MINNEAPOLIS — A five-goal second period was more than enough for Ohio State to punch their ticket and return to the WCHA Tournament Championship game for the second straight year as they defeated Minnesota Duluth 7-2.
The defending Final Faceoff Champions have a date for a rematch with Wisconsin Sunday at 2 pm.
The Buckeyes started slow in Saturday evening’s game, taking more than six minutes to register their first shot on goal. They quickly scored on their second shot and then busted the game open in the middle frame to take a commanding lead they would not relinquish.
A slow start was something Ohio State coach Nadine Muzzerall tried to plan for and her team responded just the way she’d hoped.
“We practiced for three straight weeks without a game. The girls looked very strong through the three week of practice, but we never knew how it would play out. We had a slow start, but we picked up the momentum,’’ she said. “I’m very proud of their relentlessness.”
Ohio State scored first when Emma Maltais poked in a rebound on a Teghan Inglis shot from near the boards.
UMD’s Katie Davis picked a great time to net her first career goal to tie the game up. She broke out from the neutral zone and out-skated her defender to get in alone on Ohio State goalie Andrea Braendli. Davis picked her spot and popped the water bottle to tie the game at one.
But the Buckeyes broke the game open in the second. Jennifer Gardiner potted a power play goal just 2:20 into the period. A minute later, Gabby Rosenthal extended the lead to 3-0. Tatum Skaggs joined in less than three minutes later and finally, Maltais scored her second of the game just 5:27 after Gardiner. That short, mad flurry made it a 5-1 game in favor of Ohio State and they would not relinquish that lead.
It was a relentless assault from the Buckeyes, who UMD coach Maura Crowell described as coming in on her team in waves. The normally stout Minnesota Duluth defense was no match for the growing confidence and momentum of OSU.
Beyond that short stretch, it was a relatively close game. The Bulldogs settled back down and found their rhythm again. Clara Van Wieren lit the lamp midway through the second to make it 5-2, but Liz Schepers scored from an impossible-seeming angle to make it a four-goal lead again and that seemed to deflate anything UMD could get going. Skaggs added her second of the game late in the third on a power play to make it a 7-2 final score.
“It was a solid 200 foot hockey game,” said Muzzerall.
The Buckeyes, who have struggled to score at times this season, received contributions from five different goal scorers. Maltais led the team with two goals and two assists.
“When you’re going into the playoffs, you can’t have just one goal scorer. You have to fire on all cylinders,” said Muzzerall. “We don’t have a big gap in talent between the first and third line. We have a lot of balance.”
With the loss, Minnesota Duluth’s hopes for an NCAA bid took a hit. They sit on the bubble with teams like Boston College, Penn State and Providence. One thing that may work against the Bulldogs is that there has never been a post-season with four WCHA teams. Should Wisconsin, Ohio State, Minnesota and UMD all receive bids, it would mean three of the four at-large choices were from a single conference.
With a number of teams sitting out this season – including more than half the ECAC, Crowell thinks it would be wrong to get hung up on where teams play. Instead, she’d like the selection committee to use the unusual circumstances of the year to ensure that the best teams in the country are playing for a title.
“I think it’s less about what league you’re in and more about who’s the best. I hope the committee will stick to that,” said Crowell.
Even after tonight’s loss, Muzzerall is also in favor of Minnesota Duluth making the NCAA tournament.
“You have (teams ranked) 2,3,4,5 (in this conference). I don’t think Duluth should be faulted for losing to the no. 3 team in the country. I don’t think Minnesota, at no. 4, (should be faulted for) losing to no. 2. Especially seeing the upsets out East and in the CHA, I strongly do support four teams from the WCHA,’ she said.
Crowell thinks her team’s body of work speaks for itself, with marquee wins over Ohio State and Wisconsin.
The NCAA Selection Show will air on NCAA.com on Sunday at 8 pm central time.