Quicker than she can redirect a shot and potential rebound out of harm’s way, Minnesota Duluth junior goaltender Emma Soderberg has deflected any and all credit for her individual success this season to her teammates.
Her teammates, however, are never shy about heaping it right back on her.
“Sods is very humble like that,” UMD senior defenseman Ashton Bell said Wednesday. “She does not take enough credit, but she’s been playing awesome.”
The awesomeness of the goalie the Bulldogs call ‘Sods’ has been recognized all week as the team prepares for a WCHA Final Faceoff semifinal at 5:07 p.m. Saturday against Ohio State at the University of Minnesota’s Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.
Already named a finalist for national goaltender of the year last week, UMD’s first-year starter out of Jarved, Sweden, received her fifth individual award in five days on Thursday when she was named the WCHA Goaltender of the Year — the first Bulldog to ever win the award that dates back to 2017-18. Bell, of Deloraine, Manitoba, was named WCHA Defenseman of the Year on Thursday as well, becoming the third Bulldog to grab that honor alongside Sidney Morin (2016-17) and Jocelyne Laroque.
The day before, both Bell and Soderberg were named to the All-WCHA first team. Soderberg was named WCHA Goaltender of the Month — for a third-straight month — and WCHA Goaltender of the Week on Monday. On Sunday, she was declared the WCHA Goaltending Champion via her league-best 1.34 goals against average and .951 save percentage.
Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell said when Soderberg gives all the credit to her teammates, it’s no act. It’s what her “absolutely phenomenal” goaltender genuinely believes.
“‘That's a team defense award, coach. It's all of us,’” said Crowell, sharing Soderberg’s reaction at the beginning of the week to winning the league’s goaltending title. “When you have one of your star players saying things like that and truly meaning it — not just saying it because coach wants to hear it, but somebody that means that and again another real good team player — I think people want to play for somebody like that. And it's working.”
While Crowell is of the strong belief that Soderberg deserves all the praise she's received this year, the coach also agrees: the Bulldogs have been a strong, strong team defensively this season.
UMD enters the postseason giving up a league-low 1.44 goals per game on average. That average ranks second in the nation as well to the 0.67 goals Northeastern has allowed per game this year.
In addition to an emphasis on playing a whole 200-foot-game by the likes of Gabbie Hughes, Crowell said the Bulldogs have benefited greatly from an experienced group of defensemen back on the blue line this year. UMD brought back six of last year’s seven defensemen — with freshman Nina Jobst-Smith replacing graduated senior Jalyn Elmes — and the experience has showed.
“We have so much experience on the back end and sometimes, you wonder what experience does for you,” Crowell said. “Well, it makes a really solid defensive core like we have right now. Honestly, every pair, every player that steps on the ice knows what's expected of them. The game plan is well laid out, they understand expectations and how we want to play, what we want to look like.”
Ashton Bell again keeps great company as @UMDWHockey's third-ever WCHA Defenseman of the Year. Bell joins Sidney Morin (2016-17) and Jocelyne Larocque (2010-11) as the only other Bulldog blueliners to claim the honor. pic.twitter.com/h4cn9BzQz2— UMD Athletics (@UMDBulldogs) March 4, 2021
Bell, a converted forward who is in just her second season on the blue line, has led the UMD defenseman this season not only as a offensive force — three goals and nine assists in 16 games — but as a strong defensive presence as well. Her plus-19 rating leads all WCHA defensemen.
Crowell said defending the rush is one of Bell’s biggest strengths because of her strong stick and ability to read plays — something the coach suspects comes from her time at forward. Bell is also willing to lay her body on the line and block shots as well, as evidenced by the two pucks she took last Friday during a 6-on-5 disadvantage against the Badgers, who failed to get a single puck through over the final 2:59.
“It's just a willingness to do whatever the team needs,” Crowell said of Bell. “She's our captain and the ultimate team player. I think that has factored into her performance on the defensive end as well.”
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UMD heads to the WCHA Final Faceoff this weekend coming off a four-point weekend — 4-2 win and 4-3 overtime loss — against regular-season champion Wisconsin. The Bulldogs were 1:27 away from taking the WCHA title from the Badgers before the defending champs rallied.
While UMD did score seven goals in the series, Crowell credited the Bulldogs' focus on team defense for giving them a chance to sweep that series and are doing so again this week in the leadup to Saturday’s game against the Buckeyes.
UMD and Ohio State split their only series of the season Jan. 15-16 in Duluth with UMD winning 2-0 on Friday and OSU squeaking out a 1-0 win on Saturday despite 44 saves from Soderberg — then a career-high until the 45 she made last Saturday against Wisconsin.
The split with the Buckeyes came during a nine-game stretch for UMD in which it posted four of its five shutouts this season. In the other five games between Dec. 4 and Feb. 20, UMD gave up just a single goal.
The series against Ohio State also came during a stretch in which UMD struggled offensively. The Bulldogs scored only four goals in four games between Jan. 15-23.
Offensively, things have picked up for the Bulldogs, who are averaging 3.83 goals per game in their last six games. Hughes has a goal in each of the last six games, including a pair in each of the last three games.
UMD redshirt junior wing Naomi Rogge said the Bulldogs should be able to do a better job of opening things up offensively against the Buckeyes this weekend, but that process begins with strong team defense.
“Our defense has been so good,” Rogge said. “That's what the main thing is in the postseason. If you have good defense, you're going to win games, so if we focus on that, we'll be able to open it up.”
Minnesota Duluth vs. Ohio State
WCHA Final Faceoff semifinal
5:07 p.m. Saturday
At Ridder Arena in Minneapolis
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