DULUTH, Minn. — Minnesota came into Friday’s game with the country’s best team defense, but Minnesota-Duluth made it look very porous in winning 4-2 at AMSOIL Arena.
The Bulldogs (12-8-1, 9-7-1-1 WCHA) scored three times in a 12-minute stretch in the first period to overcome a 1-0 deficit and produce a better result than they achieved in a November series between the teams in Minneapolis.
UMD coach Shannon Miller pointed to a more dedicated practice approach from her team leading up to the game.
“We didn’t change a lot,” Miller said. “But they listened, they showed up, and they worked really hard every day on the ice and off the ice. They were very focused and that’s the first time I’ve seen it day after day after day.”
The UMD top line proved too much for the Gophers (18-4-1, 12-4-1-0 WCHA) to handle. Haley Irwin led the way for the UMD offense with a goal and three assists, while Jenna McParland bagged two goals and Audrey Cournoyer added a goal and an assist.
McParland had the tying goal for the Bulldogs, zipping a shot from the left circle by Noora Räty’s glove just 33 seconds after Minnesota had opened the scoring.
“When I looked up, Räty was really out in front, so I just kind of made a little move and put it in,” McParland said. “I think she almost kind of had it, but I think it squeaked in there.”
Irwin gave the Bulldogs a lead they would not relinquish less than nine minutes later, picking a loose puck out of a Minnesota defender’s skates on a rush and banging away until it barely crossed the line before Räty could corral it. Cournoyer and Noora Jaakkola assisted.
“I think the difference was just the edge on our game and willing to win every battle no matter where it was and I think we did a good job of that tonight,” Irwin said.
Three minutes later, Irwin set up Cournoyer for a top-shelf snipe to give the home team some insurance with a 3-1 lead.
“I think we’re all just really excited to finally play in a game,” said Irwin. “We’ve been practicing for two weeks, and as hockey players, you just want to play games. We were all hungry to get out there, and I think we set the tone the first period, and we just kept going with that.”
The Bulldogs controlled play from the opening drop of the puck, pressuring the offensive zone, but Minnesota was able to chip the puck out and spring Kelly Terry on a breakaway, and the sophomore wing converted for a 1-0 Gophers’ lead a minute into action. Rachael Bona and Sarah Davis had the assists.
Miller said that had her team handled that setback much better than they would have during the first half of the season.
“Nobody even reacted when that happened [Terry's goal],” Miller said.
“Early on, we were not real good,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “It was in our zone for the first five minutes of the hockey game. They were doing a good job. We weren’t moving our feet and it’s hard to play defense when you’re standing around.”
The bright spot for Minnesota was the play of their second line, as Davis had the team’s second goal to pull with 3-2 at 12:54 of the second period. The sophomore center took a pass from Bethany Brausen and slid the puck through the five-hole on Jennifer Harss.
However, McParland connected on the power play in the frame’s final minutes to push the lead back to two and Minnesota never seriously challenged from that point. The visitors generated just five shots in the final period.
The Gophers climbed to the top ranking this week for the first time in nearly two years and their stay at No. 1 ended on that occasion in very similar fashion, scoring the first goal in Duluth before losing by two. With the loss, the team slumped to a mediocre 5-4 record on the road, a sharp contrast to their unbeaten mark at home.
“It’s quite disappointing, actually, to see the team come out flat and score the first goal and still not have any jump after that,” Frost said. “The second period, we had some great chances and cut it to one and had some more very good chances, and their goalie was up to the task, so I think it might have been somewhat deflating to not come out of there with any more goals. Credit UMD, they played well, and unfortunately, we didn’t play as well as we needed to on the road.”
Harss made 31 stops for the Bulldogs.
“After that one snuck by her, then after that I thought she played really well,” Miller said of her senior netminder. “They need to be there when you break down and she was there.”
On Saturday, the Bulldogs look to make it six straight over the Gophers on games played in Duluth.
“I think we just got to play exactly like we did today, win a lot more battles and just keep fighting,” McParland said. “It’s going to be a lot harder tomorrow, because they’re going to be upset that they lost, so they’re going to give a lot more, so we’re going to have to match or more than what they bring.”