MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Gophers started quickly against a Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog team just coming off its break, but they couldn’t pull away.
The visiting Bulldogs (12-5-2 overall, 10-5-2-0 in the WCHA) got a pair of power-play goals to erase one-goal deficits, the last coming from Katie Wilson at 9:33 of the third period, to salvage a tie.
Minnesota (15-6-1, 10-6-1-1) claimed the shootout win, giving them the extra point and enabling the home team to sneak into a second-place tie with UMD in the WCHA standings with 32 points. With a trouncing of St. Cloud State, league-leading Wisconsin has opened up a commanding 13-point gap.
“Fantastic game for our team,” Bulldog head coach Shannon Miller said. “The last time we played was Dec. 11, and we’ve had kids at the MLP Cup in Switzerland. We haven’t even been able to practice together, so I was really, really happy with our performance today.”
Wilson was able to beat Gopher goalie Noora Räty with a low shot from a bad angle to forge the 2-2 tie during the second of four penalties Minnesota committed in the final frame. Laura Fridfinnson and Pernilla Winberg provided the helpers.
“Down the stretch, the penalties kind of jumped out and bit us,” Minnesota head coach Brad Frost said. “We did such a good job through two periods, aside from the two too-many-men penalties back-to-back.”
UMD used the second of those infractions to knot the game at 1-1 as frosh Brienna Gillanders got loose in front and converted a pass from Audrey Cournoyer.
That first power-play goal came five minutes after Minnesota’s Sarah Erickson had opened the scoring 7:55 into the game. Jen Schoullis won a draw back to Megan Bozek at the point, and Erickson got a stick on her blast, deflecting it by Bulldog netminder Jennifer Harss on the stick side.
The Gophers had chances to do more damage early, but they either lost control of the puck at the last second or Harss came up with a stop on each occasion.
“Laura May made a fantastic move, and at least from my angle, the goalie looked kind of down and out, and I think it just kind of rolled off her stick. Bethany Brausen had a semi-break, had a couple of two-on-ones—some good opportunities.”
Those misfires, Harss’ effort, and Gillanders’ tally got the slow-starting Bulldogs into the locker room even at the first intermission.
“We said, we’re going to be really rusty that first period, so let’s hope for the best that first 20 minutes,” Miller said. “We knew we’d get a little rust off and settle down.”
They wound up with a favorable result in large part because of the play of Harss.
“I think I stopped a few good chances,” Harss said. “That was pretty good to keep us in the game. They had a lot of shots, especially in the first period. I was kind of busy.”
Minnesota peppered 16 shots on goal in the first period and 42 for the game. Harss was coming off action in the MLP Cup for Germany, in which she saw 90 shots in a game versus Canada, and her coach indicated that action factored into her earning the start in net.
“I think it always helps to have a game with a lot of shots,” Harss said of the onslaught. “All the players that play for Canada are all the good players from each team in the NCAA, so it was I guess good practice.”
The only other attempt to elude the Duluth goaltender was Schoullis’ marker at 12:50 of period two.
“Bozek’s shot banked off the back board, and I kind of took it from my backhand to forehand,” Schoullis said. “The goalie was still on the opposite post, so I had a lot of room to put it in there.”
Bulldog star forward Haley Irwin was whistled for a 10-minute misconduct with 7:46 left in regulation, but it wound up costing her the entire overtime period when the final several minutes were played without a whistle that would have allowed her to exit the penalty box. Miller indicated she’d take a different approach if she could do that sequence over again.
“Now I wish I’d said to them, ‘Skate offside.’ But as a coach, you say things like, ‘Okay you guys, we need a whistle.’”
Räty stopped 29 UMD shots officially on the night, but she came up with a couple more saves in the shootout—one more than Harss—to seal the Gopher shootout win.
After Amanda Kessel made her shootout attempt with a backhand over Harss and Jamie Kenyon answered with low shot that got by Räty on the stick side, the goalies denied Erickson and UMD’s Jessica Wong.
That made the final shoot-out round pivotal. Anne Schleper’s wrist shot glanced in off the pipe two feet high, and Räty used a well-timed poke check to snuff out Audrey Cournoyer’s attempt and end the contest.
“I’m really proud of the way our players played for 65 minutes there,” Frost said. “I think that we did enough to win, or maybe we deserved a better fate with the win in regulation. To their credit, they came back and battled back.”
The two teams complete their season series on Saturday at 4:07 in Ridder Arena.