekend — meaning one win in regulation and another in overtime or shootout. The WCHA has only had co-champions once in its previous 21 regular seasons when UMD and Minnesota shared the championship in 2009-10.
If the Bulldogs pull off a clean sweep of Wisconsin, winning both games in 60 minutes, they get the Julianne Bye Cup — presented for the first time in 2018-19 — all to themselves.
“Being able to actually play for a WCHA title this year is super awesome,” said Bulldogs senior forward Anna Klein. “I wouldn't want it any other way. Hopefully, being able to go to NCAA tournament, that'd be awesome, too.”
The Badgers have won four of the previous five WCHA regular season championships and eight overall in their history. The most recent title a year ago was clinched at Amsoil Arena on the final day of the regular season via a 5-5 overtime tie and 3-on-3 win by the Badgers, who needed a single point that day to edge out Minnesota.
The Bulldogs almost gave the rival Gophers a share of the WCHA title that day after taking a 5-3 lead with 4:32 on the clock, however, the Badgers scored two extra-attacker goals in the final minute. The first came on a 6-on-4 advantage thanks to a power play and the other with 15 seconds left.
The Bulldogs are 1-25-5 in the previous seven seasons against Wisconsin after also losing to Wisconsin last year in the WCHA Final Faceoff semifinals, and 1-19-3 against the Badgers in the past five seasons under head coach Maura Crowell.
UMD’s last win over Wisconsin, 4-1, came on Nov. 18, 2016, at Amsoil Arena while the last sweep of the Badgers was Oct. 13-14, 2012, in Duluth.
“They're always a fun team to play against, but in my years here, I actually haven't beat them, so that just puts even more on the line,” Klein said. “I want to win so bad, and then with the WCHA title, our whole team is pumped. We're ready to go. It's exciting. It's at home. We have a chance to get the trophy on home ice against a really good team.
“And I do think that we have the ability to actually pull through on this one. We're all really excited about it.”
Crowell agrees with her assistant captain, Klein, that this year’s Bulldogs match up as well as ever with the Badgers thanks to their depth and team defense this season.
The Bulldogs and Badgers rank first and second, respectively, in the league in scoring defense with UMD giving up an average of 1.21 goals per game while Wisconsin surrenders 1.29 on average. They also have the top two goalies in the league as well, with Bulldogs junior Emma Soderberg entering the weekend sporting a .957 save percentage and 1.10 goals against average. Badgers senior Kennedy Blair comes in with a .947 save percentage and 1.31 GAA.
Offensively, neither team is shabby there either. The Badgers’ four goals per game average leads the WCHA and UMD’s 2.07 goals per game average ranks third.
“I like our depth at each position, I think our team defense is as good as it's been in years … and we’re putting the puck in the net at a clip of over three goals a game, so I think it's a balanced approach,” Crowell said. “We match up well. It's going to be fun. We've got speed and we've got grit; they've got speed and they have grit. We have depth, they have depth. It's going to be a great series.”
Crowell said Wednesday that junior forward Kylie Hanley, who has missed the last three games, is out for the rest of the season with a lower body injury. Hanley suffered the injury on Jan. 29 against St. Cloud State. She finishes the season with three goals and three assists in 11 games.
Klein, who has hinted at this throughout the second half of the season, said Wednesday she is indeed planning to return to the Bulldogs next year for a fifth season. She’s the first of UMD’s senior class to announce her decision. The NCAA has granted all student-athletes this season an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The 10 finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award were announced Thursday, and while four from the WCHA made the list, none were from UMD.
- UMD will be wearing its 1950s throwback jerseys again on Friday this weekend. The jerseys were the topic of this week's edition of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and are being auctioned off at umdbulldogs.com/auctions.
Follow, Watch, Listen
Wisconsin at Minnesota Duluth
5:07 p.m. Friday and 2:07 p.m. Saturday
At Amsoil Arena in Duluth
Live stats: Updates from UMD Sports Information
Online streaming: Flohockey.tv (subscription required)
Radio: KDAL 610 AM/103.9 FM