MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Duluth felt it made a strong statement about its NCAA tournament qualifications in its regular season finale last weekend at Amsoil Arena when it took four out of six points from Wisconsin via a 4-2 win and 4-3 overtime loss, and the Bulldogs hoped to cement an at-large bid Saturday against Ohio State with a win in the WCHA Final Faceoff semifinals.
Instead, the second-seeded Bulldogs may have allowed doubt to creep back into the minds of the NCAA tournament committee by getting routed 7-2 by the third-seeded Buckeyes on Saturday evening at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.
After an even first, the Buckeyes unloaded on UMD in the opening 8 minutes of the second period, scoring four goals to take a 5-1 lead and chase WCHA Goaltender of the Year Emma Soderberg from the net. Soderberg, the Bulldogs junior, finished with 10 saves on 15 shots.
“Once they scored one, for some reason, it seemed to affect us more than it should have,” Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell said. “We just didn’t respond fast enough and they did. They gained that speed and that momentum. They were hungrier than we were in front of our slot area.
“Whether we were thinking about the play or the mistake that we had made in the shift before, or whatever it might have been mentally, we weren't there for (Soderberg) in the slot area and they were able to take advantage of that.”
Ohio State advances to the WCHA Final Faceoff championship to play Wisconsin in the final for the second consecutive season — having won 1-0 in overtime a year ago — at 2:07 p.m. in Minneapolis. The WCHA’s automatic berth to the NCAA tournament is also on the line, though neither team needs it.
Both the Badgers and Buckeyes are considered locks for the NCAA tournament in a season where the selection committee — which includes UMD Director of Athletics Josh Berlo and Boston College coach Katie Crowley — must make an objective decision about who is in and who is out after the traditional Pairwise rankings were rendered useless by a lack of nonconference competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
UMD, ranked fifth in the nation in the national media/coaches polls coming into the weekend, sits on a massive bubble along with No. 4 Minnesota (who lost 5-3 to Wisconsin in the first Final Faceoff semifinal Saturday), No. 7 Penn State (the College Hockey America regular season champs who were upset in the CHA semifinals), No. 8 Boston College (upset by UConn in the Hockey East quarterfinals last Sunday) and No. 9 Providence (lost to Northeastern Saturday in the Hockey East Championship).
Only three of those five bubble teams will make the tournament — and maybe less if St. Lawrence can upset Colgate in the ECAC championship on Sunday — which will be announced at 8 p.m. Sunday on NCAA.com.
“It’s a tough year to select the eight, but when you’re picking the NCAA tournament field, you’re looking at the body of work and what we’ve been doing the entire year,” said Crowell, whose team has beaten both the Badgers and Buckeyes this year, going 2-3 against the two with one OT loss. “Ohio State is very, very good. When they get going, they come at you.
“This is the year that the NCAA committee can pick the true best eight teams in the country, for the most part, so this would be a good opportunity for four WCHA teams. I know people seem to make a big deal out of that, but over half the ECAC isn’t playing, so there are spots up for grabs.”
Buckeyes coach Nadine Muzerall is with Crowell. She too believes the Bulldogs should be in the tournament as one of the four WCHA teams in the field. The league does currently occupy the second through fifth spots in the national polls at the moment, with Wisconsin second, OSU third and Minnesota fourth.
“I don’t think Duluth should be faulted for losing to the No. 3 team in the country, or Minnesota being No. 4 losing to No. 2,” Muzerall said.
The Bulldogs and Buckeyes went into the first intermission tied 1-1 after OSU senior wing and captain Emma Maltais scored off a rebound and UMD freshman wing Katie Davis scored on a breakaway.
It was the first collegiate goal in 16 games for the rookie Davis, a native of Boise, Idaho, who came to Minnesota to play for Edina High School as a junior and senior. A member of Crowell’s U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team that won gold at the 2020 World Championships, Davis raced past a trio of Buckeyes and roofed her shot to tie the game at 1-1.
“It was an awesome goal,” said fellow Bulldogs freshman Clara Van Wieren. “Katie is super fast and we definitely see that in practice every day.”
Van Wieren scored the other goal for the Bulldogs 10:22 into the second period, but the Buckeyes had already run away with the game at that point thanks to a power-play goal by sophomore wing Jenn Gardiner and an even-strength goal by junior center Gabby Roesenthal in the opening 3:40 of the second.
OSU netted two more goals within 2 minutes of each other — one by senior wing Tatum Skaggs and another by senior wing Emma Maltais — to chase Soderberg. Senior center Liz Schepers added another after Wieren’s to get the Buckeyes to six.
In relief of Soderberg, UMD freshman goaltender Jojo Chobak made 15 saves on 17 shots.
Crowell said swapping out Soderberg, who came into the weekend with a league-best .951 save percentage and 1.34 goals against average, was not a hard decision with UMD down four.
“We needed a change, Sods just didn’t have it tonight,” Crowell said. “They had sticks and bodies and a lot of traffic in front of our net. We weren’t doing a good enough job picking up sticks and clearing those things away.”
Ohio State 1-5-1—7
Minnesota Duluth 1-1-0—2
1. OSU, Emma Maltais 4 (Teghan Inglis, Liz Schepers), 6:50
2. UMD, Katie Davis 1 (Anneke Linser), 12:26
3. OSU, Jennifer Gardiner 7 (Jenna Buglioni, Riley Brengman), 2:20 (pp)
4. OSU, Gabby Rosenthal 3 (Gardiner, Buglioni), 3:40
5. OSU, Tatum Skaggs 7 (Emma Maltais), 6:02
6. OSU, Maltais 5 (Schepers), 7:57
7. UMD, Clara Van Wieren 7 (Ashton Bell, Maggie Flaherty), 10:22
8. OSU, Schepers 6 (Maltais, Skaggs), 13:19
9. OSU, Skaggs 8 (Paetyn Levis, Madison Bizal), 11:43 (pp)
Saves — Andrea Braendli, OSU, 8-6-4—18; Lynsey Wallace X-X-1—1; Emma Soderberg, UMD, 4-6-X—10; Jojo Chobak, UMD X-6-9—15.
Power play — OSU 2-3; UMD 0-2. Penalties — OSU 2-4; UMD 3-6.