MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota-Duluth may be the first team to win a women’s Frozen Four, but it is the second consecutive team from the WCHA to capture the national championship.
After falling to archrival Minnesota in the semifinals of last year’s AWCHA tournament, the Bulldogs used a high-scoring offense, which averages 5.4 goals a game, to overpower a pair of ECAC teams in this year’s NCAA tourney. UMD, the tournament’s No. 2 seed, handled No. 3 seed Harvard on Friday, 6-3, before scoring four consecutive goals on Sunday to beat No. 4 seed St. Lawrence, 4-2, at Mariucci Arena.
“The first game in Boston last year was a close game against the Gophers and it was a heartbreaker,” said UMD co-captain Brittny Ralph, a member of the All-Tournament team. “This year we knew we had talent and it was our goal not just to make it to the tournament but to win the championship.”
UMD sophomore winger Maria Rooth won the Frozen Four’s Most Outstanding Player award by having a hand in six goals. In Friday’s semifinal against Harvard, Rooth had a hat trick in the third period alone, while in Sunday’s championship game, Rooth put the Bulldogs ahead for good in the second period, then assisted on the team’s final goal of its championship season.
The younger Saints tried to hang tough against the Bulldogs, a team chock-full of international talent. St. Lawrence netminder Rachel Barrie, the ECAC Rookie of the Year, stopped 63 shots on the weekend, including 32 against UMD.
“We had hoped to establish our forecheck and keep our feet moving to create some space offensively,” said St. Lawrence coach Paul Flanagan. “They did a good job taking that away, blocking us out and picking up our sticks all day.”
The Saints took the early lead 11:22 into the game on the power play. Center Amanda Sargeant walked in from the corner, sweeping the puck untouched into the net thanks to a strong screening job by linemate Shannon Smith.
“We got the puck down low and as I came up a bit my teammates were yelling at me that I had the open slot,” Sargeant said. “So I just took it all the way.”
But that was all St. Lawrence could muster until the final minute of regulation. The Saints only managed four shots in the next 30 minutes. On the other end of the ice, UMD reeled off all four of its goals in a 25-minute span. Two of the goals came from the usual suspects, Rooth and sophomore winger Hanne Sikio, and the Bulldogs also received contributions from another pair of sophomores, Jenny Hempel and Laurie Alexander.
“After the first period we knew we had to do a better job on the forecheck,” said UMD coach Shannon Miller. “That helped us create turnovers and dominate a lot more offensively.”
Hempel got the equalizer with 2:20 left in the opening period. St. Lawrence goaltender Rachel Barrie couldn’t cover on a pad save after a faceoff, and Hempel had two looks at the rebound, finally roofing the puck into the net.
Rooth put the Bulldogs ahead 5:36 into the second, forcing a turnover in the St. Lawrence zone and deking Barrie before sending the puck through the five-hole and over the goal line. Sikio found the back of the net 10 minutes later when she slammed it home from the right circle after linemate Sanna Peura dished her a gorgeous pass out of the corner.
Alexander added what proved to be a crucial insurance goal 5:22 into the final period. Rooth raced down the ice and flipped a backhander on net from the right post. Barrie stopped the initial shot, but Alexander was there to bang home the rebound.
St. Lawrence didn’t go away without a fight after UMD sophomore defenseman Navada Russell took an interference penalty. St. Lawrence coach Paul Flanagan pulled Barrie before the draw, and 24 seconds later sophomore defenseman Isabelle Chartrand scored on a slapshot from the blue line.
The WCHA has won the championship in both years of the conference’s existence. Last season, Minnesota took the title by upsetting both UMD and top seed Brown. This year, UMD won by beating a pair of lower-seeded teams, No. 3 Harvard and No. 4 St. Lawrence.