March 14, 2009

Courtesy of Minn.-Duluth

There were a mountain of questions for the No. 5 University of Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey team entering its NCAA quarterfinal showdown with the No. 4 University of New Hampshire Saturday.   Who would play in net, could the Bulldogs handle the big ice of the Whittemore Center, and could they thwart a team that felt it was cheated out of a spot in the NCAA championship game just one season ago?   Saturday’s result in Durham, NH just  answered every single one.

UMD earned its sixth trip to an NCAA Frozen Four by knocking off the Wildcats 3-1 in front of 1,410 UNH fans to earn the right to defend its NCAA title next week in Boston, Mass.  The Bulldogs, who are now 26-8-4 overall and 11-3 in NCAA postseason play, will face Western Collegiate Hockey Association foe the No. 1 University of Wisconsin on March 20.

The first two periods foreshadowed little of what was to come, as UMD ruled on the shot advantage but not on the scoreboard heading into the final stanza.  But a fourth power-play attempt for UMD at 1:44 of the third period gave the Bulldogs the break they had played well enough to deserve.  Sara O’Toole intercepted a pass in front of the UNH net, and merely dished it to a charging Haley Irwin, who one-timed into an open net at 2:49.  UMD’s lead was instantly put to the test, however, as the Wildcats were awarded a penalty shot at 3:51.

Senior goaltender Johanna Ellison, who answered one of the biggest Bulldog questions by starting between the pipes for UMD, kicked away the puck as UNH player Sam Faber went to Ellison’s left.  Ellison’s shut door propelled the Bulldogs’ into a second goal at 10:06.  Pernilla Winberg took a whack at a rebound from a Myriam Trepanier shot, and the rebound bounced off to a waiting Elin Holmlov, who scored her 23rd goal of the season in the process.

UNH would cut the UMD lead to just one with a power-play goal at 11:59, but the Bulldogs would respond again at 17:43 when senior forward and Duluth, Minn. native Tawni Mattila banged in a loose puck to give UMD a 3-1 lead.  At 19:49, O’Toole added an open net goal in front of a stunned and silent Wildcat crowd, and with that, the Bulldogs were destined for a date in Boston next week.

Ellison made 21 saves in her NCAA postseason debut, including the first penalty-shot stop since Kim Martin stone-walled Wisconsin last season on Feb. 8. 2008.  UMD was 2-of-6 on the power-play, while UNH was 1-of-4 with the extra skater.   The Bulldogs also snapped a 30-game unbeaten streak for the Wildcats in the Whittemore Center, dating back to the 2008 season.

UMD, the most successful program in Frozen Four history with a record of 9-1, will meet Wisconsin on March 20 in the semifinal round  of the 2009 NCAA Frozen Four.